Past present: The pirates’ legacy

Published Aug 18, 2012 12:05am

For centuries, the subcontinent was renowned for its richness and resources in the ancient as well as in the medieval periods. Which is why, foreign powers would return time and again to plunder its wealth.

When Muhammad Bin Qasim conquered Sindh and finally occupied Multan, he sent treasures from the temple to Basra along with a letter saying that the value of the treasure was more than what has been invested in the conquest of Sindh. He further remarked that the head of Raja Dahir should be considered a bonus.

After the Arabs came the Turks. Mahmud Ghaznavi invaded India 17 times and took away the wealth as war booty to Ghazna. He was followed by Muhammad Ghauri whose slaves finally established their rule in India.

After defeating Ibrahim Lodhi in the battle of Panipat in 1526, he generously distributed the late king’s treasure amongst the grieving family. He sent gifts to Kabul and was so pleased by the acquired victory and wealth that all the inhabitants of Kabul got one shah rukhi as a gift from him.

For the years to come, the Mughal rulers accumulated wealth in their treasury and ruled India without any danger or fears of any foreign invasion.

But in the 18th century, the Mughal decline began as its wealth and weakness attracted foreign invaders. Nadir Shah Afshar invaded India in 1737 and looted the centuries old accumulated treasure of the Mughals. According to an estimate, he acquired the equivalent of over Rs30m from the royal treasury and about Rs15m in the form of jewelry. He took away the peacock throne, the value of which was Rs 30m. He extorted another Rs150m from the royal karkhanajat or factories.

Nadir Shah was followed by Ahmad Shah Abdali who invaded Delhi in 1757 and continued the pillage. He forced nobles to hand over their wealth to him. So pressurised were they that some of the nobles committed suicide. Armed soldiers were posted in all parts of the city, houses were searched and valuables seized. Some royal ladies were also taken to Kabul. Ahmad Shah Abdali continued his raids in North India, Kashmir, Sindh, and Punjab and swept away Indian wealth to Afghanistan. The people of Punjab were so accustomed to his plunder that it was commonly said, “Consume whatever you have because the rest belongs to Abdali”. Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler brought to an end the Afghan marauding.

In 1757, after the Battle of Plassey, when the East India Company became a political power, its servants started to loot. After accumulating wealth, they returned to England where they purchased property, a seat in the parliament and would be called nabobs.

After the Battle of Buxar in 1862, the Company got the right of diwani or to officially collect revenue from Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. The officials brutally extracted revenue from the peasants which steadily reduced the most fertile province of Bengal to ruins resulting in famines, droughts and extreme poverty.

In 1857, the Indian army was defeated and the city of Delhi was occupied by the British soldiers who looted the city and took away war booty to their country. Jang Bahadur who came from Nepal to assist the British in crushing the rebellion took full advantage of plundering Awadh. He carried away war booty in 150 carts to his country.

During the colonial rule, Indian wealth and resources were regularly transferred to England. The richness of India became proverbial and the British proudly called it ‘jewel in the crown’.

The wealth of the Indian subcontinent was not only ransacked by foreign invaders but the ruling classes as well. After independence, the ruling classes treated this country as ‘conquered’ and pillaged its wealth as war booty. The only difference being that in the past, the looted wealth was shifted to Damascus and Ghazna, today it is deposited in the Swiss and American banks.

The subcontinent became rich and resourceful because of its peasants, artisans and people who worked hard to produce the wealth. The foreign invaders in turn extorted money from them so that those who created and produced wealth suffered exploitation and were left in poverty and misery while ironically those who had power and authority extorted their hard-earned money from the poor and shamelessly spent it on luxury.

Pakistan has plenty of wealth, resources and production but the tragedy is that the rulers take away all leaving the people in a deplorable economic state. For people, there is no difference between foreign invaders and local looters. To them, they have the same faces and same methods of extortion.

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