Siege of Sindh
Within twenty years after the death of Muhammad in 632, the Arab forces in a remarkable succession of success, despite lacking any sophistication in military craft, were able to overrun the mighty Byzantine Empire in Syria and Egypt, the Sassanid Empire in Iraq and Iran. Forty years later, much of North Africa, Spain and Afghanistan were added to the Arab domains. In a few short years the Muslims were able to accomplish more than what even the great Alexander or Caesar could not. Islam’s foothold into India came in 712, when Muhammad ibn Qasim conquered the province of Sindh (now in Pakistan, with Karachi as its capital). The province bordered the west bank of River Indus but the Muslims did not venture to the east, to the heartland of India for another three centuries until the infamous Mahmud of Ghazni made his sixteen incursions into Delhi and the surrounding areas. This is the story of the conquest of Sindh, the first territorial annexation of a Muslim ruler in India.
Around 663, gray-bearded disciples of the Prophet tried to enter Sindh through the Bolan Pass near Quetta in Pakistan. Much further south, maritime Muslims had reached the shores of India as traders without much resistance from the native population. Sindh itself was a dead end region with its backwaters and the Thar Desert on its eastern frontier. It was a flourishing Hindu and Buddhist community with hundreds of Stupas and temples. The ruler belonged to Rai dynasty, a Shudra king, who was usurped by a Brahmin named Chach. He was hailed as a great ruler, who went on a digvijaya to ascertain his borders and expanded his kingdom. Six centuries later in the thirteenth century an Islamic historian compiled the Chach-nama detailing the account of Chach’s rule. He fought off the intruders by successfully defending the Bolan Pass.
Chach was succeeded by his son, Dahar (Dahir). In c 708 a diplomatic impasse developed between him and the lieutenant of the caliph of Baghdad, al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf. The king of Sri Lanka had sent a shipment of maidens who were daughters of deceased Muslims back to the Caliph, as a courtesy. However, around Karachi, pirates managed to abduct the ship and refused to compromise. The Caliph demanded that the king of Sindh intervene and secure the release of the Muslim maidens but he was unable to do so. The Caliph sent several small armadas to defeat Dahar but these were all soundly defeated.
Now the Caliph decided on a full throated assault from the south and chose his cousin Muhammad ibn Qasim as the commander. A superb siege by sea was planned and he was given six thousand of the best Syrian crack troops to accomplish the feat. Al-Biladuri in the 11th century chronicled the events in his rendition of the history of Sindh and ibn Qasim’s conquests. Dahar’s troops stood steadfast in the fort at Debar (Karachi) for many weeks and ibn Qasim was unable to enter the city. Catapults pelting fireballs called manjanik were used with little effect. Eventually it was a psychological warfare that was employed that resulted in the defeat of Hindu forces. The manjanik was aimed at the flagstaff on top of the temple tower, the fall of which created an emotional outcry from the Hindu soldiers. They foolishly ventured outside the fort seeking revenge for the sacrilege and were massacred by the superior Muslim forces. An albino elephant ridden by Dahar made an easy target and when the panic-stricken beast was hit by a fire-arrow, it fell into the river. Forced to dismount, Dahar fought gallantly despite an arrow in his chest but eventually succumbed to a skull splitting arrow.
Once the resistance of the most able Hindu king was overcome, ibn Qasim marched up the Indus river with little resistance from the others. However, the brutal slaying of Dahar would, in the end, come to haunt him. The Caliph in Baghdad now was one Walid, as ibn Qasim’s patron al-Hajjaj had died. This new Caliph did not patronize ibn Qasim as the previous Caliph had. As a gift of appeasement ibn Qasim sent two virgin daughters of King Dahar to Caliph Walid. One of the young princesses, Suryadevi, caught the eye of the Caliph. When he attempted to draw her near she respectfully explained that she was unworthy of his royal couch as she and her sister had been similarly favored in Sindh by none other than Muhammad ibn Qasim himself. Caliph Walid was livid with anger and insult. An immediate fatwa was dispatched for ibn Qasim to be brought back to Baghdad sown in a bag made form hide. When the package with the corpse of ibn Qasim arrived, Suryadevi immediately rescinded her previous accusations and admitted that she had lied. Grief stricken, the Caliph was said to have bitten his own hand, in remorse. Needless to say, the two princesses were incarcerated for life. It was thus that Princess Suryadevi avenged the death of her father. An able general had been lost to the Caliph’s lust and hubris.
After the death of ibn Qasim, Sindh could not be kept under the control of Arabs for any length of period in a consistent way. Sindh was too remote to be governed by the Caliphate of Baghdad. Eventually the local Muslim caretakers broke away from the Caliph and exercised local control and governance over the region. However, Sindh became a springboard for the Muslim incursions into the heartland of India for many centuries to come beginning with the fiendishly cruel Mahmud of Ghazni in the year 1000.
Next : The Terror that came from Afghanistan