Friday, August 06, 2010

I have Sindh

Terrible floods in NW Pakistan, including Sindh province ... I know one thing about Sindh, I thought to myself, "Peccavi".

So quoting from Wikipedia, here's the story.

General Sir Charles James Napier GCB (10 August 1782 – 29 August 1853) was a British general and Commander-in-Chief in India, famous for conquering Sindh province in present-day Pakistan.

In 1842, at the age of 60, he was appointed as Major-General to the command of the Indian army within the Bombay Presidency. Here Lord Ellenborough's policy led Napier to Sindh (Scinde), for the purpose of quelling the Muslim rulers of the region, who had made various hostile demonstrations against the British government after the termination of the First Anglo-Afghan War. His campaign against these chieftains resulted, after the victories of Meanee (Miani) and Hyderabad, in the complete subjugation of the province of Sindh, and its annexation to eastern dominions.

In doing so, he contravened direct orders; he was sent only to put down the rebels, not conquer. Napier is supposed to have despatched to headquarters a short, famous message, "Peccavi" – Latin for "I have sinned" (a pun for "I have Sindh"). The pun later appeared in a cartoon in Punch magazine in 1844 under a caricature of Sir Charles. Later proponents of British rule over the East Indians justified the conquest thus: "If this was a piece of rascality, it was a noble piece of rascality!"

As I recall the area of Pakistan currently flooded has another mode of existence - as a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism, being a centre for the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The Christian Science Monitor recalls:

"how US aid to Pakistan after an earthquake in Kashmir in 2005 changed perceptions of the US military, which delivered provisions on Chinook helicopters.

“The Chinooks became known then as ‘angels of mercy,’ ” says Inderfurth, now director of the graduate international affairs program at George Washington University in Washington. “We need to dispatch those angels again.”

Pakistani officials said Monday that their government had indeed requested Chinook helicopter assistance for the relief effort

This would indeed be a case of the Christian turning of the other cheek.

Here's General Napier's views on how to deal with insurgents:

General Napier put down several insurgencies in India during his reign as Commander-in-Chief in India, and once said of his philosophy about how to do so effectively:

The best way to quiet a country is a good thrashing, followed by great kindness afterwards. Even the wildest chaps are thus tamed.

He also once said that "the human mind is never better disposed to gratitude and attachment than when softened by fear."

An implementation of this theory would be after the Battle of Miani, where most of the Mirs surrendered. One leader held back and was told by Napier:

'Come here instantly. Come here at once and make your submission, or I will in a week tear you from the midst of your village and hang you.'

The reason he felt brutality was necessary for the proper conquest of rebellions may have been his opinion that "so perverse is mankind that every nationality prefers to be misgoverned by its own people than to be well ruled by another."

Whatever the reason for his views on fighting insurgencies, the fact remains that he was one of Great Britain's most effective generals at doing this in India, often facing well-armed fighters.

-- Postscript: another reason to like General Napier --

A story for which Napier is famous involves a delegation of Hindu locals approaching him and complaining about prohibition of Sati, often referred to at the time as suttee, by British authorities. This was the custom of burning widows alive on the funeral pyres of their husbands. The exact wording of his response varies somewhat in different reports, but the following version captures its essence:

"You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours."