Lessons for us from the Mongol Siege of Baghdad

October 25, 2019

Syed Haider A. Gardezi

History and military warfare books note that the Siege of Baghdad in 1258, by the Mongols, under the command of Halagu Khan, ended in a ‘Decisive Mongol Victory’. However, this decisive Mongol victory, was followed by mass executions of civilians including children, mass rapes, and widespread destruction of infrastructure. Baghdad was the center of excellence, in education and culture at that point in time, all of its glory, ransacked and destroyed between 29th January and 10th February, 1258.  Women and Children were enslaved, tens of thousands of books, including the Grand Library of Baghdad burned to ashes, and the whole civilization under the Abbasid Caliphate was overrun and overpowered.

It is true that in wars sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, however, history teaches us there are always contributing factors that lead to the win or lose situation. One of these factors is internal unity and coherence. If there is not a will to remain united and steadfast in the face of a challenge, the nation cannot emerge as victors.

When Baghdad was surrounded by Mongol hordes, and the siege was imminent, many historians have noted, that there was a sectarian rift among the residents of the city. They were debating on sectarian issues. There was complacency, corruption and lust for power among the political elite of the Abbasid Caliphate, and, Halagu had arrived with all his might to wreak havoc on the people of this city and the Caliphate.  

Recently relations between Pakistan and India have become more strained. There are heightened tensions, following an escalation especially across the Line of Control. Indian government officials have explicitly expressed their desire to launchfull scale operations to occupy Azad Kashmir. These statements come after illegal annexation of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, by the Indian government on August 5th, 2019. Indian Media is also busy in peddling the narrative, that India is now ready to occupy the Pakistan Administered, Azad Kashmir.

These blatant violations and utter disregard of International law by India, as international community recognizes Kashmir as a disputed region, are unacceptable and uncivil behavior by the Modi government. This is also unacceptable to Pakistan.  Hence prompting Pakistan to launch a full scale diplomatic and awareness campaign for the Kashmir cause, which according to many analysts is unprecedented. India on the other hand is fully prepared to launch a military offensive aimed at occupying Azad Kashmir. At this point in time many fear India is manufacturing consent among people for an offensive against Pakistan to annex Azad Kashmir, hence the shelling and escalation along LoC and the border.

While India is preparing for an offensive against Pakistan, with its troops ready to wage a war, we have internal strife, on power politics and selfish interests. Opposition is busy in issue-less politics for grabbing on to the little power it has left. The recent announcement of Azadi March by Maulana Fazl-Ur-Rehman is basically the same non-issue based, unjustified nationwide campaign which has zero positive effects for the democratic process and the national security of this country. This march has divided the nation, united the Left and the Right in a strange way and left Pakistan at the brink of confusion and chaos.

No one in their right mind can justify a march like this especially at such a critical time when the enemy is at the gates. What Pakistan needs today is a united front. Against the imminent threat that it faces from India, but on the contrary we are organizing protest marches, for God knows what reasons. There are certain voices among the opposition that have raised concerns with regards to this march. Many even fail to comprehend what this march aims to achieve. According to JUI-F they want the Prime Minister and his government gone. How is this any beneficial to the governance of this country? That too at such a critical time when we cannot afford to be divided on trivial issues.

Protesting and expression of views is a democratic right of everyone, including Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman and his party. There cannot be any two ways about it. My argument is that this is just not the right time when the enemy is at the gates, we must not engage in politics of such sort. History has a lesson for us in the burning of Baghdad. Baghdad was destroyed, it gave a huge sacrifice, so that we could learn from it today, so that we could make better choices when we face a similar threat as Abbasid Caliphate did. History want us to learn Maulana, if we don’t, it has a tendency to reprimand the weak student in blood and pain. I hope sanity prevails and you see that now is not the time for such politics. 

The Author is a Media and Defence Analyst. He Tweets @haiderwrites