On the History of Chitral

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Chitral is a mountainous country in the north of Pakistan. It remained an independent kingdom for most of its known history. The early history of this region is wrapped in the mist of antiquity. We can gather only some fragments of it from the oral traditions, folk songs and scanty archeological remains. Recent archeological excavations have discovered graves pertaining to the era called “Arian grave culture”, which is estimated to be 4500 years old. The graves reveal that those people buried their dead with their belongings, such as jewelry, arms and utensils. Some Buddhist remains are also found various parts of the country, showing that this area was, at least partially included in the Buddhist world, during the First Millennium.

In clear contrast to its neighboring regions, Chitral has since long been ruled by kings and petty chiefs. The concept of authority or centralized rule was unknown the surrounding areas till very recent times. These regions were mostly acephalous or headless states. Some names of old rulers are still remembered in traditions and folk tales like Bahman e Kohistani and Sumalik.

The earliest dynasty, which has got historical evidence, is called “The Raees”. Raeeses are generally believed to be of a Badakhshani origin. This Dynasty ruled the country till the 2nd half of the Eighteenth Century. During the sixteenth Century, the Chagatai kingdom of Kasghar made inroads to Chitral, and it was directly ruled by the Chagatais for quite sometimes.

In the 2nd half of the Eighteenth Century, a local family belonging to the Mulkhow Valley of Chitral, rapidly increased their powers, culminating in a clash with the then Raees Ruler, in the result of which the Raees Rule came to an end. The victorious sons of Muhammad Beig were now master of the kingdom, which extended to the now Ghizer District of the Gilgit-Baltistan Province of Pakistan. They partitioned the country among themselves and ruled it in peace for sometimes. Chitral, the main seat of power was occupied by the elder Muhtaram Shah Katur-I.

Then the Raeeses returned from Badakhshan and expelled them from Chitral. Members of the losing family fled in all directions. One of them, Sangeen Ali reached the Mughal Court of Dehli, and sought help from the Emperor, on the plea that he belonged to the same line of Taimur (Tamerlane). The Emperor gave him some money, with which, Sangeen Ali recruited mercenaries from Swat, and attacked Chitral via Bashqar Gol. After reconquering the country, he called back all the family members, and ruled it for many years. The central throne of Chitral was occupied by the descendants of Katur-I and his brother Khushwaqt for alternately, until Muhtaram Shah Katur-II finally established himself firm in Chitral. The line of Khushwaqt had to be content with the Mastuj district of Chitral and Ghizer.

Both lines remained in continued conflict among themselves, until Amanul Mulk of the Katur line finally occupied the whole kingdom, deposing the last of the Khushwaqt Ruler in 1880s. The Khushwaqt line produced some able warriors like Shah Faramurd, Suleiman Shah and Gouhar Aman. But these were no match of the clever rulers of the other line, like Katur-II and Amanul Mulk.

During the reign of Amanul Mulk (1857-1892), Chitral became a little mountain kingdom, experiencing a long period of stability and peace for the first time. However neighboring powers like Kabul, Kashmir, and Jandul were threatening its very existence. Amanul Mulk finally succumbed to it and had to sign a treaty with Kashmir. In the meantime British also made overtures to Chitral. As Kashmir was itself part of the British Empire, Chitral also came under the British Suzerainty.

In 1892, the powerful and sagacious ruler Amanul Mulk died. Without any law of succession, a long war of succession ensued between his sons. One of his brothers, Sher Afzal Khan also became a contender. Two other parties, The British and Umera Khan of Jandul also became involved. Most of the Katur family was annihilated, or exiled during this struggle. The British agent in Gilgit, Sir George Robertson was besieged in the Chitral Fort for 47 days, after much loss of life to his force. Finally he was rescued by two columns of British Force, one marching from Gilgit and the other from Peshawar. In 1895, Chitral formally became part of the British Empire. They made Shujaul Mulk, a boy of fourteen, the Mehtar (Ruler) of Chitral, who was the only remaining son of Amanul Mulk, eligible for accession. Shujaul Mulk, was no more independent as his forefathers, nevertheless he proved himself an able ruler. He was followed by his elder son, Muhammad Nasirul MUlk in 1836. Nasirul Mulk was scholarly person, with a university degree. He tried to make Chitral modern state. His worked a lot for the educational development of Chitral. His untimely demise in 1943 proved a great setback for the country.

With the departure of the British, Chitral opted to join the newly created country Pakista. From that day onward the independence of Chitral vanished rapidly, culminating its complete merger in Pakistan in 1969.

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Source by Mumtaz H Shah

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