by Khalid Bashir Ahmad
The Mughals had been eyeing Kashmir right from the inception of their rule in India in 1526. Their first attempt to grab the tiny Himalayan country was made during the time of Babur, founder of the Mughal Dynasty, in 1528. After several unsuccessful military expeditions over half a century, the Mughal army was finally successful in annexing Kashmir in 1586, robbing its independence and reducing it to the status of a subah (province) of their empire. The fall of Kashmir is believed to have taken place on October 6, that year [see Timelines of Nearly Everything, p 1161].
Grabbing Kashmir was not a cakewalk for the Mughal army, however. The years between 1528 and 1586 are a long story of Kashmiris’ resistance against the predatory Mughals, and their political acumen to send the enemy army out of Kashmir when it had entrenched itself in the Valley.
Here, is the story taken from my book, Kashmir: Exposing the Myth Behind the Narrative:
Before the Mughals annexed Kashmir in 1586 AD, they had made several unsuccessful attempts to grab it. Many a time, the Mughal troops entered Kashmir but were either sent back or they withdrew in the face of stiff resistance. The first attempt to occupy Kashmir was made by the Mughals during Babur’s rule in India when his troops entered the Valley in 1528. Their presence resulted in widespread resentment. The Mughal soldiers were presented with gifts and sent back.
After Babur, the troops of his son, Humayun, also invaded Kashmir and seized Srinagar but could not withstand the guerrilla warfare of Kashmiri resistance forces that ambushed them in the city and inflicted heavy casualties on them. The Mughal troops made peace overtures, and after an agreement with the Kashmiri resistance returned to Lahore via Baramulla.
The next attempt to capture Kashmir was made by the Mughals in 1533 when Babur’s cousin, Mirza Haider Doghlat, at the head of an army, entered the Valley via Zojila. The Kashmiris soon recovered from the initial shock of defeat and organized resistance. They hung on to the enemy soldiers, harassed them and stalled their movement. Finally, Doghlat was counselled by his advisor, Ali Taghai, to withdraw from Kashmir as it would be difficult to conquer it. Under an agreement reached between the two sides, the Mughal army finally left Kashmir from the same route that it had entered the Valley from.
In 1540, Doghlat returned through the Poonch Pass and captured the Valley. A king was installed on the throne of Kashmir but Doghlat himself wielded the real power. The Kashmiri resistance again showed up and fought several battles with the enemy troops. In 1551, they chased the Mughal army in a battle at Mankot near Poonch and the overpowered Mughals took to their heels, but many of them were killed and their baggage seized. The commander of the Mughal soldiers, Qara Bahadur, was arrested, but the rest of his garrison fled from the battlefield. The leader of the Kashmiri resistance, Idi Raina, marched towards Srinagar. Later, Doghlat was killed at Khampur in central Kashmir. His widow made peace with Kashmiri resistance leaders following which the family and followers of Doghlat were dispatched via Pakhli and Kabul to Kashghar.
A year after the death of Doghlat, Afghan warlord, Haibat Khan Niazi, marched to Kashmir but was defeated and killed along with his many chieftains by Idi Raina.
Akbar could not digest the thought of Kashmir as an independent country in his neighbourhood. He made his first foray into the Valley in 1560 when he dispatched a large invading force, but as the expected support from some Kashmiri nobles was not forthcoming, the Mughal army did not advance further from Rajouri. However, Kashmiri troops under Kaji Chak attacked and defeated the Mughal army. An award of an ashrafi was announced for each head of Mughal soldiers, and 700 heads were brought to collect the award. In some cases, the reward was given five times more.
In the meanwhile, the ruler of Kashmir, Yusuf Shah Chak, faced revolt and had to abdicate the throne within two months of his coronation. In 1580, he went to Agra and sought Akbar’s aid to regain his crown. Akbar dispatched his troops with Yusuf Shah Chak under Raja Man Singh’s command. When Yusuf reached Lahore, his former minister, Muhammad Bhat, advised him against bringing the Mughal army to Kashmir, for he feared it would be an unpopular development, and the Mughals might take over the administration and enforce their own laws. Yusuf managed troops on his own and was able to regain his throne.
Meanwhile, Akbar asked Yusuf thrice to make personal appearance at his court which he avoided on the advice of his counsellors. He sent his son to Akbar with gifts. An infuriated Akbar sent 5,000 troops to invade Kashmir. Overawed by Akbar, Yusuf had no option but to prepare for defence. The Mughals were fought back. Inclement weather, besides scarcity of food supplies and stiff resistance offered by Kashmiri forces, added to the woes of the Mughal army and they failed to make progress. The retreating Mughal commander, Bhagwan Dass, sent a word to Yusuf that they would return with a stronger army and make Kashmiri resistance impossible. He suggested that Yusuf should make personal appearance before Akbar. The nobility again advised Yusuf against taking such a step, but the mentally defeated king betrayed them and escaped to the Mughal camp in February 1586.
Yusuf’s betrayal did not stop Kashmiris to put up resistance against the Mughals and they placed his son, Yaqoob, on the throne, inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy troops and forced them to make peace overtures. A treaty of peace was reached between the two sides under which Yusuf’s throne was restored to him. However, when Yusuf was presented before Akbar at Attock on 28 March 1586, he was imprisoned in a clear breach of the treaty which led a dejected Bhagwan Dass to attempt suicide. Later, Yusuf was released but not allowed to return to Kashmir. Instead, he was dispatched to Biswak in Bihar where he died yearning to go back to his country.
Akbar’s army launched a fresh attack on Kashmir, faced stiff resistance and suffered severe beating at various places. They lost many soldiers—300 in a fight at Gusu and 1,500 in another at Hanjik. The commander of the Mughal army, Qasim Khan, was so disheartened that he requested Akbar to call him back, but the latter sent him reinforcement instead. The Mughal army was ultimately successful in annexing Kashmir on 6 October 1586.
For a long time, the Mughals encountered resistance and for two months their soldiers did not dare to come out of the city. Eventually, they were able to douse the flames of resistance. In 1589, Akbar found the situation conducive to undertake his first visit to Kashmir. In the words of Forster, “Akbar subdued it [Kashmir]; aided more, it is said, by intrigue, than the force of his arms.”
The loss of freedom was a great shock and setback to the Kashmiris. The Mughal soldiers were hated by Kashmiris as an army of occupation and there happened many ugly incidents involving the Mughal soldiers and the Kashmiris. Akbar was so exasperated by the rebellious behaviour of the latter that he had many of their “chieftains along with families bodily lifted and sent to different parts of India where they were granted jagir.” Some with their kith and kin were taken as prisoners and moved out with the royal entourage. On one occasion, a soldier tortured a civilian; this anguished people and, fearing breach of peace, Mughal Governor’s son, Mirza Askar, ordered his arrest, but the soldier escaped. However, to restore people’s confidence, he asked for a big boat filled with firewood and, as if the erring soldier was inside it, burnt the boat on the waters of the Jhelum.
Akbar used all his tactics to subdue Kashmiris but could not earn their love and goodwill, except for enlisting the support of its small minority. The Kashmiri Muslims were ousted from the channels of administration. No place of administrative trust was reserved for them, and for utilizing the local talent, the Brahmans were picked up even as the senior administrative functionaries like subedars were deputed from Agra and Delhi. Seeking to crush the martial spirit of Kashmiri Muslims, their entry into the army was closed. The powerful Muslim families such as the Shah Mirs, Chaks, Magres, Rainas, Maliks and Bhats were pulled down from high pedestals, and within a short span of time, they were forgotten.
[Input: Kashmir under the Sultans,Tarikh-i-Rashidi, Khulasat-ul-Taweerikh, Sheeraza: Mughal Intizamia Aur Kashmir]