Kalam and the three princely states of Swat, Chitral and Dir

The Kalam dispute and crisis of 1937

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Kalam and the three princely states of Swat, Chitral and Dir

In the final decade of the British Raj a war between three Frontier States, with diverse political and ethnic origins set amidst some of the most beautiful valleys in the entire world, was narrowly averted by a cunning officer of the Indian Political Service. The Kalam tract, today the northernmost part of Swat District, was coveted by Chitral, Dir and Swat, each of whom had reasons to claim the valley. The Kalam Crisis as it was then known was essentially one of the final tests of British political maneuvering in South Asia.

Kalam fort 1947

Kalam is a well established tourist destination and with good reason for it is one of the beauty spots of the Western Himalayan region. Flowing through the vale is the upper most stretch of the Swat River. Beginning in the glaciers along the boundaries with Chitral, Ghizer and Indus Kohistan this aquamarine waterway is the link connecting the rugged peaks and glens of Kalam with the rest of the Swat Valley. This corner of the Hindu Raj range has abundant forests of pine and cedar and is home to the Gawri people, an ancient group speaking a Dardic language distantly related to those of Gilgit and Chitral. Also present are smaller communities of Gujjars who speak Gojri, a dialect of Punjabi and in the far northern reaches, in the valleys along the watershed with Laspur and Phandar are speakers of Khowar, the language of Chitral and Upper Ghizer. These factors variously linked Kalam with each of the then Princely States that surrounded it but it was the aforementioned rich forests of commercially valuable pine and cedar that would be the catalyst for the dispute.

Front of Kalam mosque–Photo by Muhammad Zaman Sagar in 2005

The Princely State of Swat was the last entity to be recognized as such by the Government of India in 1926, when the Viceroy accepted the valiant and politically astute tribal and religious leader Miangul Abdul Wadud as the Wali of Swat. He was a descendant of the Akhund of Swat, the religious leader of the valley who had briefly assumed political control in the mid1800s. Miangul Abdul Wadud had seized power in Swat about a decade earlier and went about conquering the neighbouring tracts of Adinazai, Shangla and Buner, which brought him into conflict with his older and more established neighbours, the Nawab of Dir to the West and the Nawab of Amb to the East. The British saw in him a capable candidate to bring political stability to this remote region. The Yusufzai Pathans were known to have tendencies for religious fundamentalism and their Khans (land owning tribal chieftains) loved to raise lashkars against one another. Once Swat State became a recognized political entity the Wali set his sights upon Kalam. Without having any formal administration in the region, or even a sound legal claim, he invited Peshawari timber merchants to mark the forests of Kalam for timber extraction. The local tribesmen did not agree to this and sent the Kakakhail forest contractors packing, that led to a police action by the Wali and the Kalam tribesmen complained to the British Political Agent at Malakand. The Gawri tribesmen decided to take the long route to Malakand, rather than going directly south through the territory of the Wali they decided to go via Chitral and Dir. After crossing the Kachakani Pass into the Laspur Valley of Upper Chitral they proceeded south to Chitral Town where they were received by the Mehtar. Then crossing the Lowari they entered Dir where they had an audience with the Nawab and finally reached the Malakand Protected Area, which was the seat of the Political Agent Dir, Swat, Chitral a post occupied at the time by the famous frontiersman Major Evelyn Hey Cobb. With Cobb’s assurances that their independence would be recognized and that the Wali’s men would not harass them on their return journey, they took the direct route through Swat back to Kalam. This mission led to hostilities between the three states increasing and we shall now examine the claims of Dir and Chitral upon Kalam.

H.H. Mehtar Sir Nasir-ul-Mulk, Mehtar of Chitral-photo provided by the author

Before the rise of the Akhund, the entire West Bank of the Swat Valley had been ruled by the Khan of Dir. The Dynasty that controlled the Panjkora Valley had been in place since the late 1600s and was a military powerhouse in the region. Following the British Chitral Expedition of 1895 the Khan of Dir was given the title of Nawab in recognition of the ruler’s services towards the Empire for aiding and supplying the British forces which went through his territory. The ruler of Dir at the time of the Kalam Crisis was Nawab Muhammad Shah Jahan Khan. The Nawab was a ruthless ruler. His people had few political rights and were taxed heavily yet no modern amenities such as schools or hospitals existed in Dir State. His primary claim to Kalam was the fact that the same ethnic group that dominated the upper most part of the Dir Valley, known as Dir Kohistan and centered on the enchanting vale of Kumrat, was also present in Kalam ie both Kumrat and Kalam were populated by the Gawri people. Other than this the Nawab had no other claim, as even in the heyday of his ancestors, when they ruled Western Swat, Kalam remained outside the control of Dir. Despite his tenuous claims the Nawab prepared his forces to invade Kalam via Kumrat.

Chitral was the oldest political entity among the three states contending for Kalam and had the strongest social and legal claim to the tract. For at least two centuries the people of Kalam had been paying tribute to the Mehtar of Chitral. By the time of Mehtar Aman-ul-Mulk this had been formalized and he appointed a Hakim (administrator/revenue collector) for the Kalam region who was based at the fort of Matiltan. The Kalamis paid their tribute in the form of their small sized indigenous mountain ponies, known in Khowar as Bashqarikan. Alongside horses imported from Badakhshan these Kalami ponies were used in the national sport of Chitral, polo. Furthermore there was a community of Chitrali settlers in the Ushu Valley of Kalam who still speak Khowar to this day. It is for this reason that the Gawris went to Chitral to set their grievances to the Mehtar. The ruler of Chitral at the time was His Highness Mehtar Nasir-ul-Mulk. He was the only ruler among the Frontier States to enjoy the status of a Gun Salute ruler and the accompanying title of His Highness, this led to a bit of jealousy towards Chitral as Dir and Swat both had larger populations and were agriculturally more productive and thus wealthier. Nasir-ul-Mulk was described by the British as a man with advanced political ideas. He corresponded with Allama Muhammad Iqbal and had overt leanings towards the politics of the All India Muslim League. He also founded the first High School in Chitral State and was himself a scholar of repute, publishing several volumes of poetry and a very interesting discourse examining Darwin’s Theory of Evolution in the light of Islamic teachings. Nasir-ul-Mulk immediately wrote to the Political Agent stressing Chitral’s ancient claim to Kalam and at the same time sent a contingent of the Chitral State Forces to Laspur to prepare for an invasion of Kalam via the Kachakani Pass.

The Political Agent, Major Cobb, had his own views about Kalam but his foremost aim was to maintain the peace. Major Cobb was on good terms with H.H. Nasir-ul-Mulk of Chitral. Cobb had earlier been the Assistant Political Agent posted in Chitral during the reign of H.H. Mehtar Shuja-ul-Mulk and later Political Agent in Gilgit. It was Cobb who first proposed to hold a polo tournament between teams from Chitral State and the Gilgit Agency and he chose Shandur, which lay at the boundary of the two regions to be the venue and the first tournament would eventually be held in 1941 when he became PA of the Gilgit Agency. During his time a APA Chitral Cobb would often play polo in Shandur and at the time Shahzada Nasir-ul-Mulk was the Governor of Mastuj in Upper Chitral and the Shandur plateau lay in his administrative domain. Thus Cobb and the then Shahzada Nasir-ul-Mulk developed an excellent relationship. Nasir-ul-Mulk succeeded his father H.H. Mehtar Shuja-ul-Mulk in 1936 and Cobb was the Political Agent at the time and represented the Government of India during Nasir-ul-Mulk’s enthronement as Mehtar of Chitral. Despite these ties, Cobb favoured the Wali of Swat. He had seen that Miangul Abdul Wadud was a man who had the requisite experience needed to build a state and would have little difficulty in merging Kalam with Swat. The Wali may not have been the scholar statesman that the Mehtar was but he was an administrator par excellence. Miangul Abdul Wadud had visions of making Swat a modern, developed state and he laid the groundwork for his son and successor Miangul Jahanzeb to do so. Cobb also realized a very important point. Kalam was geographically part of the Swat Valley and despite the Chitrali claims the only all weather route in and out of Kalam was along the Swat River down to Bahrain and then Mingora. If Kalam was to be developed and its resources exploited, only Swat would be in a position to do so effectively. Cobb was a veteran of the Waziristan campaigns, after which he opted for the Indian Political Service. The IPS, whose cadre was comprised of officers from both the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Army, served in the Princely States, Frontier Regions and the Sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf as British representatives. Cobb knew that unlike other parts of the Empire this region was still in essence a volatile tribal region and the niceties which other princely states followed would not be applicable and an all out war may inspire Afghanistan or even the Soviet Union to try their luck. The Great Game mentality was still very much alive! Cobb personally visited the Wali and told him not to interfere in Kalam and although he understood that his claim to the tract was valid, the Government of India could not risk a war in such a sensitive region between states which were all protectorates of the British Crown. Kalam was then declared an independent Tribal Area and Dir, Swat and Chitral were all made to give assurances in writing that they would respect the autonomy of the Kalam Tribal Agency.

Miangul Sir Abdul Wadud, Wali of Swat

Thus the Kalam Crisis came to an amicable ending. Peace was preserved and the princes were all satisfied in that none of them had to lose face due to Kalam being awarded to another state. It would be pertinent here to give a brief account of how the rulers involved in the dispute lived out the rest of their lives. H.H. Nasir-ul-Mulk continued his political reforms, he finally did away with any nominal relations that existed between Chitral and the Maharaja of Kashmir and demanded that Ghizer, Yasin and Ishkoman (which had been previously part of Chitral but were annexed by the Maharaja in 1895) be returned to Chitral State. He also instituted wide ranging social reforms in Chitral and continued promoting education. His reign would be a short one as he passed away due to complications from diabetes in 1943 at the age of forty six. As he had no sons he was succeeded by his brother H.H. Mehtar Muzaffar-ul-Mulk. Nawab Shah Jahan Khan of Dir continued to rule in his stern manner until 1960. He very reluctantly acceded to Pakistan in 1948 and refused to sign any other agreements curtailing his power or emancipating his people. He was finally deposed in a military action in 1960 and his son Nawab Khosrau Khan installed as Nawab of Dir. He lived the rest of his life in exile in Lahore. As for the Wali of Swat, he acceded to Pakistan on Nov 24, 1947 and then abdicated in favour of his well-educated and charismatic heir, Miangul Abdul Haq Jehanzeb who turned Swat into the most developed and peaceful territory in all of Northern Pakistan. Miangul Abdul Wadud also had the infamy of being alive to see the state he founded be unilaterally merged with Pakistan in 1969.

This photograph shows Miangul Abdul Wadud signing the Instrument of Accession enabling Swat to join Pakistan in 1947. On the right are his son Miangul Abdul Haq Jahanzeb, his grandson Miangul Aurangzeb and the Chief Secretary of Swat, Attaullah.-courtesy The Friday Times

What then happened to Kalam? Ten years later, after a stint as Political Agent of the Gilgit Agency, Cobb was back in Malakand. After the Wali had signed the instrument of accession and British paramountcy became a thing of the past, the newly installed Wali asked Cobb, who stayed on for a few years serving the Government of Pakistan, what should be done with Kalam? It is rumoured that Cobb encouraged the Wali to take Kalam. Thus after a second police action Kalam was occupied by Swat State. To try and legitimize their action they approached Mehtar Saif-ur-Rahman of Chitral while he was in Abbottabad but whatever arrangement the Wali and Mehtar may or may not have agreed upon is uncertain and the Government of Pakistan did not recognize it. This again led to upheaval and the Kalamis approached the new Pakistani authorities in Peshawar. It was then decided, in 1954, that Kalam would not be annexed by Swat State but that the Wali would be recognized as the “Administrator of Kalam” and that he would be the representative of the Government of Pakistan in Kalam. Thus in a very Pakistani, “neither here nor there way”, Kalam was absorbed by Swat in 1969. It was only after the merger of the Frontier States by the military regime of Yahya Khan and the subsequent derecognition of the rulers by Bhutto in 1971 that Kalam was formally merged as a part of Swat District.

Note: A shorter version of this article was published by The Friday Times on July 10, 2020

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