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Annexation of Punjab

The British were getting alarmed and suspicious by the expansionist policies of the Russians. Their plan was therefore, to meet Russia preferably at the Sir Darya and failing which, at the Oxus river, although at one time they were content that the border should be on the Indus, as was one time accepted by Delhi-Sultanate with Mangols in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and the latter Mughals had settled with Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali. Subsequently, the British realized that the Indus would be too brittle and delicate a line to content the Russians.

Lord Ellenborough as Chairman, Board of East India Company, had recommended to the Prime Minister the conquest of Sindh as early as 1830, thirteen years before he himself, as the Governor General of India, had authorized Charles Napier to do so. These thirteen intervening years were simply part of the big game, a matter of waiting and finding more justification.

Had the British not been thrown out from Afghanistan by a revolt led by Akbar Khan, they probably would have converted Sindh into one of the many Indians States under the British Paramouncy, but the set-back in Afghanistan meant, that they were forced push their frontiers to Khyber and Chamman Passes immediately.

The conquest of Sindh and later on of the Punjab and subjugation of Baluchistan, was thus a direct out-come of the British having been up-rooted from Afghanistan and there was no justification in waiting any longer.

The expansion of the British in India and the Russians in Central Asia which created conditions for the conquest of Sindh, is given below, in a chronological order, as; in 1791, the British were alarmed at the expansion of Russia and feared that it may replace the Turkish Empire in Asia.

In 1796-1797, Shah Zaman invaded certain parts of N.W.F.P., with the intention of extending his domain to all areas held by his grandfather, Ahmed Shah Abdali. During 1798-1809, the immediate danger to the British was Neopleon of France and his flirtations with Muslim rulers of Persia, Mysore and else-where in the South Asia, and also with Sindh through Persia. And Neopleon’s attack on Egypt, made invasion of India by a European power including Russia, a practical possibility. Further confirmation came in 1800-1 from the Shah of Iran, who communicated to the Governor General of India, through the latter’s emissary that in the event of Russian occupation of Iran, there would be long term consequences for India.

In 1801 AD the British came to know of Emperor Paul’s (of Russia) preparations for expedition on India. In 1803, the Trans-Caucasia region  was divided among Russia (Georgia), the Ottomans (Western 20%) and vassals of Iranian Qajars. In 1803-1804, the Russians took Mingrelia from Ottomans and in 1803-1806, Azerbaijan from the Qajars of Iran.

Elphonstone’s visit to Afghanistan (1801) and Henry Pottinger’s travels in Baluchistan (1810), further aroused interest in areas beyond the Indus and the Sutlej and possibility of what Russians may do there. In 1813, Iran relinquished all its territorial claims in the Caucasus and withdrew its warships from the Caspian Sea. The British signed a mutual defense pact with Qajars of Iran, promising military and financial aid in case of a foreign power attacked Persia.

In 1820-1830, the Russians pushed eastwards, almost to the Afghanistan frontier. Iran tried to recover part of Caucasus from Russians under British advice, but was defeated. The Russians also took northern Armenia from Qajars of Iran, making the British to realize, how helpless were their allies.

The Treaty of Turkmachal gave the Russians full control over the South Caucasus. The Persians paid indemnity of £ 15 millions, gave extra territorial rights and commercial concessions to Russia.

Lord Ellinborough, on becoming President of Board of Directors of the East India Company, and after reading Evan’s book on the designs of Russians (London 1828), became convinced that by conquest of or by influence on Iran, Russians would secure road to the Indus. He was in favor of occupying Sindh, Lahore and Kabul as soon as Russian troops move against Khiva. He suggested the exploration of the Indus. British trade with Central Asia was to be promoted and British agents were to keep an eye on Russian activities.

Muhammad Ali of Egypt made a bid to wrest control of Syria from Sultan or Turkey and even defeated the latter’s army at Konya in the heart of Turkey. The Sultan was saved only by Russian ships and troops. Turkey became a virtual satellite of the Russians.

Now the British became convinced that the Russians would nearly be in command of navigation of the rivers, which lead down to the very frontier of Indian Empire.

The Russian interest now was to preserve and control the Ottoman Empire as a defensive barrier for Russia, against the powerful maritime states of France and Great Britain. The Sultan did not trust the Russians and British succeeded in disrupting Russian plans for an exclusive alliance with Turks. This done, the British turned to Sindh, Punjab, Afghanistan. It was at this juncture that British stopped Ranjit Singh’s invasion of Sindh in 1835-1836 and also of Afghanistan. This also resulted in treaties with the Amirs of Sindh by Pottinger, and the Burnes mission to Kabul, failing which, the treaty with Shah Shuja, a deposed Afghanistan King, in exile in Ranjit Singh’s territory was supported to become ruler of Afghanistan.

With Ranjit Singh’s death, started the period of instability and Sikhs no longer were an important power to deal with. The Amirs were weak and in no position to stop the British Army of the Indus on its way to Afghanistan.

The fate of Sindh and Punjab stood decided and only effectual annexation remained. The British reinstated Shah Shuja, but two years later were defeated and repulsed. This was an evidence how difficult it was to control and distant country far from base, without actually conquering it. But the British had actually demonstrated their striking capacity to the ruler of Kabul, as well as convincing the Shah of Persia, who no longer attempted to capture the heart from Afghanistan to make it a gateway for Russians to move on India.

The British demonstration of their striking power in Afghanistan produced a cool and calculated reaction among Nichol-I Czar of Russia and his officials, as they no longer had any intention of expansion beyond the Oxus River bordering Afghanistan. The conquest of Sindh was partly the showdown of what the British would attempt against Russian’s crossing the Oxus. However in 1841, the were British defeated and expelled from Afghanistan. And in 1843 came the conquest of Sindh.

British treaties and engagement with Sindh between 1799 and 1837

The international situation mentioned above had so developed between 1791 AD, and 1839 AD, that the British were concerned with not only of their own interests in the South Asia, but their other colonies and British Islands. They made treaties with Sindh and also sent following missions to the Amirs:-

  1. Crowe’s Mission to Sindh, May to August 1799 and in 1800 AD, to watch Zeman Shah’s influence and French intrigues, under the cover of establishing a trade factory, which was done, but the factory at Thatta was to be closed down in 1800 under the orders of the Amirs, who were threatened with invasion from Shah Zaman, if the Amirs failed to expel the British.
  2. In 1809 AD, an emergency mission under Seton was sent and assigned to deter the Amirs from coming under French influence, through the Qajars of Iran. Under this treaty the British were to help Amirs against any claim or threat of Afghanistan. This treaty was not ratified by the Government of India as Napoleon’s defeats no longer necessitated such cooperation from Amirs and British also wanted the doors to remain open for any negotiations with Afghanistan, in view of Russian’s push towards Central Asia.
  3. Sadlier’s Mission to Sindh and the treaty of 1821 was necessitated by a genuine grievance on the part of the British, namely Jasmi pirates on Sindh coast caused damaging to British ships since 1810 and 1819 AD, and Khosa banditti or Nagar Parkar raids on Kutch, with had become a British protectorate since 1817 AD. Both parties honored this Treaty. The Sadlier Mission, however, probed deep into Sindh’s political situation.
  4. In 1830 AD, with Ellinborough as the President of East India Company, suggested that Sindh was to be conquered. Burnes came to Hyderabad (Sindh), via the river Indus, from where he went up to Lahore, surveying the Indus and settlements along its banks, collecting enormous information of historical, geographical and strategic value. This was followed by Pottinger’s visit and separate Treaties with Amirs of Hyderabad and Khairpur in 1832 AD, allowing the British commercial ships free passage to the Indus. The important aspect of the treaties was that the ruling houses of Mirs were divided and from here onwards they were dealt with individually by the British.
  5. By the 1834 AD Treaty, the Amirs were forced to accept British envoys in Sindh, though agreement for establishment of a permanent agent was delayed until 1838.

In 1836 AD, British intervened and stopped Ranjit Singh of the Punjab from invading Sindh in return for posting of British troops at their capital, to be paid by Amirs, posting of British official at Shikarpur, to be the medium of communication between Amir and Sikhs and withdrawal of Amirs and Sikh envoys form their respective capitals. One fourth of Shikarpur was succeeded to meet expenses of the British agent. Posting of permanent British agents in Hyderabad was agreed in 1838 AD. By this time, two main objectives of the British, the survey of the Indus river and the establishment of permanent Residency in Sindh, had been achieved. Sindh virtually had become a vassal state under the British Paramouncy.

Whether the conquest of Sindh was justified from the Sindhian point of view or their British supporters; it was definitely justified from the view point of the British Empire. It had to take place some day and probably it was the most appropriate time. Had the British not annexed the Punjab and Sindh and waited longer, the Russians perhaps would have done it. International forces, not realized locally, had already been at work for more than half a century.

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