CHITRAL, a native state in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. The state of Chitral is somewhat larger than Wales, and supports a population of about 35,000 rough, hardy hillmen. Previous estimates put the number far higher, but as the Mehtar assesses his fighting strength at 8000 only, this number is probably not far wrong. Both the state and its capital are called Chitral, the latter being situated about 47 m. from the main watershed of the range of the Hindu Kush, which divides the waters flowing down to India from those which take their way into the Oxus. Chitral is an important state because of its situation at the extremity of the country over which the government of India exerts its influence, and for some years before 1895 it had been the object of the policy of the government of India to control the external affairs of Chitral in a direction friendly to British interests, to secure an effective guardianship over its northern passes, and to keep watch over what goes on beyond these passes. This policy resulted in a British agency being established at Gilgit (Kashmir territory), with a subordinate agency in Chitral, the latter being usually stationed at Mastuj (65 m. nearer to Gilgit than the Chitral capital), and occasional visits being paid to the capital. Chitral can be reached either by the long circuitous route from Gilgit, involving 200 m. of hill roads and the passage of the Shandur pass (12,250 ft.), or (more directly) from the Peshawar frontier at Malakand by 100 m. of route through the independent territories of Swat and Bajour, involving the passage of the Lowarai (10,450 ft). It is held by a small force as a British outpost.
The district of Chitral is called Kashgar (or Kashkar) by the people of the country; and as it was under Chinese domination in the middle of the 18th century, and was regarded as a Buddhist centre of some importance by the Chinese pilgrims in the early centuries of our era, it is possible that it then existed as an outlying district of the Kashgar province of Chinese Turkestan, where Buddhism once flourished in cities that have been long since buried beneath the sand-waves of the Takla Makan. The aboriginal population of the Chitral valley is probably to be recognized in the people called Kho (speaking a language called Khowar), who form the majority of its inhabitants. Upon the Kho a people called Ronas have been superimposed. The Ronas, who form the chief caste and fighting race of the Chitral districts, originally came from the north, but they have adopted the language and fashions of the conquered Chitrali.
The town of Chitral (pop. in 1901, 8128), is chiefly famous for a siege which it sustained in the spring of 1895. Owing to complications arising from the demarcation of the boundary of Afghanistan which was being carried out at that time, and the ambitious projects of Umra Khan, chief of Jandol, which was a tool in the hands of Sher Afzul, a political refugee from Chitral supported by the amir at Kabul, the mehtar (or ruler) of Chitral was murdered, and a small British and Sikh garrison subsequently besieged in the fort. A large force of Afghan troops was at that time in the Chitral river valley to the south of Chitral, nominally holding the Kafirs in check during the progress of boundary demarcation. It is considered probable that some of them assisted the Chitralis in the siege. The position of the political agent Dr Robertson (afterwards Sir George Robertson) and his military force of 543 men (of whom 137 were non-combatants) was at one time critical. Two forces were organized for the relief. One was under Sir R. Low, with 15,000 men, who advanced by way of the Malakand pass, the Swat river and Dir. The other, which was the first to reach Chitral, was under Colonel Kelly, commanding the 32nd Pioneers, who was placed in command of all the troops in the Gilgit district, numbering about 600 all told, with two guns, and instructed to advance by the Shandur pass and Mastuj. This force encountered great difficulties owing to the deep snow on the pass (12,230 ft. high), but it easily defeated the Chitrali force opposed to it and relieved Chitral on the 20th of April, the siege having begun on the 4th of March. Sher Afzul, who had joined Umra Khan, surrendered, and eventually Chitral was restored to British political control as a dependency of Kashmir. During Lord Curzon’s vice-royalty the British troops were concentrated at the extreme southern end of the Chitral country at Kila Drosh and the force was reduced, while the posts vacated and all outlying posts were handed over to levies raised for the purpose from the Chitralis themselves. The troops in Swat were also concentrated at Chakdara and reduced in strength. The mehtar, Shuja-ul-Mulk, who was installed in September 1895, visited the Delhi durbar in January 1903.
Selected by Syed Aqeel Ali Shah from ‘The History of Chitral’ by Sir George Roberston.