The Janjuas of Punjab

The sub-continent’s past has ensured that the fertile plains of Punjab, on either side of the Line of Control, have a sprinkling of the illustrious ‘Janjuas’ who could be Muslims, Sikhs or Hindus.

By Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd)

The sub-continent’s past has ensured that the fertile plains of Punjab, on either side of the Line of Control, have a sprinkling of the illustrious ‘Janjuas’ who could be Muslims, Sikhs or Hindus. Tracing their antiquity and ancestry to the Pandavas (direct bloodline of Arjuna) and to the fabled ‘Rai Por’ or King Porus who fought Alexander — this warrior sect was designated as the so-called ‘martial caste’ by the British. 

With proud Rajput heritage of soldering and chivalrous instincts, the Janjuas are mostly settled in modern-day Pakistan (in the districts of Rawalpindi, Jhelum, Chakwal and Mirpur), and are predominantly Muslim by faith. The sub-classification of this sect branched into family names like Ranial, Gaharwal, Jatal, Dhamial etc. Considering a combined population in India and Pakistan of approximately 3 lakh Janjuas, they have punched way above their weight in terms of the historical narrative and the current societal prominence. 

When the dust finally settled on the much-awaited race for the new foreign secretary of Pakistan, it was the lower-in-seniority, Tehmina Janjua who pipped the hot-favourite and senior most, Abdul Basit (Ambassador to India), to the post. As the first women to become Pakistan’s top diplomat, she will share the rough and tumble of navigating Pakistan’s fate in the choppy seas of sub-continental affairs, along with Lt General Nasser Khan Janjua (retired), the serving National Security Adviser (NSA) of Pakistan. 

Lt General Janjua earned his post-retirement assignment due to his robust military record of commanding a brigade on the Pakistani side of the Siachen Glacier, serving critical appointments like DGMO, Strike Corp Commander and as the Vice Chief of General Staff. 

Raheel Sharif is a quintessential Janjua with an impressive and impeccable military lineage. His elder brother Major Rana Shabbir Sharif was honoured with the highest Pakistani gallantry award ‘Nishan-e-Haider’ in the 1971 Indo-Pak war, and his maternal uncle Major Raja Aziz Bhatti had also won the ‘Nishan-e-Haider’ in the 1965 Indo-Pak war. However, Gen Raheel Sharif was not the first Janjua to be the Chief of Pakistan Army — the honour goes to the Sandhurst-trained, General Asif Nawaz Janjua (1991-93). Like General Raheel Sharif, General Asif Nawaz was known to be the rare Pakistani COAS who showed no inclination towards politics and was essentially liberal, above-board and anti-fundamentalism. 

The soldering ethos of the Janjuas are aptly captured by the Rawalpindi District Gazetteer Robertson, “The Janjua Rajputs possess a proud martial reputation and rank very highly as the aristocracy of the Salt Range. Their pride in their ancestry is renowned and they are always addressed by their ancestral title of Raja.” 

The myriad spread of forts in Sohava, Dalowal, Kusak, Girjaak, Malot, Nagi are reflective of their fiefdoms that were zealously guarded by the fierce Janjuas of the region. 

Pakistan’s religio-sectarian divide has denied the rightful place to Major General Iftikhar Khan Janjua, the highest serving soldier to have died in a battle. Relegated to the dust shelves of the Pakistani military historians, is the unsung saga of a gallant Brigadier in the Rann of Kutch sector in 1965 war, and later the inspirational leader who led from the front, whilst commanding the 23rd Infantry Division in the Chamb Sector, only to die in a battle when his helicopter was brought down. His belonging to the Ahamadiyya faith (ostensibly ‘non-Muslim’ in Pakistan), suppressed his heroics in the annals of Pakistan. The noble warriors with the finest martial instincts are yet another example of the shared history, ethos and the civilizational-connect that is often forgotten in the storms of the Indo-Pak relationship. 

— The writer is former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry

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