Siege of Malakand - Outbreak of The Battle

Outbreak of The Battle

Towards 1897, news of unrest in the nearby Pashtun villages had reached the British garrisons in Malakand. Major Deane, the British political agent, noted the growing unrest within the Pashtun sepoys stationed with the British. His warnings were officially distributed to senior officers on 23 July 1897; however, nothing more than a minor skirmish was expected. Rumours of a new religious leader, Saidullah the Sartor Fakir (also known as Mullah of Mastun), arriving to "sweep away" the British and inspire a jihad, were reportedly circulating the bazaars of Malakand during July. Saidullah became known to the British as "The Great Fakir", "Mad Fakir" or the "Mad Mullah", and by the Pashtuns as lewanai faqir, or simply, lewanai, meaning "god-intoxicated".

On July 26, while British officers were playing polo near camp Malakand North, indigenous spectators who were watching the match learned of an approaching Pashtun force and fled. Brigadier-General Meiklejohn, commander of the Malakand forces, was informed by Deane that "matters had assumed a very grave aspect" and that there were armed Pashtuns gathering nearby. Reinforcements from Mardan (32 miles (51 km) away) were requested, and Lieutenant P. Eliott-Lockhart departed at 1.30am. At 9.45pm, a final telegram was received informing the garrison that the Fakir had passed Khar and was advancing on Malakand. The telegram also stated that neither the levies nor the people would act against him, and that the hills to the east of the camp were covered with Pathans. Shortly after, the communication wire was cut.

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