The only General to Conquer Afghanistan

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa- The Tiger-Killer



Prof. (Dr) Surjit Singh Bhatti ( Retd.), Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar

Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sikh Emperor of India during 1799-1849, was voted recently as the Greatest World Leader in history. This was the result of a poll conducted by the BBC World History Magazine in January 2020.  His Empire extended from Jamrud and the Khyber Pass (beyond the Indus river), in the West to Tibet and Ladakh  in the East, and from Mithankot in the South to Kashmir in the North. The population consisted of a happy mix of Muslims (70%), Sikhs(17%) and Hindus (13%). It was the last region of the Indian subcontinent to be annexed by the British, after the death of the Maharaja.

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa (1791-1837) was the Sikh General who helped to create this vast Empire for the Maharaja. In 1881, English and French papers discussed who was the Most Successful General of the World. After considering many generals from all over the world, the British writer G W Leitner bowed his head to Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa for his valor to conquer Afghanistan, where even the British were unsuccessful.

Bagh-maar (Tiger-Killer ), the popular name by which he was known, Sardar Hari Singh was born  in Gujranwala, now in Pakistan.  As a young man he learnt to be an accomplished swordsman and horse rider. He became adept in war games and known for his fearlessness. When attacked by a tiger during a hunt, he pierced the tiger with his sword and then, using his bare hands, he tore the tiger apart from its mouth. He got the name Nalwa after the courageous King Nal who was famous for hunting tigers.

Governor Hari Singh Nalwa constructed several important buildings, which included Forts, Gurudwaras, Temples, Mosques, Towns, and  Guest Houses for pilgrims (Sarais).  He built the fortified town of Haripur, named after him. He built Sikh Forts in Khyber, Jamrud, Sialkot, Nowshera, Uri and Peshawar, after he wrested these territories.  In the town called Hasan Abdal, he built Gurudwara Panja Sahib to commemorate Guru Nanak’s journey through that region.

The Hero of 20 Victorious Battles

General Hari Singh Nalwa fought and won 20 battles in his life. These became famous in history for his chivalry. In 1807, he captured Kasur and was given a big Jagir as a reward. In 1808, he carried the day at Sialkot. This was followed by his victory at Attock in 1813 and the conquest of Mahmudkot, in 1816.  The Battle of Multan in 1818 was a cake walk. Possession of this city was taken by him without any resistance. In 1818, he vanquished the rulers and annexed Peshawar, the summer capital of Afghanistan, for the first (and last) time in history. This was followed in 1819 by adding to his kingdom an important town called Mitha Tiwana. By 1821, he made Kashmir a part of the Khalsa Empire. By 1823, he had forayed into most of Afghanistan and established his formidable reputation in the region.

In 1836, General Hari Singh Nalwa, in a sudden attack, took  Jamrud, at the mouth of the Khyber Pass. The frontiers of the Sikh Empire now bordered the foothills of the Hindu Kush Mountains. Shock waves rattled through a demoralized Afghanistan when they lost Khyber. Finally, a dauntless General Hari Singh Nalwa accompanied by Prince Kanwar Sher Singh, conquered Panjtaar, to merit his status of the unrivaled Knight of the Darbar Khalsa.

General Hari Singh Nalwa became a household name in Afghanistan and throughout the Khalsa Kingdom during his lifetime. Maharaja Ranjit Singh recognized  his contributions with the Izazi-i-Sardari, the highest honor of his Empire. Today he is remembered as a matchless and illustrious Sikh General and a great Administrator. Government of India issued a commemorative postage stamp in 2013 to mark the 176-th anniversary of his death.

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