Kashmir’s Forgotten ‘Spy’


In 1891, a Kashmiri cosmopolitan Sheikh Abdul Rasul was arrested in Bombay, jailed for nine months and deported to London, triggering a crisis in the House of Commons. Later, confidential British India records deconstructed the persona of the professor and journalist traveller who spent most of his life in Turkey, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Moscow and London before settling in Egypt. Ignored by Kashmir history unlike the Ottomans and the Sikhs, Masood Hussain rediscovers the man back home, for the first time, a story that now explains why the British were reluctant in not permitting Partap Singh to rule Kashmir and how Kashmir contributed to the Great Game

Artist Yasir Malik used the details of British detective Azizuddin and others in attempting to create the sketch of Sheikh Abdul Rasul. Kashmir Life Artwork

On March 9, 1891, Charles Augustus Vansittart Conybeare (June 1, 1853 –February 18, 1919), a British barrister and a radical Liberal politician, turned tables on the British government by raising the arrest of Sheikh Abdul Rasoul (AR). He wanted to know the laws under which “the Indian Government arrested AR and imprisoned him for nine months without trial and without bringing any charge against him”. He sought details about his expenses after he was deported from India against his will. And, if at all, the government is considering sending him to India.

Sir James Fergusson, a Conservative politician, the then Under Secretary of state for Foreign Affairs responded by saying that since AR’s arrival to England in 1890, the government did offer him a refund of his expenses and that he was sent to London at his own request. The official said that the government has conveyed to him that he will not be arrested in absence of a “fresh offence”.

Charles Augustus Vansittart Conybeare, the British lawmaker who turned tables on London for Abdul Rasul’s arrest in India

Conybeare raised the issue again on April 10, 1891: “AR was offered the payment of his expenses in this country, a passage to Bombay, and a safe-conduct to Kashmir. He declined these terms unless he also received some Government appointment or a pecuniary equivalent.” Fergusson responded: “The Secretary of State refused to extend the offer specified above, and on the 20th of March Abdul Rasoul was informed that if he did not avail himself of those terms within 14 days, they would be withdrawn. He has made no communication since then.”

Conybeare actually said the British government “kidnapped” Rasoul. Fergusson lacked an answer.

A Brief Sketch

On April 16, Conybeare came with an adjournment motion, supported by 40 lawmakers. This was for the first time that he gave many details about the ‘Mahomedan gentleman’.

“Sheikh Abdul Rasoul was born in Kashmir, which city he left 35 years ago,” Conybeare said. “He remained one year in Mecca, and lived in Constantinople for 30 years, where he received 45 guineas per month as a Professor of Languages to the college, and where he was a member of the Academy.”

“After the Russian war”, Conybeare continued, “he left Constantinople and came to London, where, having a little money, he published an Arabic and Persian newspaper, called Gairat. He remained in London 10 years, and then returned to Constantinople. During his residence in London, Sheikh Abdul Rasoul maintained himself partly by teaching languages and received support also from his countryman, Porbuksh. He left Constantinople again after three months stay, and went to Moscow where he stopped four months. He was supported all this time by friends.”

“From Moscow, he journeyed to Berlin, where he stayed 10 days, and then went to Paris,” Conybeare revealed. “He left that city for London after one month’s stay. After remaining in London for one month, he went to Cairo where he lived for two years. He again returned to Paris for two months whence he went to Cairo and Bombay. He was travelling all this time for pleasure. He corresponded with the Government during his travels. He took a great deal of interest in the Soudan War. I place these details before the House to show that there is nothing this gentleman desires to conceal. His life has been more or less a public one, for at any rate portions of his time, and if he has been in correspondence with Members of the Government—I do not mean this Government in particular—and with the Maharajah Dhuleep Singh—that, in the absence of far more weighty evidence than has been vouchsafed by the Government, does not entitle the Government to treat him as he has been treated.”

In Bombay

AR arrived at Bombay in January 1890. There, Conybeare told the parliament, he “was arrested by the Commissioner of Police, his clothes and boots were cut to pieces on the pretence of discovering if he had any treasonable communications concealed about his person, he was then placed on the railway and carried to the island fortress of Assirgad, and there detained, nine months after which he was removed to Bombay under arrest, placed on board a Peninsular and Oriental steamer, and landed friendless, penniless, and homeless, in the London docks; and but for the care taken of him by certain friends, who fortunately have the means of ascertaining these facts, taking up a case like this, and bringing it before the House and the country, this unfortunate man, for aught the Government cared, might have perished of starvation in this city.”

Conybeare said the government’s explanation that AR wanted to come to London may not be true as he is telling a different story.

This is what Conybeare actually said. “As to the way in which he was brought down to Bombay, he declares that he was 26 hours travelling from Assirgad. He says – I was under a guard of eight police; hence the Government of India has paid all our rents of the railway and food… He says – The new Commissioner of Bombay has informed me that he has received telegram from the Viceroy that he should send me back to London. He goes on to say – Then I replied to him in the presence of one of my companions Khan Saheli that I am not going back to London by my own wish because 1 have not any means for my living there…. He goes on to say – In reply he said that the India Office of London knows very well all this matter and it will arrange for yon any sufficient pension, whether from the said office or from Dhuleep; then he immediately sent me back to London with a passage of second class, from the office of the Commissioner to the port of Bombay under a guard of six police and one English officer with three carriages. The Government has paid all our rents for the said carriages, and from that port to the Assam steamer, we were carried by a steamboat of the Government. He asks – Hence how can you believe now that I came to London with my own wish?”

Conybeare successfully traced London as the director of arrest and deportation. So the arrest took place as a “consequence of a supposed treasonable communication with Dhuleep Singh that this gentleman”. Interestingly, Conybeare said Duleep Singh was in Paris. “I ask the House to consider whether there is not, at any rate, a great deal of probability in the statement of Abdul Rasoul when he says that the orders came from this side to the Viceroy to arrest and imprison him, and that therefore the statement made to me by the Government is not correct,” Conybeare said, asserting he had taken up the issue in the parliament on February 17, 1891.

“If he is guilty, we have the right to say that the Government are not justified in sending him back to Kashmir and offering him a safe conduct,” Conybeare said. “And if he is not criminal—and this is the chief ground of my complaint—there was no ground for his detention at all. I claim that the Government ought to go further, and give him some kind of compensation for the atrocious ill-treatment he has received.”

Conybeare detailed how Rasoul behaved after being brought to London. He applied to the India Office to be allowed to place his case before the authorities. On basis of his personal interview with Rasoul, Conybeare said: “He waited three hours on one occasion at the India Office without seeing Lord Cross, and he was treated as a beggar or a dog and refused permission to see any of the authorities at the India Office,” Conybeare thundered. After not being heard, Rasoul sent two letters, one of them registered. Interestingly, the letters fetched him no response. “It is a monstrous thing that, because a man happens to be a Mahomedan and a native of Kashmir, he should be treated like a dog, when he has a solid grievance to bring before the Government of the country.”

It was only after Conybeare took up the issue in the Parliament that Rasoul got the audience of Sir Gerald Fitzgerald on February 24. He was offered £10 for maintenance, and told by the officer: “I suppose you are willing to go back to India.”

Though the government claimed AR was arrested under Regulation 3 of 1818, Conybeare established the arrest had taken place under Regulation 25 of 1827, instead. Not convinced with the treasury bench claims that the “Government had reason to believe or suspect that Abdul Rasoul was in communication with Dhuleep Singh, who had issued a treasonable Proclamation”, Conybeare continued with his assertion: “Why should this man be treated in this infamous way, and then be sent back in this hugger-mugger fashion, in order to shut the matter up in this House? Why should he be sent back before we were informed whether he was guilty or not?”

The response came from the then Treasury Secretary, Sir John Eldon Gorst (May 24, 1835 – April 4, 1916) in some detail. “We are not in possession of the information which will enable the Secretary of State himself to judge whether the Government of India, in arresting Abdul Rasoul, has exercised wisely or not the discretion entrusted to it by law,” he said, insisting that India was a despotic country, where Regulations are implemented by “arbitrary” governments.

“During the last two months I have been most anxious not to state the reason,” Gorst said. “The Maharajah Dhuleep Singh, having made his submission to Her Majesty, I was most reluctant to rake up those matters which for the Maharajah’s sake ought to be forgotten. “He was arrested because the Government of India had reason to believe that this Sheikh was an emissary of the Maharajah Dhuleep Singh, and arrived in India for the purpose of stirring up discussion and commotion in our Indian Empire.”

Conybeare took a strong exception on this admission. His assertion was that without papers, the House of Commons should avoid discussing it. He suggested the House must wait for the Government of India and then only it can be discussed whether the Government of India used its discretion rightly or wrongly.

Sultan Abdul Hamid-II in whose service Abdul Rasul was probably as a spy

The Petition

Whether or not, Rasoul was deported, Conybeare read from a long petition that AR had submitted to Mr Mackenzie, Chief Commissioner of the Central Provinces, for his release. This petition gives some idea of the happenings.

“I take the liberty of craving your gracious attention to my following poor petition. In short, His Highness Maharajah Dhuleep Singh, who is my old friend and master, has received pardon of Her Most Gracious Majesty the Empress of India,” Conybeare read from the petition. “I also lay before your honour my humble petition, that you will be pleased to solicit my release. If 1 should be released I give my most solemn undertaking that I will in no way in future do or join in anything against the Government of Her Most Gracious Majesty. If I should be graciously released I will request the Committee to return to my native place, Srinagar, in Kashmir. On the other hand, if the Government shall not accept my return to Kashmir, then 1 request to be sent back to England. I am without funds or means of paying my passage, or any means of support. His Highness the Maharajah Dhuleep Singh would supply the necessary funds for my passage to England, and for my future a sufficient year’s salary.”

However, when Rasoul arrived in London, no help came from Dhuleep Singh. He eventually was helped by a House of Commoners Member for Camborne. Eventually, the Secretary of India told AR that he will be sent home with an assurance that he will not be re-arrested. AR, however, refused to return without compensation and that led to the deadlock.

Who Was AR?

Was AR a spy? Did he eventually return to Srinagar? What else we know about this globe trotter, who travelled most parts of the world when Kashmir was in abject oppression and slavery?

Kashmir history was never been lured by the mysterious AR, unlike the Sikh history that sees AR a key confidant of a prince whose empire was annexed by the British through deceit and fraud. The creation of Maharaja Gulab Singh was one of the outcomes of that fraud.

Most of the details about AR came to the public domain decades later. He was in fact a confidant of ‘Maharaja’ Dhuleep Singh, the only son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the builder of Sikh darbar at Lahore. Dhuleep was deported to Britain at a very early age and never permitted to return home fearing it may trigger the Sikh rebellion. His will that he be cremated in India was also rejected. He died in 1893, barely two years after AR’s dramatic arrest.

“Abdul Rasul of Amritsar who was so badly treated by the English in the Soudan has also joined me,” Dhuleep once wrote his confidant’s back home in Punjab.

Sikh historians see Abdul as an Amritsar based Kashmiri shawl merchant, who prior to 1884, lived in Cairo in Egypt. Then Egypt and Sudan were part of colonial Britain and literally British Egypt was ruling Sudan. Around 1884, Sudan saw the rise of a rebel Mohammad Ahmed who fought against British Egypt’s control over Sudan. He eventually proclaimed to be the Mehdi. His army massacred Sudan’s colonial masters and at the peak of it, Britain decided to send a force to rescue and evacuate the Egyptians from Sudan. This force was called the Nile Expedition Force. Led by Garnet Wellesley, this Force hired Abdul Rasoul as their interpreter in 1882.

General (later Field Marshal) Sir Garnet Wolseley, 1884. He had employed Rasul as an interpreter in his Sudan mission

The expedition failed because it reached two days after the so-called Mehdi had expelled the colonial masters. However, the British accused Abdul of “intriguing with the Mehdi”, according to Ganda Singh, the author of History of the Freedom Movement of Punjab – Maharaja Dhullep Singh Correspondence Vol III “He was tried on the charge of high treason, but, for want of legal proof, was discharged (he was imprisoned in Gibraltar) and turned out of the British service,” the Sikh historian writes. “On his release, he went to England and preferred claims against the Government, but getting no redress he joined Dalip Singh, and since then he has been living with him.”

However, most of the details about Abdul are part of the British India secret records. The British government had sent their agents to various parts of the world to stay informed about Dhuleep Singh and his people. Munshi Azizuddin, an attaché to the Foreign Department, was one of these detectives.

After “attending all the secret meetings of Zober Pasha and Abdul Rasul at the former’s house near Cairo Railway Station”, Munshi wrote a detailed letter on March 28, 1888, to Sir E Baring, the British Counsel General in Egypt, terming Abdul as “the right-hand man of Dalip Singh”. The letter accuses Abdul of “conspiring against the British rule with the Fenians at Paris” and being “summoned to Moscow by the Russia Military Party through Dalip” in November last.

“They (Russia) therefore employed him to go and stir up the Sudanese again and to increase the difficulties of the British Government so that they must send an expeditionary force to Sudan and that in the case of there being a rising in India, he should instruct the Sudanese to blockade the Suez Canal,” the letter reads, informing that in December 1887, AR went to Moscow carrying an introductory letter of Ivanoff, the Russian Consul in Cairo. The letter terms Abdul, a resident of Cairo and son of Kashmiri resident “Haig Abdul Karim”.

Maharaj Dhuleep Singh in 1860. He was the minor son and successor of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who was taken by Gulab Singh to the British for surrender after the first Anglo Sikh war in 1845-46

Munshi’s Second Report

On April 2, 1888, Munshi sends a detailed confidential report to the British foreign secretary about AR.

“From what I have learnt from his countrymen in Cairo and from himself it appears that he is a native of Srinagar in Kashmir and about 26 years ago came to Egypt via Amritsar and Calcutta,” Munshi writes. “Here he earned his living by doing all sorts of works and, after a stay of six years in this country, be went to Constantinople, where he joined the service of the Turkish Government and remained there till the conclusion of Russo-Turkish war. After that, he went to England and for many years was the companion of the late Mirza Pir Bakhsh, Russel Square, London. In 1882, he accompanied as an interpreter to Lord Welsely but on his arrival in this country he was found carrying on his intrigues with the rebels and was sent back to England.”

The letter accuses Abdul of “carrying on many other intrigues”, insisting that the intrigue is “his only occupation i.e to serve as a go-between to further intrigues of one Government against the other”. Munshi informs that in Moscow Abdul styles himself as Dhuleep’s secretary. “This Abdul is the same man who started an Arabic Persian paper Alghirah in London in 1884. This paper was chiefly devoted against the British rule and money for its publication was supplied by Sadik Husan of Bhopal.”

“At present, the Russian military party has asked him (Dalip) that he should create disturbances in Kashmir in his favour” and if he can do that, in that case, they can force the Czar to go against M Giers and give him assistance to attack the English,” Munshi writes. “To carry this out, Thakur Singh’s sons (another confidant family of the deposed price) are intriguing in India and Abdul Rasul, looking after his intrigues in Egypt, will go to India to carry it out. Their plan is first to try to win the Maharaja Kashmir on Dalip’s side, and to ask him that he should rise against the British Government and should say that he is doing that for Dalip and in that case, all the Sikhs would join with him. In the case of not winning the Maharaja on their side, they should try to win one of his brothers and if they fail in this too, then they should send large number of Sikhs, to Kashmir and Jammu. These men should remain in hiding and when the Maharaja starts for Kashmir and is on the middle of the road, these men should simultaneously rise up and loot the treasure, etc., and thus they will have money and arms and will be in a position to arm the other Sikhs who will rise up against the British Government.” Munhsi actually identifies the people who were the couriers of the letters addressed to the Kashmir Maharaja.

Maharaja Partap Singh, a painting

Munshi also mentions the presence of Mian Lal Din of Jammu, who ran away from India in November last, in Medina, busy preparing to leave for Constantinople and see the Sultan.

Knowing that Abdul was about to reach India, Munshi gives a detailed description of the ‘saboteur’, obviously for identification and arrest: “Age about 45, height 5′-6″, complexion fair, build medium, blind of the right eye and uses a false one. Wears a clipped beard which is sprinkled with grey. Has got a scar on the left side of the chin on which the hair do not grow. Speaks English, Persian, Turkish, Arabic, Hindustani and Kashmiri fluently and knows a little of French too.”

Offering an idea of his influence, Munhsi writes: “During his sojourn in Moscow with Dalip, he travelled all over Russia, and in St Petersburg had an interview with General Ignatieff who was summoned to the capital by the Czar during the last autumn. He is also on friendly terms with Musa Khan, a Muhammadan Prince of Kuzan, who is an Aide-de-Camp to the Czar.”

Counter Intelligence

Another British agent, apparently a counter-intelligence operative, Amrik Singh, who was specially deputed to crosscheck Munshi inputs, met Abdul in Alexandria Hotel, Room No 17 in May 1888, twice and gathered details about the prince’s activities. “AR states that he went on a mission in Dalip Singh’s favour to several states such as Austria, France, Germany and Italy and where any reply was received, it was …,” the agent wrote on May 20, 1888. He confirmed that though the deposed Sikh prince has written to Jammu darbar, there has not been any response.

What is interesting Abdul gave this agent, in their second meeting on May 22, the exact transcript of what the prince had written the Maharaja of Kashmir: “I was young when the English took me away from my country and the administration was left in the hands of your ancestors. They did not look to my interest and ruined the state. This was not a loyal act but I have forgiven the past. For the future, I command that whatever Sardar Thakur Singh thinks best for myself and you, shall be carried out so that the stain on your name be removed, otherwise no such opportunity will again occur.” The letter, the agent wrote, was delivered in Jammu through Jamiat Rai and Hira Singh. “The return of a written reply was postponed from day to day and none has yet been received. A verbal message agreeing to carry out any orders was sent but up to date nothing has been done nor has any money been sent.”

It was perhaps this line from the Agent’s report that was basic to the disturbances in Kashmir darbar and the English: “AR says that he has certain information that the first attack on India by the Russians will be made by way of Kashmir by the Russian force which is 60 miles from Gilgit.”

“AR’s plans are intrigues against the British Government in Constantinople and Egypt and to close the Suez Canal, which he says will be done shortly. He declared that the French with Turkey and Sudanese will cause some trouble shortly,” the agent said in another report on May 23. “A great idea of his is to cause some trouble in Kashmir and get Dalip Singh there….AR says that DS is much displeased with Kashmir. The Maharaja of Kashmir fears that if Dalip Singh becomes successful, his country will be taken away from him. On this point, many verbal assurances have been sent to Kashmir through Jamiat Rai, and the verbal replies brought back by the latter have been that Kashmir is a dependen of DS and that if he should appear will be ready to perform service, but is unable to take any step till then. Kashmir has been chosen on account of the difficulty of the country and the idea of going to Alikhanolf is to work the Russian Governor who is supposed to be near Gilgit.”

The Arrest

It was in this backdrop that British India decided to arrest him as soon as he reaches the India shores. Lord Dufferin writes to Lord Cross about the arrest. On June 18, 1888, the Foreign Department issued warrants for the arrest to be executed by the Thugee and Dacoity department.

On January 22, 1890, WJ Cunningham sends express orders to James Monteath from Calcutta: “I send herewith a warrant for the arrest and detention of one Abdul Rasul, an emissary of Dalip Singh, who is onboard P&O Massaillia. You will receive, if you have not, before you read this, received information from Colonel Henderson about him and about the means for arresting him. His Excellency the Viceroy wishes to be done at Bombay, before he lands, if possible, to prevent his fulfilling any part of his mission, which is believed to be the dissemination of letters from Dalip Singh and the collection of money.” The communication gives the description for identification: “About 47 years age; height 5 ft 6 inches; fair complexion; medium build; true type of the Kashmiri in appearance with a very quick nervous expression; marked strongly with smallpox; has scar-like a deep burn on his left cheek or chin, dividing a closely cropped grisly beard. The hair does not grow on this scar.” The postscript reads: “He may have shipped as Abdulla Effendi, as he used that name in Cairo for his postal address for letters from Europe.” He used to wear a huge floppy Sikh turban.

After AR was moved to Asirgarh fort for detention, another order came from Calcutta about his diet and health: “He was a shawl merchant and a man of no social standing, but for years he has been in Europe and Egypt where he very likely has learnt to live as European. I think about Rs 40 a month will probably be enough.”
The Interrogation

Colonel PD Henderson reported the job accomplishment letter on February 29, 1890. “Immediately the steamer cast anchor, about I AM, she was boarded and Abdul Rasul arrested and removed before any shore boats reached the ship, and without anybody except a few of the ship’s crew being any the wiser. He was taken to Majagaon Bunder where a carriage was in readiness to convey him to the central police office,” the letter detailed. “His person was searched for letters in a cabin onboard the steamer but nothing was found on him. After breakfast, I went off to the Police Office, and in the first place examined carefully his baggage consisting of a portmanteau and bundle. There were no proclamations or papers con-fleeted with Dalip Singh business but are found some Arabic letters from Zobair Pasha, which will be alluded to further on.”

Rasol was not carrying anything much – 600 francs in notes and three sovereigns with some small change. “I fancy he was pretty well at the end of his tether in Egypt and had got the £100 that he received from Dalip in October,” his interrogator wrote.

AR denied any association with the Sikh price but admitted to having been in Moscow, where he learnt the Russian language. He said his meeting with the Prince was a coincidence in Paris and Moscow. Asked about his objective to visit India, AR said that “having heard that a just government under a British resident had been established in Kashmir, he had determined in his old age to return to his native country and endeavour to earn a living by teaching languages.”

AR was shown the letters, some of them written by him. The recovery includes the leaves of the Khair Khwah-i-Kashmir, a newspaper published in Lahore, with two passages marked. “One of these refers to the possibility of trouble being caused by a rising of the tribes near Jammu in favour of the Maharaja of Kashmir and the other to Government entertaining spies in the disguise of fakirs and sadhus. Both these papers bear a portion of the Pondicherry post-mark.”

The same communication adds: “…AR goes back to Lahore tonight. He appears to have done good work, lately in connection with the Kashmir intrigues and hopes to make other discoveries.”

The Deportation

In November 1890, HS Barnes passes the direction of his deportation. “I am to request that the Commissioner of Police may be instructed to provide this person with a second class passage to London by the first outgoing mail steamer after his arrival in Bombay and keep him in safe custody till the steamer weighs anchor. The name of the ship and date of sailing should be telegraphed to this office as soon as fixed and the warrant for Abdul Rasul’s detention should be returned as soon as he leaves India.” It also tells the concerned to return the cash he was carrying.

The British authorities failed to extract anything from AR. However, Britain wanted Egypt to deny him re-entry. To his Sir E Baring, telegraphed from Cairo directly to Viceroy on November 4, 1890: “I have no legal power to prevent Abdul Rasul, but I might move Egyptian government to prevent him from landing if you can give me some reasons to lay before them. Unless it can be shown that his presence in Egypt is dangerous, it would perhaps be better for me to have him watched as before rather than to ask the Egyptian Government to stop him from landing.”

AR reaches London and it eventually triggers a crisis in the House of Commons. The last reference on record was a news report in The Tribune on March 12, 1892, saying that AR has sued Maharaja Dhuleep Singh in a Paris court. Described as an Indian journalist, AR, according to the newspaper alleged that “at the time His Highness fled to Russia and declared against England, he was employed to promote Dhuleep’s cause in India. When the Maharaja came to his senses, Abdul returned to England, and as he could obtain no compensation for what he had done, he now seeks to recover damages, as well as a life pension that Dhuleep seems to have promised him if he enlisted under his banner.”

The Ottoman History

While Kashmir historians have never mentioned AR and the Sikh history has mentioned him as their lost prince’s confidant, there is a lot of material about AR in Ottoman history. Referred as “a devoted supporter of Ottoman causes”, like his Sudanese friend, Zubair Pasha, he is being seen at par with his contemporary Jamaluddin Afghani as a “cosmopolitan individual” committed to the mobilisation of the Muslim world to defend itself from the British Empire hegemony. Historians in Indian sub-continent see him a “Kashmiri middleman” and a “cultural broker” who made a “trans-imperial” career.

AR was born in 1843. “Abdul Rasul’s family were merchants in Cairo, trading in silk and carpets,” Dr Jamil Sherif, academic and an executive of the Mulsim Council of Britain, wrote in 2020. “The Cairene merchant class had close links with Istanbul, and from his wife’s name – Amina Hannem – he may have married into the city’s Turko-Circassian community.”

It was during the detention of Pasha at Gibraltor that he became friends with AR. During the Russo-Ottoman war of 1876-78, when Pasha was fighting, AR in Istanbul was teaching Persian and publishing a journal in support of Sultan Abdul Hamid. He was a formal Ottoman state’s spy, according to a secret file in the British National Archive on relations between Pasha and AR. In 1885, when Zubair was arrested under military orders in Alexandria, it was AR campaigning for his release in London and had hired a law firm, Gadsen and Treherne for the purpose. Pasha would address AR as “Maulana”. It was only after Pasha’s release that AR got involved with the Sikh prince.

British India spies kept both of them under tight surveillance in Cairo. “Last year when Sir Henry Drummond Wolff was engaged in negotiations with Mukhtar Pasha, this man (AR) through Asad Pasha, the Turkish Ambassador at Paris, was employed by the French Government in bribing the Turkish Court and thus winning them towards France,” Serif quotes Azzidin’s despatch. “In one instance in last April he was sent by an express train to Constantinople from Paris with money and letters to Muhammad Pasha, Circassian, the Chief Aide-de-Camp to the Sultan.” It was Azzizuddin’s counter-sy, Amrik Singh who in May 1888 triggered the Kashmir crisis by reporting that Russians were getting into the region and will coincide with the Sikh resurgence.

“Abdul Rasul remained in London till around the mid-1890s, then settled back in Cairo in the mid-1890s,” Sherif wrote, mentioning his demise on September 11, 1915.

A Trans-Imperial Man

“He had contacts across empires. In Russia he was the close friend and associate of the Muslim military commander General Alikhanov… The Muslims of Moscow had welcomed him into their circle and had sent a carriage to take him to the city’s mosque. He had made alliances with influential Muslims while in Moscow: Sikandar Khan of Herat; General Alikhanov, the governor of Pendjeh; and Musa Khan, the prince of Kazan and aide-de-camp to the Czar,” Prof Seema Alavi, a senior historian at the Delhi University, has used the historic records in her 2015 book Muslim Cosmopolitanism in the Age of Empire. “In Paris, he was close to Asad Pasha, the Turkish ambassador to Paris, who introduced him to the upper echelons of the French government. The French used him to “bribe” the Ottomans in forming a close alliance with them.”

It was in Paris, where Rasul established critical connections between the Muslim cosmopolis and other trans-imperial networks including the anti-London Irish Fenians. This connection lured the Russian military to his association. In Egypt, Prof Alawi established Rasul networked with Indian émigré rebels including Nawab Siddiq Hasan Khan of Bhopal and helped distribute their literature.

Settled In Cairo

Kashmir journalist, Murtaza Shibli, who met Sherif in London in July 2019, had additional details on Rasul. Son of Haji Abdul Karim, he wrote Rasul taught Persian at the Mekteb-e Rusdiyesinde in Dersaadet in 1870. After the Russo-Ottoman war was over, Rasul moved to London and befriended a Punjabi diamond merchant, Mirza Peer Bukhsh, who had founded the Islamic Society of London. It was in September 1880 that he suggested Ottoman authorities a pan-Islamic journal that would encourage an alliance between Indian Muslims and the Caliphate without being critical to British. In the communication he sent, he had mentioned teaching Persian at Kanlica High School in Dersaadet nine months ago. This suggestion led to the publication of a Persian and Arabic monthly, al-Gayrat in 1881 but could not survive beyond a few months.

Shibli has quoted Probate records at the British Public Records Office to suggest that Rasul owned “cultivated lands at Ibrahimieh, Markaz of Hehia in the Mudirieh of Sharkieh” around Cairo. Besides, he was importing silk goods from Japan and India, and also Kashmiri shawls. His family continued to live in Cairo: sons Abbas Abdel Rasul Kashmiri and Ahmed Abdul Rasul Kashmiri; daughters Fatma (married Galal-el-din Kashmiri), Aziza (married Mohamed Abdel Rasul Kashmir). His wife Amina died in Cairo in October 1919.


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