By Reshmi Dasgupta
Feb 27, 2019
Balakot should be commemorated by a Bollywood film at the very least; considering this is the second time the spot has harboured Jihadis who have been killed by Indian troops.
The first was in 1831, when two Islamic preachers from Rae Bareli and their followers, then part of the kingdom of Awadh, congregated in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to get the Pathans to join them in a jihad to establish an Islamic state.
One of the two preachers was Syed Ahmad from Rae Bareli, who made his way to Peshawar in 1826 with his followers. There he plotted to not only to found an Islamic state —with the help of modules across pre-1857 India— but also to attack the Sikh Empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He was assisted in his mission by Ismail Dehlvi, an Islamic scholar who supported the declaration of jihad on the Sikh Empire.
No wonder Masood Azhar wanted his Jaish-e- Mohammed training camp in Balakot, the very spot where these two and their followers were killed by the Sikh Army, making it a “sacred spot” for Jihadis. Unfortunately, history has unexpectedly (for the JeM) repeated itself. Even back then, mujahideen were unable to get much local support for their caliphate as the Pashtuns proved too proud and unruly.
In 1831, in fact, Syed Ahmed had even written to the Nawab of Tonk outlining the advantage of Balakot’s elevation, but that—and the flooding of the rice fields below— proved to be no obstacle for the Sikh Army. The JeM should have read some better history books on how their predecessors came a cropper there, and not provided an additional significance to the Indian airstrike that destroyed BalakotII.
The Sikh Army lay in wait for the mujahideen to make the first move—which some (apocryphal) accounts say came when one of them ran towards the Sikh camp in pursuit of a mirage (!) of a red-clad nymph—and then simply decimated them. The Jihadi casualties, then as now, are a disputed figure, ranging from 300 to 1300. But both leaders were killed, with one’s head apparently paraded by the victors.
The only truly heroic figure from the Jihadi camp, according to another story and a grave in the Balakot area, was a diligent donkey. He was the sole supply line to the mujahideen – a sort of automated weapon of the pre-industrial era—making his way on his own. Sadly, he too was ‘martyred’ –that too for a cause he did not willingly support. That he was given a hero’s burial, however, was probably apt.
A madrasa at that spot where the first Indian Jihadis (so to speak) took root was expected. Its metamorphosis into a JeM terror incubator was also perhaps inevitable. Most apt, though, was that when Balakot’s Jihadi nest was destroyed for the second time, it was by the Indian Air Force that happens to be headed by a Sikh. The significance of Balakot has many facets indeed. Take note, Bollywood!