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We keep hearing about Lahore being ransacked time and again over the ages. There was a 200-year period in which Lahore was ransacked, on the average, every six years. People hid their women in secret underground houses outside the city.

But then why did this start in the first place? There is one ruler of Lahore about which we know very little, yet in a way he was responsible for the city being attacked time and again by the forces of Genghis Khan, or known better by the colourful description of ‘The Scourge of God’. This ruler of Lahore was Jalal ud-duniya wa ud-din Abul Muzaffar Manguberdi ibn Muhammad, better known in history as Jalaluddin Khwarazmshah, the last of the great rulers of the Khwarazmian Empire.

You might be justified in thinking that just how did this ruler of a faraway land, based in Samarkand and ruling over a massive empire stretching from Makran and Baluchistan to Samarkand including Afghanistan and Iran, come to Lahore.

Our story starts from the time Genghis Khan while chasing the forces of Jalaluddin Khwarazshah stood on one side of the Indus, and saw the fleeing forces of Jalal cross over. And just as he thought he had got his bitter foe, he saw the handsome and well-built Jalal stand on that famous rock at Attock that juts over the river, standing hands stretched and dive into the river in majestic style. There Genghis Khan delivered his famous sentence: “If a man ever had a son, he should be like Jalaluddin”.

At this point Genghis Khan selected his two most fierce commanders, ‘Dorbei the Fierce’ and ‘Bala the Mad’, each with one ‘tumen’ of 20,000 soldiers (armies ever since have selected this number as being equal to one division) to find and destroy his most hated enemy. Jalaluddin moved with speed and defeated almost every local Punjabi ruler. But once he crossed the River Jhelum and experienced the Salt Range, he realised that the Khokhars were skilled guerrilla fighters in their terrain and that they would sap all his forces in a fight he could never win. So he made peace with the Khokhar Rai and married his daughter.

With the Khokhars he attacked and took Lahore in 1221. Peace was never to return for another 200 years. Jalaluddin quickly rebuilt the walls of the fort and in the process replenished his army. He called in Uzbek commanders, most notable among them being Uzbek Pai and Hassan Qarlugh. But then as the forces of Bala the Mad approached Lahore, Jalaluddin in an amazing move vacated the city before the enemy attack formations could be in place and in a ‘pinzer’ move decimated half the force. One source says that the very word ‘pinzer’ is taken from the name of Uzbek Pai. This is possible given that modern armies still study the tactics of Genghis Khan. But here we also learn of the utility of a timely and orderly withdrawal.

Amazingly after damaging the forces of Bala the Mad in a ‘blitzkirk’, we see Jalaluddin swiftly withdrawing and heading towards Sialkot. Five miles to the north he quickly switched direction and raced for the Salt Range in a curving manoeuvre. In frustration the forces of Genghis Khan first ravaged the city of Lahore, and after seven days of pillage they left to attack Sialkot. Jalaluddin’s agents had fed the enemy faulty intelligence which showed the ‘enemy’ heading towards Sialkot. It was brilliant military strategy.

Once they left Lahore the forces of Jalaluddin and the Khokhars returned to occupy Lahore. Every time they returned the forces of ‘Bala the Mad’ returned, every time for Jalaluddin and the Khokhars to vacate and give their crazy enemies the slip. This happened three times and by the end of 1224 he learnt that Genghis Khan was attacking the subcontinent in a massive way. He tried to suggest to the ruler of Delhi, Sultan Iltumesh, that they join hands to oppose Genghis Khan. The sultan did quite the opposite and marched on Lahore to try to defeat Jalaluddin Khwarazmshah and the Khokhars. But before his forces arrived, he had left Lahore and headed towards Sindh, where he defeated the forces of Naseeruddin Qabacha at Uch in 1224. He replenished his forces and moved through Baluchistan towards Iran, which he took with ease and set up a new kingdom.

But Genghis Khan was not one to forgive and sent Torbei the Fierce after him. Jalaluddin again fled, battling the Mongols in the Al-Burz Mountains and heading towards the Caucasus going on to capture Azerbaijan in 1225. He made Tabriz his capital and immediately increased his army with swift-moving cavalry. Among his main weapon was the Lahori Bow, which helped him attack while riding at great speed. Genghis Khan was also to adopt the Lahori Bow, a sample of which can be seen in the Lahore Museum, as also most military museums of the world.

A year later in 1226 he attacked Georgia and ransacked Tbilisi, in the process burning all churches and killing all Christians. This led the Turkish sultan to send a force after him, and after being defeated at Erzincan at Yassicemen in 1230, he escaped to Diyarbakir. Genghis Khan was still on his heels and captured Azerbaijan. But Genghis Khan wanted his head, and it was in 1231 that he was murdered by a Kurdish assassin hired by Genghis Khan.

The former ruler of Lahore was finally tracked down by one of the world’s greatest conquerors. His Khokhar allies simply retreated to the Salt Range, and a year later joined hands with the Mongols in their conquest of India. During his withdrawal from Lahore the Khokhar chief advised Jalaluddin to avoid the Afghans. It is alleged that he told him: “Trust Allah, but never an Afghan”.

The Mongols kept returning to loot the wealth of Lahore for the next 200 years. They burned it down in 1241, returning in 1246 to rape and pillage. When they did not return in 20 years Balban rebuilt the city walls in a major effort. Once it was thriving again the Mongols returned in 1285, and in a battle on the banks of the River Ravi at Lahore, the son of Balban, Muhammad, was killed. Once the Mongols left his son Kai Khusrau was made the ruler of Lahore. In another assassination planned by the Mongols, Balban’s grandson Kai Khusrau was murdered in 1287.

During this time the Mongols settled in an area near Lahore and it was Dua the Chaghatai (now spelt ‘Chughtai), of the Mughal sub-clan of the Mongols, who named this settlement as Mughalpura. So in a way the Mongol Chaghatai Turkic-speaking Mughals were in Lahore even before Babar arrived in 1524 to ransack and pillage the city. In 1341 the Khokhars returned in force and took Lahore, only to be thrown out by the Mongols. They returned five times in 150 years since they first came with Jalaluddin, each time to be thrown out by the Mongols.

In the 200 years till 1524 when Babar invaded the subcontinent, Lahore was ransacked a total of 34 times. This means that on the average it was ransacked and destroyed every six years. In this period the population was reduced to a mere 15,000 only. When invasion was feared Lahore became a ‘men-only’ city. After 200 years of terror, Lahore regained relative peace under the Mughals.

Published in Dawn March 8th , 2015

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