This is the first battle from our ongoing Peacock Throne Campaign. We used Piquet/Band of Brothers for the battle and Kenneth Baggaley's Campaign System and House Rules for generating the campaign.
... What one would not have observed were the scars on his back, a hundred cuts intermixing, giving his skin the appearance of a badly woven Afghan carpet ...
A cold wind blew across the Turcoman camp picking up the dust in its path. It was still summer in the plains but this close to the Khyber Pass winter always seemed to be at hand. The distant snow clad peaks of the Hindu Kush ranges spewed forth cold winds from time to time, as if forewarning about the pending winter chills now less than four months away. Close to the officers tents the camp grounds were deserted save for the lone figure walking towards them from the mosque.
Wrapping himself in a blanket to ward off the evening chills, Ibrahim Talimud Naqvi strode towards his hut. He had just offered the last prayers of the day with his brethren and was finally free to return to his tent. A closer look at his face would have revealed the bright eyes which were gazing at something miles away. His face was mottled with half a dozen stitched cuts and scratches which told the tale of several years spent in the Turcoman ranks. What one would not have observed were the scars on his back, a hundred cuts intermixing, giving his skin the appearance of a badly woven Afghan carpet.
Naqvi had been a trifle late to wrap the blanket across him when he emerged out of the Mosque, and the caress of the of cool wind on his back set fire to his memories. Ibrahim Talimud had been a lad of twelve when his father had been killed in one of the bloody feuds which erupted in far away Peshawar. He was not old enough to be killed as part of the vendetta, so they did something which would absolve them of killing a child yet kill him - a hundred lashes on the back, and then cast out on to the slopes of the Khyber Pass in winter.
Divine providence had arrived in the form of a Turcoman commander and his squadron of 20 men. They had been lost in the ravines for one whole week before they came upon Naqvi who had incredibly survived one whole night in the open. And the day the squadron met him they also found the way out. The squadron leader judged that the events were related and gave shelter to the boy. There was social stigma against orphans but he was a deeply religious man and believed that orphans should be cared for by those faithful to Allah.
The young orphan remembered few things - his name, the names of his parents, and the fact that not a single living soul in Peshawar had raised a hand to stop what had been done to him or his loved ones. The first he would change, becoming Ibrahim Talimud Naqvi. The second he would cherish, remembering in vivid nightmares the faces which went with them. The last he would never forget.
Peshawar owed him a price, and Ibrahim Talimud Naqvi would finally collect it in a few weeks time. The Shah Najeeb Ummaid of Kabul was sending his army to Peshawar, and the Turcoman horse were right in the van. With this final thought, his senses returned to the camp and took cognizance of the night and the late hour. Warding off his thoughts, Naqvi entered his tent and went to sleep.
His excellency the Chowdhary of Peshawar is warned that the Shah of Kabul would be forced to take suitable action if the traitorous bandits are not apprehended in two weeks from now.
The Ruler Of Peshawar
A month later, In the palace of the Chowdhary, Peshawar: In far away Peshawar, the news from the Khyber pass was just trickling in. Pulling on his hukkah the Chowdhary thought of all the letters and demands that had come in the past two months from Kabul. Without exception they all carped about one thing: "The honourable shah of Kabul, Najeeb Ummaid requires that His Excellency the Chowdhary hand over to the Kabul authorities the notorious Saif Ali brothers, bandits of Peshawari origin and traitors to his majesty the Emperor in Delhi..." It did little help to inform Kabul that the Saif Ali brothers had not been seen anywhere on this side of the pass for over a decade. "And how would they be seen in Peshawar?", thought the Chowdhary ruefully. He knew very well that the real reason behind all the posturing by Kabul was not two mere bandits, however notorious. Kabul would doubtless have ensured that the Saif Ali brothers were in it's custody before making such demands. The real intention was something else - the future of Peshawar. Kabul wanted Peshawar under its control, and if two bandits could justify an invasion so be it.
The last of the messages had ended on a threatening note: "His excellency the Chowdhary of Peshawar is warned that the Shah of Kabul would be forced to take suitable action if the traitorous bandits are not apprehended in two weeks from now". "Suitable action" had finally materialised; The Kabul army was at this very moment was descending into the plains of Peshawar after crossing the Khyber pass. The Chowdhary's frantic messages to the Emperor in Delhi had done little good. Delhi was buried under it's own problems with the Rajput subjects revolting against it's rule. In comparison Peshawar was too far away and the Shah of Kabul too valued a Governor. Delhi had merely advised Peshawar to comply with whatever Kabul wanted.
The Chowdhary pushed aside his thoughts and looked at the men who waited for him to speak. They were his brothers in law, the elder and younger Mustafa. They had a reputation of being court fools and the Chowdhary was not encouraged by his dependence on them. But they were all he could rely on. At least they were not bright enough to hatch any plans against him.
"Do you understand our plan, Dewan?" This was addressed at the elder Mustafa, who commanded most of the Peshawari Cavalry. "Certainly, Chowdhary. We are going to concentrate on the left flank of the plains, avoiding contact with the enemy on the right." The Chowdhary nodded. "And what is your role in the same?" Dewan Mustafa thought for a moment before answering. "I advance with the cavalry and attempt to outflank the enemy. The left flank is to be harried, and the attention diverted to the left so as to enable us to attack the centre" The Chowdhary was not particularly keen to force his commanders to learn by rote but there was no other way that he could think of to make them understand and remember the plans. He turned his attention to the younger brother.
"And you Sayed?" Sayed Mustafa swelled visibly with pride before answering. "I command our right flank Chowdhary. I will, by the Grace of God, skirmish and delay any intervention from the enemy right flank."
The Chowdhary reviewed his own part in the plan again. His own command would be in the centre managing the field guns, the archers, war wagons and some arquebusiers. The arquebusiers were trustworthy troops and the gunners and wagon crew could hold on their own. He was not so sure about the levy archers but allowed himself to be persuaded otherwise by his own optimism. His plan was straightforward. As soon as Dewan Mustafa advanced in the left and drew attention there, he would move in with the guns and pin the enemy in the centre. The cavalry could then attack from the left. He hoped that the right flank would hold while he did all this.
The Chowdhary pulled on the hukkah again. If things went well on the morrow, he would retain Peshawar and his throne. If he stayed in Peshawar and paid his taxes on time Delhi could be persuaded not to interfere. Inshallah. God Willing.
...the battle for Peshawar was but the first in a long road. And the road as the Shah saw it lead all the way to Delhi...
A Man Of Ambitions
In the palace of the Shah, Kabul: The Shah of Kabul was pacing his quarters when his latest, and youngest, concubine found him. She was the only woman allowed entrance to this side of the palace. The lady Arifa Noorani combined spectacular beauty with a real grasp of the matters of state. The Shah understood this and valued her company for it. He was no novice in politics himself, having spent near forty years of his life practicing the finer aspects of the game. The last twenty of those years had seen him rise to the post of Governor of Kabul and become a key player in the Delhi court.
His thoughts were currently with his generals in Peshawar whom he had sent there on the first of his key missions. Leading the men was his right hand man Akram Bin Aslam Khan. Akram Khan was a top notch soldier and a trusted General. Helping him were Ibrahim Talimud Naqvi, a brave but somewhat reclusive and aloof soldier whom the Shah nevertheless trusted. What worried him was the third leading figure in the command trio, in the form of the young Lord Faisal. Faisal was his nephew and the Shah cursed the political necessity which forced him to assign a post of importance to the youth. The Shah had tried to downplay the importance of the Peshawar mission but his sister had insisted.
Noorani ventured a remark. "My lord, may this servant dare suggest that you worry too much for Lord Faisal?" The Shah laughed at this remark. "Dear Noorani, you are perceptive, but wrong. Faisal is but the least of my worries. Akram Bin Aslam Khan has been told in the strictest terms that the young Lord should be kept away from all command decisions. By force, if the need be. And I dare say that Aslam has been very keen in seeing such orders through in the past." Noorani was not surprised. Akram Khan was every bit as ruthless as his master and would do exactly as he was bid.
"What tidings from Peshawar, My Lord?" "Akram Khan writes that the army is just a few days away from Peshawar. And he has already formed a rough plan on where and when to give battle." "Battle?" Asked Noorani, in spite of knowing the inevitability of it. "Of course. The Chowdhary is smart enough to figure that once our troops cross his borders he would have to give battle. And if I were him, I would try to stop us at the earliest."
What the Chowdhary, or Noorani, did not know was what the Shah saw beyond Peshawar. To Najeeb Ummaid, the sixth of the name from the House of Ummaid, the battle for Peshawar was but the first milestone in a long road. And the road as the Shah saw it lead all the way to Delhi. "How sweet", Najeeb thought "that the very trusted Governor of Kabul should be the one topple the old man at the throne..."
His Lordship was at that moment standing at the far end of the hill, surrounded by some swordsmen whom he was ostensibly "commanding". The "commanded" had been told not to let their "commander" out of their sight or off the hill.
The Plains of Peshawar
On the plains of Peshawar: Seated atop his mount, Akram Bin Aslam Khan looked down on the plains of Peshawar from atop one of the low lying hills leading out from the Khyber Pass. The terrain was mostly rolling dusty plains with very few signs of human inhabitation. The hill he stood on covered most of the left and centre of the Kabul army's initial lines. A dry mud track which passed for a road lead from the hill towards Peshawar. It bifurcated roughly midway between the two armies to give bullock cart access to a cluster of mud brick huts which served for the local frontier village. Near the hill, and near the Peshawari armies base were two isolated buildings which were once part of a flourishing caravan sarai. A thatch of desert vegetation formed a thicket near the village. Save for these nondescript features, the land was bare.
There were no Peshawari troops visible to the Kabul left flank. They seemed to be mostly concentrated in the centre and the Kabul right. Akram Khan did not even blink when he saw the enemy deployment. He merely asked for his chief cavalier, Ibrahim Talimud Naqvi. When Naqvi appeared, Khan issued curt orders. "Take half of our horse and head west. Report when after you take position beyond the hill on our right." Khan thanked the God for officers like Naqvi when he silently departed. The line of thought lead his attention to the matter of his other subordinate the noble Lord Faisal. His Lordship was at that moment standing at the far end of the hill, surrounded by some swordsmen whom he was ostensibly "commanding". The "commanded" had been told not to let their "commander" out of their sight or off the hill. "Let him enjoy lowly company for a change" smirked Khan.
The dust from the plains rose with the rising sun. The villagers were surprised to begin their day to the sight of Peshawari Arquebusiers running at the double to take up positions at the edge of their village. Behind them came the swordsmen and cavalry who kept out of the village itself and headed further north. Leading them was Sayed the younger Mustafa who was striving to appear cool in his first major battle. To the younger Mustafa's left Chowdhary Ayaz Amir took up position in the Peshawari centre. He aligned his guns and war wagons in line behind the levy archers and gave the orders for the levy to advance. These looked as if they might have been more comfortable behind the line of guns, but nevertheless pushed forward in a ragged line when the orders where given.
The elder Mustafa, Dewan, was making considerable progress than the other commanders. All his men were mounted leaving him free to advance without having to compensate for the slow mobility of infantry. When his heralds, chosen for their carrying voices, shouted out the general advance almost the entire Peshawari horse went on the move. Although in line formation the battalions were aligned one behind the other to manoeuvre easily; Dewan Mustafa intended them to spread apart later on.
As Chowdhary Ayaz Amir watched, Dewan Mustafa and his men began to race straight ahead north. For a while Amir had the nasty doubt that Dewan might forget to wheel his men and present flanks to the enemy. In his haste, he dispatched a swift rider with orders to wheel. But the worry was misplaced. After proceeding at great haste for a few more moments, the Peshawari cavalry slowed down, and began to wheel to face East. They were now well into the enemy right flank and seemed virtually unopposed...
A delay, and Action
It took Ibrahim Naqvi took longer than expected to reach his men. On his way down the hill, he was stopped by an enraged Lord Faisal. The red faced Faisal loudly demanded that Naqvi give an immediate explanation of what was going on. A mistake. Shouting and display of anger never unfazed the cavalier; if anything it made him more remote and uncaring. As it happened Faisal raved for full five minutes while Naqvi patiently stood his ground. In the end Faisal just tired of the exertion which was obviously not affecting the target. Once the Lordling fell silent Naqvi bowed politely and departed to rejoin his men.
By the time he reached his men, the Peshawari horse were wheeling very close to their lines. Naqvi did not waste time in thinking. He ordered a gallop, heading out first with his grey colt in lead. With speed and precision typical of the
Turcomans Ibrahim Naqvi and his men crossed the several yards separating the two sides in unison and came to an abrupt a hundred yards from the Peshawari horse. Naqvi wanted to gauge the situation from close before advancing any further.
The suddenness of the Turcoman manoeuvre threw the Peshawari commander into confusion. Dewan Mustafa had expected the Turcomans to stand their ground or charge; what had just happened had been quite unexpected. Wondering about the motives, he automatically cast eyes at the Peshawari centre for support. Surely the Chowdhary had promised that the centre would advance and pin the enemy?
The Chowdhary had indeed seen the goings on what he had not counted on was the slow progress the guns and the wagons were making in the broken ground. To add to this, he found that his advanced age and excitement was making it difficult to focus on more than one issue at a time. While the Chowdhary exhorted the artillery and wagons, the levy archers aimlessly stood around waiting for orders. When they did come in the form of shouts from an irritated Chowdhary the men muttered their displeasure but nevertheless moved closer to the enemy. They were not encouraged by the sight of the gleaming Turcoman horse who stood across the open ground. The sight of all the shining mail shirts on the enemy made some of them cast rueful glances at their own torsos which were covered by nothing better than coarse cotton garbs.
For a while, the Turcomans remained idle. Akram khan, sizing up the situation correctly saw that the enemy were now confused, even pinned. He moved his guns and Cavalry downhill, and the whole troop was cantering down the dust track in a matter of minutes. They quickly rode past the caravan serai and headed in the general direction of the enemy. Standing in their way, albeit at a safe distance for now, was but a lone battalion of Peshawari cavalry under the young Sayed Mustafa.
Sayed Mustafa reacted quickly at the first sign of the new threat. With cries of "The Tigers of Peshawar", he ordered the cavalry and swordsmen under his command forward. Even though amused by the war cries of their boy General, the veteran cavalry did however move forward as ordered. They were soon nearing the Kabul gun train and looked back at their general for further orders.
...Perhaps it was the tension of the battle accentuated by the sudden action in the Turcoman ranks, perhaps it was the looks on the faces of Naqvi and his men...
Ibrahim Naqvi's Finest Hour
Akram Khan watched the approaching cavalry with interest. He ruminated for a moment on what to do with the Gun train. His cavalry could easily take care of the new intruders but he debated whether it was a good idea to place the guns there. The sight of arquebusiers covering behind the village wall forced his decision. "Unlimber!!!"
Devoid of any orders from Sayed Mustafa, the veteran Peshawar cavalry checked their advance the moment they saw the guns forming up. They had seen far too many battles to even consider charging formed up guns. While Sam Mustafa saw to his arquebusiers and swordsmen, his cavalry waited and wondered what would happen next.
The turn of events were decided by a chain of events stretching all the way back to a family feud more than twenty years ago in Peshawar. Faced with the nobility and peasants of Peshawar alike Ibrahim Talimud Naqvi was slowly and deliberately losing the cool which he had so effectively displayed before the Lord Faisal and Akram Khan. Without knowing it, his hands sought the scars in his back through the covering coat of mail while his thoughts raced all the way back in time to day when he had taken the same road, but in the opposite direction, leaving a trail of blood and vomit as he staggered through the falling snow. The pain of the memories was harsher than the lashes could ever have achieved.
Slowly he came back to the present only opening his eyes to find his own unit looking down at the group of levy archers approaching range. Something snapped and Naqvi moved his mount forward decisively. Trained to read their leader's intentions and follow his movements, the other cavaliers immediately took one step forward. Though no formal orders had been given several lowered their lances in anticipation.
And the archers knees went weak. Perhaps it was the tension of the battle accentuated by the sudden action in the Turcoman ranks, perhaps it was the looks on the faces of Naqvi and his men clearly visible across the no mans land. In any event, some of the more feint hearted dropped their bows, a couple of them even fainted and a murmur of fear went up in the ranks. For a few moments fear prevailed.
Naqvi saw the fear, and sensed it before anyone else did. Here at last was something which could understand; indeed something which he had grown up with. With a yell, he ordered a charge. The cry startled and electrified the followers and the charge that ensued was terrible in it's purpose and impact. A few archers did let go their arrows, but these didn't even scratch the mails shirts on the riders. The levy routed in an instant and fled, leaving the slow and the weak to be cut down in the pursuit which ensued.
Naqvi did not forget his soldiering in the rush of the moment. With shouted commands he broke off their pursuit and wheeled to swing into the next line of archers who were flanking the first. The story repeated, and soon the Turcomans were cutting down the last of the stragglers with nary a scratch on themselves.
Chowdhary Ayaz Amir was the first to recover from the shock of the new development. In A desperate attempt to stabilize his rapidly falling apart battle line he stopped the advance of the war wagons and ordered them to fire. The guns were still unlimbered, and the gunners were struggling to unpack them. "Fire!!! Ijaz!, fire the muskets!!"
Ijaz Mallik, the gun master in the war wagons, ordered the men to fire their muskets. He would have liked a closer range but gave the order instantly. Two hundreds muskets fired in unison, their booming sound rolling across the battle field. A few Turcoman horses dropped, but the unit went on to gallop right in front of eyes of the musketeers towards the exposed flank of some of Dewan Mustafa's Peshawari horse. Up in the north, more Turcomans were joining the fray and enthusiastically charged the rest of the Peshawari horse.
A few more gunshots sounded as the war wagons let go of their reserve guns, but their targets were even farther than earlier and the volley made no impact.
To Dewan Mustafa's credit, his own guard unit fought valiantly before succumbing to the foes. Mustafa himself fell on the field, speared by a Turcoman lance which lifted him cleanly off his mount. When his retainer tried to soften his masters fall the lancer dropped his lance, drew out his sword and sent the faithful servant the way the master had gone.
The Peshawari cavalry was in rout, and the Peshawar army with it.
...orphan companies - groups of ruthless cavaliers, all orphans, all of whom would die than betray their brethren.
Under the command of Chowdhary Ayaz Amir, most of the Peshawari artillery and arquebusiers made it out of the mess intact. Their future was unknown, even though Chowdhary secretly departed for Delhi, promising to return. Ijaz Mallik and his men in the war wagons made a last ditch stand in defiance of the cavalry before Akram Khan sent his artillery ahead and blasted them to the martyr's heaven.
The young Sayed Mustafa fled when he saw his brother fall, leaving leaderless the lone unit of cavalry veterans under his command. Knowing that Peshawar was finished, the cagey veterans chose to disperse and go their separate ways. Some of them headed for Delhi where mercenaries were always in need. Others sold their horses and headed towards Punjab where there was land and women to be had if one had money to spend in farming.
Akram Bin Aslam Khan was promoted and made the new Jagir or fief Lord of Peshawar. One of the first things he did on assuming command was to publicly hang the bandits Saif Ali brothers. The official version of the story which was later endorsed by Delhi had it that they were found hiding in the cellars of the erstwhile Chowdhary's palace.
Ibrahim Talimud Naqvi left the city immediately after the war, having refused to set foot inside it. His spies had told him that the clan he sought had gone broke years ago and the last male had died a pauper. The official treasury of Peshawar was made to pay a thousand coins in gold for each of his cuts. Local legend has that Naqvi later founded the famous Kabul orphanage which later produced the first of the many orphan companies - groups of ruthless cavaliers, all orphans, all of whom would die than betray their brethren. The noted historian Mirza Galib notes that the line of the Orphan companies came to an end half a century later when they were routed by the Uzbeks and the orphanage was demolished by the Delhi military governor.