One of the earliest recorded attacks on India was by queen Semiramis, (1) who ruled the Assyrian Empire during the years 811-806 BCE – or nearly 500 years before the invasion of Alexander of Macedon. According to the accounts of ancient Greek historians Diodorus and Ctesias, the warrior queen “resolved to subjugate the Indians on hearing that they were the most numerous of all nations, and possessed the largest and most beautiful country in the world”. (2)
For two years preparations were made throughout her whole kingdom – modern day Iraq, Egypt, Turkey and parts of Central Asia. In the third year she collected 3 million foot soldiers, 500,000 horsemen and 100,000 chariots. Beside these, 100,000 camels were covered with the sewn skins of black oxen and fitted with fake movable trunks in order to trick the Indians into believing that she had a large elephant corps as well.
According to Greeks accounts, Stabrobates, the king of the Indians, awaited the Assyrians on the bank of the Indus with an even larger force gathered from the whole of India. (Due to the peculiar Greek orthography we’ll probably never know his actual name. Perhaps he was Satyabrata. Indian records, if any, are lost.)
When Semiramis approached, Stabrobates sent messengers to meet her with the complaint that she was making war upon him though he had done her no wrong. In his letter he reproached her licentious life, and calling the gods to witness, threatened to crucify her if victorious.
Semiramis read the letter, laughed, and said that the Indians would find out her virtue by her actions. The fleet of the Indians lay ready for battle on the Indus. “Semiramis caused her ships to be put together, manned them with her bravest warriors, and, after a long and stubborn contest, the victory fell to her share. A thousand ships of the Indians were sunk and many prisoners taken.”
Stabrobates, pretending flight, led his army back from the Indus, but in reality he wished to induce the enemy to cross the river. When the massive Assyrian army passed over the Indus, Stabrobates wondered how they had procured so many elephants. The mystery was soon solved when some defectors from the enemy side told the Indians these were decoys.
In the ensuing battle, the soldiers of Semiramis resisted only a short time before the Indian elephants caused an immense slaughter. The Assyrians left their ranks and fled, and the king pressed forward against Semiramis. His arrow wounded her arm, and as she turned away his javelin struck her on the back. The wounded Semiramis barely managed to escape over the pontoon bridge to the other side of the Indus.
The Assyrian queen had lost two-thirds of her army and the rest of her fleeing troops would have been easy pickings for the Indians. But in what would become a frustratingly maddening tendency of Hindu kings for the next 28 centuries, the defeated foe was not pursued and destroyed. The Assyrian army should have been chased back to where they came from, hunted down in their cities and villages in Mesopotamia, Turkey and Egypt, but were instead allowed to escape. “The Indians were warned by signs from heaven and their interpretation by the seers not to cross the river.” After exchanging prisoners Semiramis returned. She never attacked India though.
Sindh: No forward policy
The Arabs had been trying to invade India since the year 638 CE. However, it took them nearly seven decades to defeat the small frontier kingdom of Sindh. Even that happened because of dissension in the Indian kingdom. Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad in his ‘Humanity at Death’s Door’ and Maulana Nadvi in ‘Indo-Arab Relations’, write that between 638 CE and 711 CE, the Arabs launched as many as 15 attacks against Sindh by land and via sea. The Chachnama, a history of Sindh, Iists seven major attempts by land and or by sea during this period.
It is astounding that the Sindhi Rajputs were able to repeatedly defeat the powerful Muslims armies that had steamrolled Arabia, Persia and reached the gates of Europe. This one relatively small kingdom by Indian standards defeated and massacred wave after wave of Arab armies despite massive amounts of wealth expended by the Caliphs of Baghdad and Damascus to fulfil the desire of their prophet Mohammad for Ghazwa-i-Hind (conquest of India).
The defeats hurt Arab pride so such that this the land they had previously described as flowing in “musk and honey” was now barren and dirty. Khalifa Usman was so upset by the Arab defeats in Sindh during his term that he forbade any more attempts on Sindh, on the ground that “its water is dirty, its soil stony, and its fruit poisonous”. (3) Clearly, a case of sour grapes.
The Caliph of Arabia Walid-I wrote: “The people (of that country) are cunning and the country itself is very distant. It will cost us very large sums of money to provide a sufficient number of men and arms and instruments of war. This affair will be a source of great anxiety, and so we must put it off; for every time the army goes (on such an expedition) vast numbers of Muslims are killed. So think no more of such a design.”
In the backdrop of these diabolic invasions spread over 70 years, it is incredible that the Indians did not launch raids into Arabia to destroy the virus at its source. The Rajputs of Sindhs, who had defeated these Arab armies, knew very well that these raids had a sole intent – loot, rape and the enslavement of defeated populations. The Arab armies had been doing this in all their captured lands and the entire world knew this was happening, so it’s not that the Indians were blissfully unaware of this. Had they created a joint army purpose-raised to launch pre-emptive strikes into Arabia, Persia, Syria and Turkey, instead of waiting for the enemy to knock down the gates of Debal, Alor, Sehwan Nerunkot (Hyderabad), Brahmanabad and Multan, the invasion of Mohammed Bin Qasim in 711 would never have succeeded.
Well-known lawyer and former Law Minister Ram Jethmalani writes about this lack of forward policy among Indians. About the invasion of Sindh, which again is a stark example of a victorious Indian kingdom refusing to the eradicate the enemy before he came dangerously close, Jethmalani says that after Sindh finally fell to the Arabs – and despite the horrendous destruction that ensued – the Indian kingdoms to the east did not come together to free their Sindhi brethren:
“Rest of the Indians across the borders of Sindh were doubtless aware of the Arab conquest. It produced not a ripple on the quiet waters of their placid existence. Life went on as usual. There was neither a sense of territorial loss, nor an understanding of the nature of the new menace. The conquest of Sindh was dismissed as one more dacoity. Nearly 500 years elapsed before Mohammed Ghori and his marauding hordes descended on India in 1192 A.D. The whole of northern India was made a tributary to the Ghor Dynasty. Muslim power in India had come to stay. Five centuries went by, but the country did not wake up or prepare to do or die. It is a shameful and tragic tale.” (4)
Not many Indians know that Dushala, the sister of the Mahabharata warrior Duryodhan, was married to Jayadratha, the king of Sindh. Seeing the backwardness of her new homeland, she requested her brother, who was at that time the emperor of India, to do something to raise Sindhi civilisation to the level of the rest of Aryavrat (the Land of Aryas, that is, India). To please his sister, Duryodhan asked 30,000 Vedic Brahmins from his empire to settle in Sindh and transform the place. It was these Brahmins who later formed the backbone of resistance to Alexander of Macedon in 326 BCE.
Kalidas says in the Raghuvamsha that on the advice of his maternal uncle Yudhajat, Lord Rama conferred Sindh on his brother Bharata.
And let’s not forget that the great Chandragupta Maurya first won Sindh and Punjab. It was from these bases that he overthrew the Nandas, occupied Pataliputra and established the mighty Mauryan Empire. (5)
You get the picture – Sindh was an integral part of India for thousands of years and yet after that one defeat, it was forgotten like a bad dream.
Tragedy at Tarain
Had the Indian kingdoms embraced a larger world view, they would have sent a united force into Central Asia which was the home of the Turkic tribes. Before it was conquered by Islam, Central Asia was literally India’s backyard where Buddhism and Hinduism were equally at home as the indigenous pagan religions. They were adjuncts to Aryavrata – Land of the Aryas or the noble Sanskritised people. But once the Central Asians (belonging to places such as modern Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan) converted to Islam, these very same people were possessed with the zeal to destroy idol worshippers.
To the credits of our brave ancestors, after the fall of Sindh, the new frontier kingdoms continued to resist the Islamic armies for centuries. The Hindu Shahi dynasty of Afghanistan and Punjab kept the Islamic hordes at bay for five centuries – a level of resistance unparalleled in the world.
However, that was about to change. In 1191 CE, Mohammad Ghori, the Turkish ruler of Ghor in Afghanistan, invaded India but was utterly routed after a fierce battle in Tarain near Delhi by Prithviraj Chauhan the ruler of Ajmer. Ghori was captured and should have been put to death for bringing death and destruction to India but Prithviraj, against the advice of his leading commanders and ministers, magnanimously let him go.
The fleeing Turkish and Arab army should have been chased right through the narrow passes that foreign invaders took to enter and exit India. They should have been pursued into Ghor and the kingdom should have been razed to the ground in order to make the staging grounds of invasions into India unusable and unliveable.
The Afghan returned in 1192 with an even bigger army, but Prithviraj did not treat the matter as urgent. He refused to recall his main army which was fighting in Bengal – a thousand miles to the east. The Indian king said he would lead his auxiliary army himself, instead of recalling his two leading commanders – who had defeated Ghori the previous year – from a military campaign in Bengal. This was the height of pride and stupidity – taking on a cunning and brutal enemy while your best forces are fighting elsewhere.
In the Second Battle of Tarain, Prithviraj initially had the upper hand but as per Hindu tradition he ordered his army to cease fighting after dusk. This saved the Muslim army from being slaughtered yet again, and they used the reprieve to launch a sneak attack at night. After defeating the Indians they captured and blinded Prithviraj, ending Hindu dominance over north-western India for the next 700 years.
1971 War: Gains frittered away
On December 16, 1971, India defeated Pakistan after a quick 14-day war, taking more than 97,000 Pakistan Army soldiers and officers as prisoners of war. These soldiers had surpassed the Nazis in killing efficiency. While it took the Germans 12 years to murder six million Jews, the Pakistan Army had in eight short but horrifying months in 1971 murdered more than 3 million Bengalis (80 per cent of whom were Hindus). It was a crackdown of such apocalyptic proportions that two-thirds of East Pakistan’s 66 million people had fled their homes and farms and were constantly on the move in a bid to escape the butchers of the Pakistan Army. Ten million of them escaped to India.
The Pakistan Army raped 200,000 Bengali women. A 1973 article in the New York Times Magazine (6) quotes the chair of the National Board of Bangladesh Women’s Rehabilitation Programme: “Dr Geoffrey Davis of the International Planned Parenthood Federation who travelled all over Bangladesh estimates that at least 400,000 women were (raped) by the Pakistanis.”
The Pakistani generals fixed rape quotas for their soldiers and porn movies were shown to stir up these Punjabi and Pathan troops. (7)
Despite the Indian political leadership having knowledge of such horrific human rights abuses and mass murder, the extent of these crimes was covered up. These Pakistani monsters were housed, fed and protected from the anger of the Bengali people. A BBC newsreel (8) shows 25,000 Pakistani soldiers in Dhaka being “guarded from possible Bengali vengeance by the men with whom less than a fortnight ago they were at war”.
Instead of being held accountable for their crimes before Bangladeshi tribunals, the Pakistani soldiers were transported in heavily guarded trains to India. “At every step they were protected by Indian soldiers had it proved necessary. The Bengalis are not pleased to see their enemies go home apparently scot free.”
India’s top commander Sam Maneckshaw personally visited these POWs, enquiring about their welfare and comfort. When one of them hesitated to shake hands, saying he was a humble toilet cleaner, Manekshaw replied, “We are both soldiers,” and grabbed the Pakistani soldier’s hand. Can you imagine the top Russian or American commanders such as Zhukov and Eisenhower doing the same with captured Nazi soldiers?
The Indian political leadership committed a huge strategic blunder by letting the enemy off the hook without extracting a price. That 97,000 Pakistani troops were languishing in India was a huge dent to Pakistan’s pride. The Pakistani public was getting restive and were demanding their soldiers be brought back at any cost. It was the opportune time to settle the Kashmir issue in India’s favour. Just like Russia fixed post-war European boundaries in favour of its friends and allies by carving up Germany, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi should have told Pakistan to surrender all claims to Kashmir and failing that India should have grabbed Pakistan Occupied Kashmir by force.
According to former army chief General V.K. Singh, Pakistani prisoners were housed in Indian officers’ flats while the Indian officers and their families slept in tents in the bitter cold winter. After their surrender in Bangladesh, the defeated Pakistanis were allowed to keep their weapons – unprecedented in history. At least one Indian officer of a colonel rank was shot dead by a Pakistan soldier inside a POW camp. (9) There is no evidence that the Pakistani soldier responsible was ever charged with murder.
Although they killed 3 million Bengalis, not one Pakistani was tried for war crimes. This was a case of the Indian Army completely abdicating its responsibility after winning the war. Compare this with the Nuremberg trials where the Russian and American commanders made sure most of the Nazi war criminals were either executed or given long sentences.
In fact, Indian generosity was misplaced and spurned. General V.K. Singh says many Indian POWs were beaten by their Pakistani captors. As the Indian Army’s fought its way into East Pakistan, they saw two Indian soldiers of the Rajput Regiment tied to a tree; both had been brutally beaten and their eyes had been gouged out.
According to Gen Singh, the fanaticism of the Pakistan Army had to be experienced first-hand to be believed. Virtually every Pakistani would tell his Indian captors that they he never forget this humiliation and that the Pakistani Army would one day take revenge.
Not only were the Pakistani POWs allowed to return home on vague assurances of peace by Pakistani Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto, but 58 Indian soldiers believed to be in Pakistani POW camps were not repatriated. Islamabad, however, refuses to acknowledge these Indian soldiers were ever lodged in its jails.
With the war over in the east, the victorious Indian Army had started moving its elite armoured divisions to the western border to strike at the Pakistani heartland. This would have been India’s first hot pursuit in over a thousand years since the Rajput king Bappa Rawal is said to have entered Afghanistan chasing Islamic invaders.
But it was not to be. Bangladeshi journalist Syed Badrul Ahsan writes that the Pakistan Army which had boasted of marching all the way to Delhi had fallen flat on its face in Dhaka. “The enemy, meanwhile, had penetrated deep into what remained of Pakistan. Frantic appeals by the Nixon administration in Washington to the Soviet leadership in Moscow to have Indira Gandhi stop her soldiers from making a havoc of West Pakistan helped. A shrunken Pakistan was saved from further degradation.” (10)
The Bangladesh War was a golden opportunity to dismember the Pakistani core – Punjab, Sindh and NWFP (Khyber Pakthunkhwa). India was protected by the 1970 Indo-Soviet Treaty which had a secret clause that said Russia was duty bound to come to India’s defence if it was attacked by another country. Even without the knowledge of this clause, the Chinese had watched from their sidelines their vassal Pakistan get ripped apart by the Indian Army. Only the Americans were making noises and that was because of Richard Nixon’s personal hatred of Hindus. But had the Indian political leadership been more resolute, they could have boldly entered West Pakistan and created four new countries, leaving Pakistani Punjab as a rump state. With Islamabad now having nuclear weapons New Delhi’s task becomes many times more difficult; it will now have to break up Pakistan through subterfuge and sabotage which could take decades.
Walls of Attock
The only noteworthy Indian power that set its sights outside India’s land borders was the Martha Empire. By the mid-1700s the Marathas had liberated vast swaths – at least 70 per cent – of India from Muslim rule. The Mughal emperor was a Maratha vassal and a small but strong Maratha detachment was stationed in Delhi to protect the emperor from his Muslim rivals. Maratha commanders with their praetorian guards were known to enter the Red Fort at will.
After Delhi the Marathas captured Lahore in 1758, which was followed by the incorporation of the whole of Punjab into the Maratha Empire. Muslim majority Punjab came under Hindu rule after a gap of 800 years. After the Marathas planted their flag on the walls of Attock, the redoubtable commander Raghunath Rao wrote this memorable line to his king, the Peshwa, in Pune: “Give me the freedom and I’ll leap across the walls of Attock.” And he added: “We have decided to extend our rule up to Kandahar.”
This was a significant statement because Attock was a frontier city, and the Marathas were contemplating the re-conquest of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, their grand plan could not take shape because of wars with the English, which ultimately extinguished the Maratha Empire in 1818 – exactly 200 years ago. However, Raghunath Rao’s statement shows that Hindus are not entirely lacking in the will to expand their country’s land borders beyond the core of Aryavarta.
Needed, a new way of war fighting
What’s wrong with the Hindu way of war? Many Indians feel a sense of pride when they talk about Dharma Yuddha – the Hindu Code of War, which lays out strict rules of fighting for both sides. The ancient sages recommended and justified the cost of war for the preservation of good. The Rig Veda, the oldest text in the world, describes the fierce wars that the ancient kings of India fought against their enemies. However, unlike the Christian concept of crusade and its counterpart jehad in Islam, there is no justification in Hinduism for any war against foreigners or people of other faiths. “The concept of dharma in its original sense means the maintenance of peace and security through the law and order within the larger cosmic order. Thus, the concept of just war in Hinduism is against the evil characters of the day, whether national or alien.” (11) The Hindu code of war is thus based on right and wrong and on justice and injustice in the everyday life of all mortals, whether Hindus or non-Hindus.
Also, when it came to fighting a war, certain laws had to be observed. “A ruler or a king who did not observe the laws of war had no place in the galaxy of virtuous and victorious kings. As are the laws of war in modern international law, the laws of war in Hinduism were designed to make the conduct of war as humane as possible. The Hindu laws of war included rules to ensure that warfare was conducted in a fair manner and by open means.” (11)
However, nothing grows to the sky; no law, however beautiful, can be for all times to come. The laws of Sat Yuga (Age of Righteousness) cannot be expected to work in Kali Yuga (Age of Quarrel and Strife). Our kings failed to accept the fact that Dharma Yuddha was totally not suitable for fighting Islamic and Christian hordes which did not follow the same rules. The Abrahamic faiths had to be fought on their terms. Only a few Hindu rulers such as Shivaji Maharaj understood this.
Had our forefathers chased the Islamic hordes back to Baghdad, Syria, Ghazni, Ghor and Samarkand, there was absolutely no chance India would have been conquered. These places just did not have the wealth or the numbers to mount frequent attacks on India. It was the plunder of India that helped them to stage invasion upon invasion. So by allowing the foreigners to raid India repeatedly, Indian rulers facilitated their own demise.
Now compare the way Indian rulers abided by their war code of not chasing the enemy with the British who constantly kept Afghanistan in a state of turmoil so that that country could never become strong enough to invade India – Britain’s most profitable colony. The British lost thousands of troops and many able generals during their invasions but they succeeded in destabilising Afghanistan. Each victory of the Afghans was pyrrhic because they had to spend the following decade rebuilding their destroyed towns and villages.
Against the European colonisers too, Indian rulers showed needless magnanimity in terms of truces signed when the foreigners were defeated. In each instance, the defeated army was allowed to retreat to its ‘factory’. This made it possible for the likes of the British to wait for reinforcements from England to fight another day.
This difference in fighting styles is the reason why a tiny backward island conquered half the world while wealthy, valorous India became a conquered country.
Lessons from the Romans
If Hindus would merely follow the advice of the great Mauryan strategist Chanakya, that would be enough for India to secure its interests and prevent invasions ad infinitum. However, since Indians have a fascination for everything foreign, here’s what the Roman general and censor Marcus Cato said about the need to destroy its prime rival Carthage: “The Carthaginians are already our enemies; for he who prepares everything against me, so that he can make war at whatever time he wishes, he is already my enemy even though he is not yet using arms.” (12)
So focussed was Cato on Rome’s security that he ended his every speech in the Roman Senate, on any matter whatsoever, from 153 BCE to his death aged 85 in 149 BCE, with the words: “Delenda est Carthago.” (Carthage must be destroyed!)
In 146 BCE Roman legions razed the city so completely that there remained absolutely no trace of it after the war. So thorough was the destruction and so determined were the Romans to finish the problem of a perennially troublesome maritime neighbour that they poured salt into the soil of Carthage so that nothing would ever grow there for decades.
The Carthaginian defeat was total and absolute, instilling fear and horror into Rome’s enemies and allies. (13)
The world is never constant. There will be war again – and most likely it will be thrust upon India as on countless previous occasions. It could even be a civil war with foreign instigation and involvement. Keeping that existential threat in mind, Hindus must internalise this truth – only the utter destruction of enemies, as in the manner of removing Carthage from the face of the earth, will ensure the survival of Hindus – and India as we know it.
- R. Malkani, The Sindh Story, page 35
- Ram Jethmalani, Preface to The Sindh Story by K.R. Malkani
- R. Malkani, The Sindh Story, page 21
- New York Times, https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1973/01/21/99112955.html
- Women’s Media Centre, http://www.womensmediacenter.com/women-under-siege/conflicts/bangladesh
- BBC, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDjfq-CQULk
- K. Singh, Leadership in the Indian Army
- Syed Badrul Ahsan, The Daily Observer, http://www.observerbd.com/2016/03/15/141568.php
- The Concept In Hinduism Of ‘Just War’, Surya P. Subedi, Journal of Conflict & Security Law, Vol. 8, No. 2 (October 2003), pages 339-361
- Ben Kiernan, Genocide Studies Program, Yale University, https://gsp.yale.edu/sites/default/files/first_genocide.pdf
- Encylopaedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Carthage-146-BCE
Featured Image: Hindustan Times
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Rakesh is primarily a defence analyst. His articles have been quoted extensively by universities and in books on diplomacy, counter terrorism, warfare, and development of the global south; and by international defence journals.
Rakesh’s work has been cited by leading think tanks and organisations that include the Naval Postgraduate School, California; US Army War College, Pennsylvania; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington DC; State University of New Jersey; Institute of International and Strategic Relations, Paris; BBC Vietnam; Siberian Federal University, Krasnoyarsk; Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi; Institute for Defense Analyses, Virginia; International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, Washington DC; Stimson Centre, Washington DC; Foreign Policy Research Institute, Philadelphia; and Institute for Strategic, Political, Security and Economic Consultancy, Berlin.
His articles have been published by the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi; Foundation Institute for Eastern Studies, Warsaw; and the Research Institute for European and American Studies, Greece, among others.