British Preparations of War against Punjab
Pursuant to the Tripartite Treaty of June 1838, the British escorted Shah Shuja through the Khyber. Dost Muhammad Khan fled. The British entered Kandahar unopposed. Shah Shuja was proclaimed Amir on May 8, 1839. After storming Ghazni in July the ‘Army of the Indus’ entered Kabul on August 7; and Shah Shuja was enthroned as successor to Dost Muhammad Khan.
The British then decided to withdraw bulk of their army leaving an occupation force behind, to let Shah Shuja strengthen his position. Sir William Macnaghten was left as Resident to manipulate the Shah. In the Treaty, there was no mention of passage of British armed forces through the territory of the State of Lahore. Passing of British army through Punjab would have meant infringement of Sikh sovereignty.
The Sikhs allowed the return passage in August-September, but on the pledge that the British would not again cross the Punjab.
The Governor-General was not happy over it, but it was only on the basis of this pledge that the passage had been allowed.
In September 1840, after the return of major part of the British army, the Afghans rose again. Dost Muhammad Khan regained power and influence. Macnaghten was compelled to recall the British troops from Jalalabad to Kabul. Now they needed reinforcements to recover prestige and territory.
The Governor-General decided to send a Brigade from Karnal, under Colonel John Shelton, but he was not sure, if the Sikhs, under the direction of Kanwar Nau Nihal Singh would allow thousands of soldiers equipped with every kind of war material to enter Punjab, and pass through the whole length of its territory.
[This was the ill-fated Brigade that was annihilated by the Afghans in January 1842]
H Torrens, Officiating Secretary to the Government of India, wrote from Calcutta, to the Commander-in-Chief, on October 2, 1840:
Your Excellency is apprised that from the manner in which the Durbar of Nepal has yielded to our recent demands and from the course of events in our North Western Frontier, it is no longer necessary to make preparations for a campaign against the Nepal State in the ensuing season. The measures of precaution which will be necessary on that frontier, will be referred to in a subsequent part of this letter, but we would now request the immediate attention of Your Excellency to the arrangements required for strengthening our cantonments towards the Punjab, so that, if necessary, an efficient army may be assembled on the Sutlej with the least delay.
2. The measure called for with a view to despatch of a brigade for the reinforcements of the troops in Northern Afghanistan, and for replacing in the cantonments the corps employed for that purpose, have already been directed. It is in event of a passage being denied by the Sikh Government to this brigade, or of just demands of the British Government being otherwise resisted, that we must contemplate the use of such a force, as shall compel submission. It is our confident trust that the Sikh Government will not violate the obligation of its alliance with the British Power, but it is proper of course to be prepared for all contingencies.
3. We would desire if driven to Military operations against Lahore State, to assemble, in advance and in reserve, not less than six Regiments of European Infantry, from 18 to 20 Regiments of Native Infantry, with two or more Light Infantry Battalions, formed of companies from the Regiments left in Cantonments. As large a proportion of field and horse artillery as can be collected without serious inconvenience, with a suitable siege train, and two Regiments of European Dragoons, with five or six Regiments of Light Cavalry, and one, or if possible, two Corps of Local Horse.
11. Your Excellency is aware that the Sikhs possess a very considerable force of artillery and that it will be desirable on our part to have an imposing strength in that arm. Their Ghorchurras, or irregular cavalry are also numerous, and believed to be efficient as light troops. It may be possible that, in exigency, a wing of the Oude Local Horse, might take temporarily the duties of one of our Local Corps, as Your Excellency might determine.
12. We request that Your Excellency will force us by laying before the Government at your earliest convenience a scheme of general relief such as shall appear best calculated to afford facilities for the eventual assemblage of the force above described and that you will bear in mind the possible necessity for organizing such a force which may unfortunately arise. The equipment of an efficient commissariat and adequate means of carriage for so large a body of troops will require careful and early attention; camels in any sufficient numbers cannot now be obtained but the country is well adapted for elephants and Banjara bullocks, upon which dependence must in a great measure be placed, we should think it right that, with a force moving in the Punjab, there should be present Banjara bullocks sufficient for the carriage of fourteen days’ supplies, with camels sufficient for that of two or three days.[Emphasis added]
From this exhaustive list of requirements it is obvious that contingency plans for attack on Punjab were already on the file.
The British did not want to commit that even this Brigade would be the last to pass through the Sikh territory. They wanted the passage from Ferozepore to Peshawar, a thoroughfare for them.
After the death of Nau Nihal Singh, the Sikhs, through the pacifist role of Faqir Aziz-ud-Din, Sher Singh’s courtiers yielded and allowed the passage.