by Owais Ahmed Ghani

Rivers have nourished human civilisations through the ages. Human habitats have invariably emerged along rivers, lakes and other water resources.

Tributaries open out into main river bodies and roads conveniently follow river banks thus binding people in mountains with the people in lower valleys and plains and thereby creating the dynamics whereby communities inhabiting a common river system are progressively integrated into thriving socio-economic entities. Illustrative examples range from antiquity’s Egypt on the Nile, Babylon on the Tigris-Euphrates to the region of modern-day Pakistan nourished by the mighty Indus River system.

The South-Asian Subcontinent is naturally sub-divided by geography into four distinct regions shaped by its major river systems and separated from each other by natural barriers such as mountains and inhabitable deserts. These are the Ganges-Yamuna River system in the north, the Deccan Plateau and its Coastal Areas in central and south regions, the massive Brahmaputra-Ganges Delta system in north-east region and the Indus River system to the north-west.

The Ganges-Yamuna plains of Northern India formed by the Ganges-Yamuna River System has always remained a distinct entity separated from South India by the Satpuras and Vindhyas Mountain Ranges running east to west from the Arabian Sea coastline right across to the Bay of Bengal.

South of these mountains lies the massive Deccan plateau of South India whose several smaller rivers flow west to east and drain into the Bay of Bengal. The Deccan region and the coastal areas adjoining it to the east and west have, through the ages,remained separate entities with distinctive languages and cultures.

Another historical division has been the massive delta region of the Meghna, the combined Brahmaputra-Ganges rivers, located at the eastern end of the Subcontinent and bounded by the Himalayas mountains to the north, the Satpuras to the west and the Patkai-Mangin-Chin-Arakan mountain chain forming the border with Burma to the east. The major portion of this delta region constitutes modern-day Bangladesh with its unique Bengali language, culture and history.

The Indus River System to the north-west is separated from the rest of the sub-continent by the Thar or Rajasthan Desert, the 9th largest sub-tropical desert in the world and its extension, the Rann of Kutch. This separation is further reinforced by the Aravalli Mountain Range starting at Delhi and running all along the eastern edge of the Thar Desert in a southerly direction to Ahmedabad in Indian Gujarat. Additionally,the dry stretch between the Upper Beas Tributary of the Indus River system  and the Upper Yamuna River of the Ganges-Yamuna plains remained a natural no-man’s land between the two traditional rival regions of Indus and Ganges river systems and, unsurprisingly, has been the scene of major battles between them;  the flat plain of Panipat being the most famous.

Even a cursory study of history reveals that the Indus Region community has always had a history and culture distinct from the Ganges-Yamuna Region community. Except the notable exception of the ancient Maurya Dynasty, these two entities have been politically united only when external Euro-Asian powers have dominated the area. And whenever the local Ganges-Yamuna community re-asserted itself, invariably the Indus Valley communities have broken away and gone their own way. 

The first major urban civilisation in the entire Sub-continent was the bronze-age  Indus Valley Civilisation that appeared in its north-west in the Indus Valley region, which constitutes modern-day Pakistan. It flourished in the period 3300-1300 BC along the Indus River and its tributaries, including the Bolan River.The rest of the Sub-continent,being under heavy forest cover, remained wild and unsettled and inhabited by forest tribes.Political history of this period is largely unknown..

From 1200-500BC, the Indus Valley civilisation was supplanted by the iron-age Aryan or Vedic Civilisation which gradually moved east by clearing and settling the Ganges-Yamuna region as well.Vedic Hinduism took root in this period. Political history of this period is also not known but remains the subject of much conjecture.

The period from 600-300BC, in the later Vedic Age, is called the period of Mahajanapadas in which the entire region was divided into about sixteen rival kingdoms. Fourteen small kingdoms were located in the Ganges-Yamuna region and adjoining Bengal and portions of Maharashtra. They bore the names Kashi, Kosala, Anga, Vajji, Malla, Chedi, Vatsa, Kuru, Panchala, Matsya,Shurasena, Assaka, Avanti and Magadha(of Buddha fame). The 15th was known as Kamboja in the region that is modern-day Afghanistan. The 16thwas Gandhara which dominated the Indus Valley region from its capital in Takshakila(Taxila). This period saw the reactions against Vedic Hinduism and its rigid caste system led by Mahavira(founder of Jainism) and Gautam or Siddharta(founder of Buddhism).

From 530 to 520BC, the Persian Achaeminid Empire, under Cyrus & Darius-1, conquered both Kamboja and Gandhara kingdoms. Thereafter, the entire Indus Valley region remained under Persian control for two centuries. During this period the Ganges-Yamuna region remained divided amongst the dozen plus Mahajanapadas kingdoms which coalesced to four by 400BC; namely,Vatsa, Avanti, Kosala& Magadha.

In 327BC, Alexander, the Greek, defeated the Persian Empire and conquered the entire Indus Valley region upto Beas River by 326BC.The Greeks did not venture onwards into the Ganges-Yamuna region which was then under the control of the Nanda dynasty of Magadha(modern-day Bihar) and the Gangaradai in Bengal. The Indus Valley region became a melting pot of Persian, Greek, Indian and Central Asian cultures giving rise to a hybrid Greco-Bactrian or Indo-Greek culture which lasted for almost 700 years till 400AD. The region thus remained, culturally, linguistically and politically, distinct from the rest of the sub-continent.

In 322BC, Maurya Dynasty overthrew the Nanda dynasty in Magadha. The Indus Valley region was incorporated in the Maurya Empire by 304BC as a consequence of a royal marriage agreement and a gift of 500 Indian war elephants to the Greeks..Under its 3rd king, Ashoka, theMaurya Empire expanded into central and southern India by 206BC. Ashoka also installed Buddhism as the state religion.. For the first time in history, the sub-continent was unified in a single Empire.But this unity was shortlived and lasted only 30 odd years.The Maurya empire unravelled on the death of Ashoka in 232BC. Within two years, the Satavahana Dynasty took power in southern & central India followed by Kharavela Dynasty of Kalinga which reached the outskirts of the Ganges-Yamuna region, the heartland of the Maurya empire.Several smaller kingdoms in the Tamil south and the Himalyan north also broke away in quick succession. The Indus Valley region, under autonomous rule of local governors,split into petty kingdoms.The Maurya Empire totally collapsed in 185BC in less than 50 years from its peak.

In 180BC, the Greco-Bactrian King, Demetrius, invaded the Indus Valley region and established Indo-Greek rule & culture in the sub-continent’s north-west which lasted almost two centuries upto about 10AD. The rest of the sub-continent remained divided between feuding kingdoms of the Sunga and the Kanva dynasties in Yamuna-Ganges region, the Satavahana in Central India, the Kalinga in Orissa-Bengal area and Cholas and Pandyan kingdoms in the south.

Around 10AD, the Sakas/Indo-Scythians, a Central Asian tribe led by their Chieftan Maues, displaced Indo-Greek rule in Gandhar (Kandahar area in Afghanistan) and then expanded into the southern Indus Valley region. Saka power collapsed on the death of Maues. Indo-Greek rule briefly re-asserted itself but was eclipsed by the arrival of the Kushans. As a result, the Sakas were pushed further into Northern and Western India where they displaced local Indian kingdoms to establish the Saka Western Kshatraps kingdom.

By about 50AD, the remnants of Indo-Greek and Indo-Scythian rule in Afghanistan and the Indus Valley region were totally displaced by the Kushans from Central Asia. By 127AD, under its King Kanishka, the Kushan Empire, with its capital at Purushpura (Peshawar) conquered and extended its rule into the entire Ganges-Yamuna region and into Bengal. The Kushan empire in India lasted for 180 years till 230AD.

Around 240AD, the Indo-Sassanid or Kushanshahs from Persia conquered the Kushan empire in the Indus Valley region. By 300AD, the Kushans, who were confined to northern India, weakened further which led to the rise of the Gupta Empire from Magadha region which expanded to entire Ganges-Yamuna region by 340AD but remained confined to it and its rule lasted for 214 years until 554AD when it was demolished by the invading Hepthalite Huns.

In 410AD, the Hephthalite Huns invaded from Central Asia and displaced the Kushanshahs from the Indus Valley region.However, the Huns were defeated by the Sassanids and Gok Turks alliance to re-establish the Indo-Sassanid rule in the Indus Valley region which lasted for 270 years upto 680AD when the Sassanid empire fell to the Rashidun Caliphate of Arab Muslims. The Huns, who had been pushed into the Ganges-Yamuna region, displaced the Gupta empire. Over time, the Huns weakened and their kingdom in northern India broke up into petty kingdoms. The Huns were gradually assimilated into the native population.

In 606AD the Harsha Empire emerged in northern India and united all small kingdoms in east Punjab, Gujarat, Bengal, Orrisa and the entire Ganges-Yamuna region. The empire collapsed soon after the death of Harsha its founder lasting for 41 years only till 647AD. The region reverted to its original state of petty kingdoms feuding with each other. The Indus Valley region remained under Indo-Sassanid rule during this period.

In 711CE, the Arab Muslims under Muhammad bin Qasim invaded Sind i.e. the southern portion of the Indus Valley region and established Arab Muslim rule which lasted for 347 years till 1058AD. The northern Indus Valley region fractured into petty kingdoms when Sassanid control evaporated in 680AD on its defeat and assimilation into the Arab Muslim Empire.

From 986 AD onwards The Muslim King of Ghazni and Kabul, Sabuktagin and then his son,Mahmud Ghazni, began their raids into India.These were resisted by Raja Jaipal and his son Anandpal of Bhatinda but to no avail. In 1021AD, Mahmud Ghazni defeated Tarnochalpal and annexed north Indus valley regions (up to Punjab) to his empire but avoided conflict with the Arab Muslim Dynasty in southern regions (Sind-Balochistan). His last raid to sack Somnath Temple took place in 1025AD. Thereafter, North and Western Indian kingdoms continued to be regularly raided by other smaller  Muslim warlords from the north-west.

Starting from 1173AD, Muhammad Ghauri from Afghanistan expanded his kingdom into the Indus Valley region. In 1190AD, Mohammed Ghauri invaded India proper. He defeated Prithviraj Chohan in 1192 and Jaichand of Kannauj in 1194 to establish the Ghauri Dynasty extending over the Indus Valley region and the Ganges-Yamuna region. Mohammed Ghauri was killed in 1206 in an ambush during the Ghakkar War.

In 1206AD, the Ghauri Kingdom split into minor sultanates ruled by former Ghaurid generals who were of Muslim Mamluk (freed slave) background. Amongst them,Qutb-uddin Aibak established the Mamluk Slave Dynasty known as the Delhi Sultanate and extended his hold over all other generals from the region extending from Indus Valley to Delhi. He made Lahore his capital. Subsequently, the 3rd Sultan, Iltutmish, shifted the capital to Delhi and expanded the Delhi Sultanate over the entire region from Ghazni to Bengal. He successfully kept the Mongol Hordes of Chengiz Khan away from Delhi.In1238AD, Razia Sultan, the 5th Sultan, was crowned as the first female Sultan but was killed by rebellious nobles in 1240. Various Mamluk Sultans ruled till 1290AD.

In 1290AD, the Khilji Dynasty was established by Jalaluddin Khilji, the Commander of the Slave Dynasty Armies, who overthrew the last sultan of the Slave Dynasty in a coup and took power. The Khilji Dynasty lasted till 1320AD.  The Khiljis further extended the Delhi Sultanate into major parts of central india.

In 1320AD, the Tughlaq Dynasty seized power in the Delhi Sultanate by overthrowing the Khilji Dynasty. TheTughlaqs expanded the Delhi Sultanate into South India. For the 2nd time in its history, the entire sub-continent,except for the Orissa and Kerala region, was politically united  under the Tughlaqs for a brief period from 1330 to 1398AD. The Tughlaq dynasty lasted for 93 years till 1413AD.

In 1398AD, Timur,the Turco-Mongol Conqueror,plundered Delhi but did not stay. Instead he took the Indus Valley region from the Tughlaqs and incorporated it into his empire. Thereafter the weakened Tughlaq empire rapidly lost territories in South India to Hindu kingdoms and to local Muslim governors in the south-eastern regions who established the Bahmani Sultanate in the Deccan region. 

In 1414AD, Khizr Khan, the Timurid Governor in Multan, overthrew the weakened Tughlaqs and captured Delhi to establish the Sayyid Dynasty which briefly ruled the Punjab portion of the Indus region and the Ganges-Yamuna region upto 1451AD.

In 1451, Bahlol Khan Lodhi, a Pathan general,overthrew the Sayyid Dynasty to establish the Lodhi Dynasty which lasted for 75 years till 1526AD. The Lodhis managed to expand the Delhi Sultanate’s empire from the borders of Bengal to the entire upper Indus valley to include the Peshawar valley. During this period South India remained divided into several rival kingdoms such as Rajputana, Malwa, Gujarat, Gondwana, Orissa, Berar, Ahmednagar, Bijapur, Golconda and Vijayanagar at the farthest south.

In 1526, Babur, the Mughal King of Kabul, invaded India to defeat the Lodhi Dynasty and Rana Sanga of Mewar to establish the Mughal Dynasty. 

In 1540AD, the Mughal rule was briefly interrupted by the Suri Dynasty of Sher Shah Suri, the Pathan Sultan (formerly a general under the Lodhis) who ruled the combined regions of the Ganges-Yamuna region, the Indus Valley region and Bengal from 1540 to 1554AD. During the first five years, the Suri Sultan established a brilliantly concieved administrative system for his empire which continued to sustain succeeding empires i.e. the rejuvenated Mughal empire that followed and the succeeding British Empire. Basic elements of the Suri system of administration survive to this day in modern-day Pakistan and India.

After the Suri interregnum, the Mughal Empire was re-established by Babur’s son, Humayun, with active support of the Safavi Empire in Iran. The Mughal Empire continued to grow in strength and reached its peak under  the 6themperor, Aurangzeb, who ruled from 1659-1707AD for 48 years and who expanded the empire to unite practically the entire sub-continent for the 3rd time in history. After Aurangzeb’s death, the empire rapidly weakened due to internal feuding between aspirants to the throne. 

The Mughal Empire came under challenge from the expanding power of the Mahrattas from South India and the British based in Bengal-Bombay-Madras. A brief but disruptive invasion in 1739AD by Nadir Shah Afshar, the Iranian conqueror, who sacked Delhi, severely weakened the Mughal Empire which began to break-up.

In 1749, the Durrani Empire of Afghanistan under Ahmed Shah Durrani, took over the entire Indus Valley region from the collapsing Mughal Empire almost without a fight. The Durranis then brought Kashmir into their kingdom. In 1751, the Durranis invaded India and sacked Delhi but allowed the Mughal Dynasty to remain in nominal control of Delhi.

The HinduMahrattas,whose hit and run depredations, under Shivaji and his son Sambhaji, were checked by the Mughals under Aurangzeb, reorganised themselves after Aurangzeb’s death in 1707 under leadership of their Peshwa, Balaji Vishvanath. By1714AD ,they became strong enough for their principality in Maharashtra to be officially recognised as a vassal kingdom by Farrukh Siyar, Mughal Emperor in Delhi.As the Mughal Empire went into rapid decline, the Mahrattas, under successive peshwas Baji-rao, Balaj Bajirao, Raghunath Rao, Sadasshivrao, took advantage of the power vacuum and gradually expanded their control over small states in Central India and Bengal.By 1760AD, the Mahratta Kingdom in the sub-continent stretched over the sub-continent from the South to the banks of Yamuna River except the Ganges valley, the Indus Valley region and Bengal-Orissa regions.

The emboldened Mahrattas started inroads into the Indus Valley region. They briefly reached Peshawar in 1758AD but were pushed back by the Durranis across the Indus River and out of Punjab in 1759AD. The Durranis then confronted the Mahrattas in 1761 in the Panipat plain and inflicted a crushing defeat on them. Thereafter the Mahratta Empire broke up into a loose confederacy of six kingdoms; namely, Scindia. Eventually, another rising power, the British, expanding out from Bengal-Bombay-Madras regions, broke the military power of the Mahrattas kingdoms in a series of battles and totally subjugated them by 1818AD.

The Sikh Kingdom in Punjab region came into being when the Sikh warlord,Ranjeet Singh,united other Sikh warlords and captured Lahore in 1799. The Sikhs remained as vassals of the Durrani Empire which had started to weaken due to internal squabbling after the death of its founder, Ahmed Shah Durrani, in 1772AD. Ranjeet Singh was crowned Maharaja in 1881.The Sikhs starting asserting their power from 1802AD in the Western Punjab region of the Indus Valley. In alliance with the rising British power in India, the Sikhs were able to extend their suzerainity over upper Indus Valley Region upto Kashmir, Khyber Pass and Peshawar in 1834AD. The Sikh kingdom lasted till 1849AD when it was defeated and subjugated by the British in the Anglo-Sikh wars.

 The British, a sea-faring people, had found a foothold in the Sub-continent by obtaining permission from the Mughal Emperor to set up fortified trading posts and factories in Masulipatnam, Surat, Madras, Bombay Island and Calcutta in the period 1601-1688AD.  Taking advantage of the precipitous decline of Mughal power after the invasions and sack of Delhi by Nadir Shah Afshar in 1739AD and Ahmed Shah Durrani in 1751AD, the British brought in troops by sea and started extending their control by raising a mixed army of British and Native Mercernaries equppied with superior weaponry and artillery. In 1757AD the British won the Battle of Plassey against Nawab Siraj-ud-Dawla of Bengal and the Battle of Buxar in 1764 in Bihar which forced the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam-II to appoint the British as Diwan(Tax Collector) for the region of Bengal, Bihar and Orrisa. The British also started to expand their territories around Bombay and Madras. The Anglo-Mysore Wars(1766-1799AD)  and the Anglo-Mahratta Wars(1772-1818AD) brought large areas of West and Central India under British control. The British also annexed Rohilkhand-Gorakhpur-Doab region(1801AD)and Delhi(1803AD) whereafter the Mughal Emperor became a British puppet and was eventually exiled for life to Rangoon-Burma after a failed rebellion in 1857 after which India was formally incorporated as a dominion in the British World Empire.

The British also extended their influence by pressuring small princely states to accept British Suzerainity in return for limited internal autonomy; prominent examples are Cochin(1791), Jaipur(1794), Travancore(1795), Hyderabad(1798), Mysore(1799), Cis-Sutlej Hill States(1815), Central India Agency(1819), Cutch-GujratGaekwad(1819), Rajputana(1818)and Bahawalpur(1833).Vassal Princely states eventually numbered 562.

Next the British annexed Assam(1828AD) and Sindh(1843AD). The British maintained their control over entire India through a large & well-paid army of British Soldiery & Native Mercernaries led by professional British officers. Private armies of vassal Princely states were banned and only poorly equipped police forces were allowed. The British Administrative System at the senior level was predominantly manned by professional British officers; natives manned subordinate positions only. 

In 1839-42AD, the British invaded the Durrani Kingdom of Afghanistan in an alliance with the Sikh Kingdom of Punjab on the understanding that the Peshawar Valley, which was slipping out of Sikh control after their general Hari Singh Nalwa was killed in Jamrud in 1837AD, would remain a Sikh possession. The British armies invaded Afghanistan from two directions; one via Pehawar through the Khyber Pass and the other via the Bolan Pass through Quetta onto Kandahar.After initial success in which Kandahar, Jalalabad, Ghazni and Kabul were captured, the British could not hold these areas and suffered defeat after which they withdrew back into India leaving Peshawar to the Sikhs.

Next the British crushed Sikh power (1846-1849AD)annexed the entire Indus Valley region upto Khyber Pass. The British fought another war with Afghanistan in 1878-80AD               and negotiated a permanent border (the Durand Line) with Afghanistan. For the 4th time in history, the entire sub-continent was politically united. This unity lasted about 98 years till 1947AD when, the British Empire, severely weakened by the two World Wars of 1917-1921AD and 1940-45AD , could not hold onto its foreign territories and withdrew from India on14thAugust 1947AD.

With the collapse of the British Indian Empire and in conformity with past historical trends, the Indus Valley region and Bengal broke away from the Ganges-Yamuna region to form a Muslim Federation of Pakistan and later in 1971AD two independent sovereign countries of Pakistan in the Indus Valley region and Bangladesh in the Bengal region.

After 1947, modern-day India inherited a large, well-equiped and veteran army from the defunct British Empire which has helped it to retain the Ganges-Yamuna region and Central and South India remain in an artificial unity. Not surprisingly, India is beset by chronic insurgencies in those very areas which have historically resented the hegemony of Ganges-Yamuna region i.e. Assam, Nagaland, Bodoland, Manipur and Tripura-Mizoram in the North-East,The Naxalites-Maoists in North and Central regions of Andhra, the regions of Odisha, Karnatka, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, Jharkand Bihar and West Bengal, the Sikh-Khalistanin East Punjab,and the Tamil Dravida-Naduin the South. Of note is the major insurgency in Kashmir in the North-West which has always been part of the Indus Valley region.Again, unsurprisingly, the keen rivalry between the Indus Valley region and the Ganges-Yamuna region in the shape of Pakistan-India rivalry continues unabated and has also resulted in two major wars and several minor armed conflicts. 

In summary, urban civilisation emerged first in the Indus River region and about a 1000 years later in the Ganges-Yamuna region. In 2600 years of known history from the Mahajanapadas 600BC to 1947AD, the entire Sub-continent has been politically united for an aggregate of about 290 years only; once under the native Maurya empire and thrice under foreign rule i.eTughlaq, Mughal & British empires. Additionally , the Indus Valley and the Ganges-Yamuna regions have been politically united for an aggregate of another 290 years only under the kingdoms of the Kushan(100yrs), Ghauri(10yrs), Mamluk(90yrs), Lodhi(75yrs) and Suri(14yrs); none being of native origin. In the remaining 2000 years of history, the Indus River region has remained a separate political and socio-economic entity. Moreover, the social-cultural milieu of the Indus River region has been shaped by Greco-Bactrian, Central Asian, Persian and Muslim Arab influences while the Ganges-Yamuna region  remains firmly Vedic Hindu up to this day.   

The Indus River System including all its small and big tributaries, from the  Siachen glaciers to Minora island in the Arabian Sea, from the Vales of Kashmir to the seaport of Gwadar, from Chitral in the craggy Hindu-Kush to the Koh-e-Suleiman  and Kirthar ranges of Balochistan, from the peaks of Kohistan to the plains of Punjab and Sind, altogether constitute a single naturally integrated socio-economic unit wherein, in spite of political divisions, the diverse ethnic communities inhabiting this region were always linked together into an integrated socio-economic milieu. Today, tremendous improvements in roads and communications further bind together all the myriad peoples populating the Indus River Region into a single, thriving socio-economic entity which is modern-day Pakistan. The uniquely inclusive Pakistani nationhood based on common Muslim identity, irrespective of race, origin & ethno-linguistic identity serves to further cement the unity of the Pakistani Nation.