Why Balakot Air Strike Is Significant Historically

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Harihar Swarup

Almost 200 years before the IAF bombed
the terror camps at Balakot, a man from Bareilly, Syed Ahmed Barelvi, had used
the place as a launch pad for what is considered by many to be the first
“Jihad” of modern era.

Syed Ahmed was called Syed Ahmed
Barelvi as he was born in U.P.’s Bareilly. A religious man, he dreamed of
establishing puritanical Islamic rule in the subcontinent. He despaired at the
decline of Muslim power in India as the Marathas, Sikhs and Jats had taken over
Mughal territory, and the British had emerged as a formidable contender.

Bareilvi moved to North-West Frontier
Province (NWFP) or present day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa(KP) in Pakistan, thinking the
people of KP and neighbouring Afghanistan would back him in his call to recover
“Islamic State” from the hands of “infidels”. He was also banking on local
unhappiness with the Sikh rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Raising a 2,500-strong
army of mujahideen comprising volunteers from as far as Patna, he reached

According to Pakistani writer Aziz
Ahmad, Barelvi moved from place to place in the frontier province for five
years before he reached Balakot in 1831. He was then 46 and married a third
time. In a letter to Nawab of Tonk(Rajasthan), Barelvi hoped: Since Balakot is
located at a secure place, surrounded by hills on one side and bounded by river
on the other, God willing, the Kaffirs (infidels) will not be able to reach us.

Hari Singh, Governor of Kashmir and
NWFP, represented Ranjit Singh, who ruled from Lahore. Hari Singh’s commander
Sher Singh and his forces lay in wait for Barelvi and his mujahideen. Some of
Sher Singh’s forces occupied the hilltop overlooking the town of Balakot. Ahmed
says Barelvi had the paddy fields between Balakot town and the hills flooded by
and hoped that the Sikh army would advance and get mired in the muddy fields.
It didn’t happen that way and on May 6,1831, the mujahideen, along with Barelvi
and Shah Ismail (nephew of Islamic scholar Shah Abdul Aziz) were killed.
Barelvi’s followers hailed him as martyr.

Barelvi, who had proclaimed himself to
be the Imam or supreme leader and was addressed as Caliph, lived on as a source
of inspiration for Islamic fundamentalists who aspire to impose Islamic
supremacy on the subcontinent.

Shah Ismail and his family too still
occupy a place in Jihadist memory. Jihadist belonging to Jaish are followers of
the Deobandi school, whose founders were ideological close to Ismail’s
grandfather Shah Walliullah. The writer Ayesha Jalal in her book ‘Partisans of
Allah: Jihad in South Asia’, notes the agony of Muslims over the loss of power
led (Shah Ismail’s uncle) Shah Aziz to issue a Fatwa to declare India was no
longer ‘dar-ul-Islam’ (land of Islam) but ‘dar-ul-harb’ (land of war).

Aziz’s categorization of India as a
land where it was legitimate to wage war represented irredentism, which is an
important dimension of Jihad. Put simply, it denotes the conviction that the
land once under Muslim rule shall always remain so. Put simply, it denotes
simply the conviction that a land once under Muslim rule shall always remain
so. Jihad makes it obligatory for the ‘faithful’ to strive to recover such
territories if they are lost to “non-believers”.

Balakot therefore holds an important
place for jihadis like Lakshar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed, who are not
reconciled to the loss of Delhi and Hyderabad to ‘non believers” and want to
take control of J&K. (IPA Service)

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