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Alexanders Invasion -Part 5

Western historians have tried to extol the cultural aspects of Alexander’s invasion and to exaggerate the extent of its impact on the East. The truth of the matter is that he was a destroyer of civilizations and in this respect was no better than Changez or Hulagu. He annihilated the greatest civilization of the time flourishing in Persia under the Achaemenians, effaced the finest cultural monuments erected by the great monarchs of that dynasty and by setting fire to the capital city of Persepolis and several other towns and cities, left Iran desolate and deserted. It took Iran more than six centuries to revive and resuscitate itself from the devastation wrought by Alexander’s armies. Iran rose again and regained its lost power and prestige under the Sassanians in the 3rd century A.D. In Pakistan also Alexander and his forces carried out large-scale massacres. In lower Sind alone 80,000 people are said to have been put to the sword and innumerable men and women sold as slaves. (Early History of India, By V.A. Smith)

Since Alexander was determined to reach the eastern-most limits of the Persian Empire he could not resist the temptation to conquer Pakistan, which at this time was parcelled out into small chieftain- ships, who were feudatories of the Persian Empire. Alexander entered Pakistan from the northern route at Swat but was given a tough fight by the local forces in which he himself is said to have been injured. Next, he reached Indus which was crossed at a place called Ohind, fifteen miles above Attock. The first local ruler he encountered was that of Taxila, Raja Ambhi, with his territories lying between Indus and Jhelum. This raja, because of the geographical position ofhis kingdom, kept himself well informed of developments across Indus and beyond, and was shrewd and pragmatic in his approach. Having received the information that the Achaemenian Emperor Darius III was ignominously defeated by Alexander and that entire Iran had been over-run and devastated by his armies, Ambhi considered it prudent to conclude peace with the Greek dictator. Alexander was extended a glorious welcome at Taxila where he stayed for some time and held discussions with the learned people of the city. He was so pleased with the raja that he confirmed the latter as ruler of the area and gave him costly presents.

Further east, however, Alexander’s advance was halted by the famous Raja Porus who inflicted considerable losses on the Greek forces. Porus was the ruler of territories east of Jhelum. The local armies fought valiantly and but for some tactical mistakes might have won the war. In spite of the defeat, Porus was confirmed as ruler in his principality in recognition of his prowess and patriotism. Moreover, Alexander did not want to antagonise the local people and rulers in view of their potentialities and also in view of his own limited resources. “It is clear from classical accounts of Alexander’s campaign that the Greeks were not unimpressed by what they saw in India (i.e. Sindhu or Indus Valley or Pakistan — ancient India was in Pakistan region, not present day India). They much admired the courage of the Indian (Pakistani) troops, the austerity of the ascetics whom they met at Taxila and the purity and simplicity of the tribes of the Punjab and Sind The Greeks were impressed by the ferocity with which the women of some of the Punjab tribes aided their menfolk in resisting Alexander.” (The Wonder that was India, By A.L. Bhasham)

“The Greeks who were much impressed by the high stature of the men in the Punjab acknowledged that in the art of war they were far superior to the other nations by which Asia was at that time inhabited. The resolute opposition of Porus consequently was not to be despise.” (The Oxford History of India, By V.A. Smith)

Alexander went up to the bank of the Beas somewhere near Gurdaspur where his army, according to historians, refused to move further. What- ever the immediate cause, by reaching Beas Alexander had almost touched the eastern-most frontier of the traditional boundaries of Pakistan and accomplished his mission. It was but logical that he should return. He came down through the entire length of Pakistan, crossed the Hub River near Karachi and departed for home dying on the way. It should not be overlooked that during his 10-month stay in Pakistan and during his movements from one end to the other he did not have smooth sailing. He had to fight small rulers almost everywhere in the N.W.F.P., Punjab and Sind. The Mallois of Mullistan (Multan) inflicted considerable losses on his forces.

Alexander’s invasion of this area and the extent of his journey again boldly highlight the fact that Pakistan’s present boundaries were almost the same in those days. From Hindu Kush, Dir and Swat to the banks of the Beas and down to Karachi – this entire area was one single geographical, political and cultural bloc under the suzerainty of the Persians. It will also be recalled that this was the same area as covered by the Indus Valley Civilization which continued to remain separate from India through the ages. Alexander’s halt and return from the bank of the Beas is not without significance in this context. “The sphere of Persian influence in these early times can hardly have reached beyond the realm of the Indus and its affluents. We may assume, accordingly, that when Alexander reached the river Hyphasis, the ancient vipac, and modern Beas, and was then forced by his generals and soldiers to start upon his retreat, he had touched the extreme limits of the Persian dominion over which he had triumphed throughout.” (The Cambridge History of India, Vol.1, Edited by E.J. Rapson)

The redeeming feature of this period that stands out distinctly is that Pakistan, again, was NOT a part of India and was affiliated to a western power. We have seen that whether during (a) the Indus Valley Civilization 3000 B.C. – 1500 B.C. or (b) during the period of Aryan settlement 1500 B.C. – 1000 B.C. or (c) during the half a millennium period after further Aryan migrations eastward 1000 B.C. – 500 B.C. or (d) during its affiliation with the Achaemenian Empire 500 – 325 B.C., Pakistan was all along a separate entity having nothing to do with India. The period covered by these four chapters of its history is from 3000 B.C. to 325 B.C., i.e., about two thousand seven hundred years.

The immediate impact of Alexander’s invasion on Pakistan was faint and inconsequential. The long-term and indirect effects, however, were of considerable importance which shall be discussed at a later stage. Here we shall pick up the thread of political history and follow the destiny of this area immediately after Alexander’s departure.

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