The Sikh Maharajah Ranjit Singh ruled over the greater part of what is now Pakistan. His capital was Lahore and he consolidated his rule from Kashmir in the North to Sind in the south. He also fought a series of unrelenting wars against the Afghans and defeated them decisively. What did Ranjit Singh represent? How do Pakistanis see him now?
The Empire of Ranjit Singh
Two factors stand out in the rule of the Sikhs under Ranjit Singh. Firstly, it must be understood that the majority of his subjects were Moslems.When I say Moslems; I am referring to Punjabi Muslims
One fact that cannot be denied is that India was never one cohesive nation. Even during the reign of Aurangzeb, independent kingdoms like the Maharatta kingdom under Shivaji were a reality. In fact Jinnah cited these examples of independent empires, including the one of Ranjeet Singh, in his discussions with Gandhi and Lord Mountbatten. Perhaps there is a lot of truth in his arguments.
Jinnah and Punjabi Nationalism
Jinnah was aware of Punjabi nationalism and as such he did not wish to divide Punjab.This was the background of his offer to the Sikhs to join Pakistan. Perhaps he had the rule of Ranjit Singh in mind. He is reported to have stated to Mountbatten that “A Punjabi is a Punjabi before he is a Muslim or Hindu”. This identity was given by Ranjit Singh.
However the Sikhs did not accept Jinnah’s offer and Punjab was divided. Many Pakistanis now do feel that Ranjit Singh stood for Punjabiat( Glory of Punjabis). He was not a religious fanatic and never converted anybody to Sikhism. But his subjects loved him. Once he accepted a hand crafted copy of the Koran as a gift and remarked that perhaps God gave him one eye, so that he could see all religions equally. What a great man!
Ranjit Singh and His Campaigns in the North West
Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s genius lay in the fact that he cobbled together a number of principalities to forge an independent state from Kashmir to NWFP consisting of Punjabis and Pashtu’s who professed the Moslem,Sikh and Hindu faiths. All credit to him for forging such a state. This state had its own Army and government
Lessons of Ranjit Singh’s campaigns
One of the most poignant lessons that the present Pakistani state can learn is from the manner Ranjit Singh and his Generals waged a war against the Wahabi-led Islamist insurgency in that period led by Syed Ahmad and Shah Abdul Aziz. It will not be incorrect to state that these are the ancestors of the modern Taliban and Al Qaeda.
The Wahabi had declared ‘jihad' against Ranjit Singh’s army and used the Pathans tribesmen against his state , which in any case was a Moslem majority state. Ranjit Singh and his Punjabi army crushed this earliest insurgency of the Taliban, capturing Peshawar which had been under the Afghans since the time of Mahmud Ghaznavi. It is often mentioned that the British and Russians failed in subduing the tribal area. A lot many commentators are also forecasting a US defeat in this region. However, Ranjit Singh proved that his Punjabi Army could decimate this insurgency. He did it with élan and the US forces must take heart from his exploits.
Ranjit Singh as the Fore runner of the Present Pakistan State
Today, the Pakistan Army is again fighting a similar battle. The antagonists are the same and the area also is the same. The purpose is to safeguard another Muslim majority state Pakistan against a “Jihad” unleashed by ultra fundamentalists. Let us hope they win this war. I would like to quote Yasser Latif Hamdanis in Pakistan defense forum. He states "My interest in Ranjit Singh is purely from a Pakistani angle. Just as we admire Tipu Sultan but do not become Mysore Nationalists, we don’t become Punjabi nationalists by admiring Ranjit Singh. This is however an attempt to honor one of the greatest son of this soil from whom the Pakistani nation state can learn a thing or two in state-craft" .
Thus it will not be incorrect to state that Ranjit Singh’s empire was the fore runner of the state of Pakistan as it exists today.