Did Ranjit Singh rule present-day Afghanistan and Khyber Pass?

Ranjit Singh did not rule Khyber Pass

There is a common but incorrect notion among Indians and Pakistani-Punjabis that Maharaja Ranjit Singh ruled Khyber Pass (extending from Jamrud to Torkham) as well as Jalalabad city (in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan) and the Kabul city. Ranjit Singh and his successors neither ruled Khyber Pass nor the cities of Jalalabad and Kabul. 

The westernmost outpost of Sikhs under Ranjit Singh was Jamrud fort, located in the Khyber district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. Since Jamrud fort is located in the Khyber district, Indians (as well as some Pakistanis) often mistakenly assume that it is located in ‘Khyber Pass’. Khyber district is not to be confused with Khyber Pass. Jamrud fort is located in the plain area near the border with Peshawar district. The entire Khyber Pass was part of the Barakzai Kingdom of Kabul in 1830s and the Ali Masjid fort (located in the middle of Khyber Pass) was garrisoned by Afghan troops of Amir Dost Muhammad Khan. Take a look at the following map from Google-earth to understand the location of Jamrud fort.

Sikhs jamrud
Location of Jamrud fort in the plain area near Khyber Pass

Ranjit Singh did not build any dam in the Khyber Pass

Yesterday a Pakistani-Punjabi nationalist account posted an article in the comments section of my page, written by someone named Rahsid Yousafzai (who appears to be some kind of secular ‘intellectual’/column-writer) in which the latter showers high praises on Ranjit Singh. Ahmad Rashid Yousafzai writes that Ranjit Singh was a modern and broad-minded ruler and had scientific mind. He is of opinion that Ranjit Singh was thousand times more progressive and sharp-minded person than any Pashtun and Mughal rulers of India. To support his claim that Ranjit Singh was a progressive-minded person with modern scientific mind who had love for “his lands”, Rashid Yousafzai writes: 

 رنجیت سنگھ کا مقرر کردہ درہ خیبر کا حاکم برطانوی مہم جو کرنل لیزلی  ،(جس کا ہیڈکوارٹر علی مسجد تھا)، ہی وہ شخص تھا جس نے جمرود تک پانی سپلائی کا منصوبہ بنایا اور اسے عمل میں لا کر اس حوالے سے ایک نئے دور کا آغاز کیا۰ یہ سباق فاٹا میں پہلا ڈیم تھا۰ (کرنل لیزلی بعد ازاں مسلمان ہوگیا تھا اور فدا محمد خان نام اختیار کیا 

Translation: “Ranjit Singh appointed a British adventurer Colonel Leslie as his governor of Khyber Pass, and Ali Masjid was headquarter [of Colonel Leslie]. The latter initiated a project of supplying water to the areas up to Jamrud. This was first ever dam in the former FATA. He later converted to Islam and adopted the name of Fida Muhammad Khan.”

Rashid Yousafzai has butchered and botched history here and is viewing the word ‘dam’ from modern lens. Leslie was in the service of Amir Dost Muhammad Khan, not Ranjit. He did not construct a ‘Tarbela Dam’ or a welfare project of any sort in Khyber Pass. In summers Sikh soldiers stationed in the Jamrud fort were dependent on a seasonal stream issuing out of Khyber Pass. Leslie, commanding “Cabool troops”, would block that stream and Sikhs had to give bribes to him to resume the flow. This is reported by Captain John Wood (“Journey to the source of the River Oxus”, p-100), Alexander Burnes (“Cabool”, p-127) and Mohan Lal (Journey in the Punjab, Afghanistan…., p-457) who passed through Jamrud and Khyber Pass few months after the defeat and death of Hari Singh Nalwa in 1837.

The origin of this misinformation is not Rashid Yousafzai. The latter probably relied on the book “Chinese and Indian warfare” by Kaushik Roy (an Indian author). Kaushik Roy misquotes Paddy Docherty (author of “The Khyber Pass: A History of Empire and Invasion”) and writes: “In the 1830s, one Colonel Leslie/Rattray was the Khalsa Kingdom’s Governor of the Khyber Pass. He converted to Islam, accepted the title of Fida Muhammad Khan. He established his head-quarters at the Ali Masjid Fort and levied tolls on the caravans which moved through the Khyber Pass.” 

Ranjit Singh afghanistan
Portrait of Ranjit Singh
Portrait of Ranjit Singh, riding on horse
Portrait of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Found in the Collection of Musée du Louvre, Paris. Artist De Dreux, Alfred (1810-1860)

1 thought on “Did Ranjit Singh rule present-day Afghanistan and Khyber Pass?”

  1. Thank you for correcting faulty and misleading account of history. The Battle of Saragarhi has wilfully tarnished Pukhtoon tribes, projecting the faithful servants of the colonial power as Indian heroes.


Leave a comment