Prince Burhanuddin, 'colourful' and 'infamous' hero of WW-II

Prince Burhanuddin, ‘colourful’ and ‘infamous’ hero of WW-II

Nature has bestowed Chitralis with such an energy and adventurism that they are never reluctant to face these conditions. Out of such harsh conditions they have this tremendous quality to produce something very outstanding and heroic.

This article is one of the tales about those Chitralis who fought with these conditions and at the same time rose to become very well-known heroes. The hero, whom this article has been written on, was Prince Burhanuddin. He was son of Mehtar Shujaul Mulk of Chitral. He was born in 1915 in Dolumus valley, Chitral. Later, he would go on to become commander of the then outlawed Indian National Army in Burma fighting British colonial rule during World War II. Islamia College Peshawar remained his alma mater along with Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College Dehradun, where he graduated.

In 1935, he was commissioned in the British Indian Army as a second lieutenant. As was the case in those days competent officers from infantry would be taken in the air force. Prince was also taken in Royal Indian Air force as a pilot. He joined the IAF 1st Squadron some time in 1939 and remained with them till at least January 1941. The first assignment of Prince Burhan with the squadron was to form a part of the “Q” Flight – which was sent to Karachi for coastal defense duties. The British Indian Air Force was established in 1932 and not surprisingly the initial pilots were called “Hawaii Sepoys” to reflect their origins as army sepoys.

During his air force career, exploits of Prince Burhan were remarkable. He went back to his Baluch Regiment Infantry duties some time in 1941 and was sent to Burma to fight against Japan. Actually, most of the soldiers of Indian Army of those days did not want to fight in the World War II. They thought it was not India’s war but they were forced to go to the war. Prince Burhan and some of his friends put a condition in front of the viceroy of India that if Britain would leave their land after they win WWII for them, they were ready to fight. This condition was unacceptable for the viceroy so they parted their ways from the army and handed over themselves to Japanese Army.

Japanese Army offered two options for them. Either they would live as prisoners and build bridge at river Kawai or fight back the British troops from their side. The second offer was what they were dying for. They readily agreed to fight the allies with the Japanese Army. Freedom movements had started in India against the British rule as early as the twentieth century, but growing sense of nationalism and awareness came slowly to the people of modern day Pakistan due to isolation.

During World War II, most Indian people were aware of the fact that Britain was exploiting them and they were able to feel the need for resistance against British rule. Indian National Army (INA) was also made on the base of this realization. The INA was an armed force formed by Indian nationalists in 1942 in Southeast Asia during World War II. The aim of the army was to secure Indian independence from British rule, for which it allied with and was supported by Imperial Japan in the latter’s campaign in South-East Asia.

Burhan and some half a million other soldiers joined INA under the command of Subhas Chandra Bose. Conditions were conducive for the Axis’ victory until when USA dropped an atom bomb on Japan. This attack broke the backbone of Axis and very soon Japan surrendered to Allied powers. Burhan with his men was captured by British troops and they underwent court martial. The court sentenced him and his men to death. They were kept in a prison in the Red Fort of Lahore. Their case was appealed in the High Court and people of the city strongly demonstrated against their death sentence.

These chaotic conditions impelled the government to move them to another prison in Haripur. In the mid nineteen forties, freedom movements had engulfed the imperial rule in India. On 3rd June 1947, Lord Mountbatten announced the plan of partition for India. This divided India into two states and the formal independence of Pakistan was going to be declared on 14 August 1947. This incident paved the way of release for the prisoners. Burhan with his men was released on 13th August 1947 and their death sentences were nullified. After his release, he immediately came to Chitral. Chitral, after independence, had declared to accede to Pakistan but formal declaration was yet to be announced and it was still an independent state. Muzzafarul Mulk was Mehtar (ruler) of Chitral at that time.

Prince Burhan wanted to come back and join the newly formed Pakistan Army but Mehtar wanted him to command the Chitral Bodyguard Force as the former knew he was a competent officer. So he could not refuse to Mehtar’s request and became the commander-in-chief of the bodyguards. He organized the force very well and made it familiar with the modern tactics of war. He imported modern weaponry and armed the force very well.

After division of India, Kashmir was an unresolved territory. Maharaja of Kashmir did not want to accede to Pakistan. Burhan wrote him a letter threatening him of Jihad against his forces if he did not accede to Pakistan. Maharaja was in no way ready to accede to Pakistan so Burhan waged Jihad against him along with other tribes of North Western Areas of Pakistan. The state bodyguard force fought under him very well. They captured Skardu and went on to capture areas all the way to Chilas. From there on, they advanced to the rest of Kashmir. They were moving on capturing village by village when suddenly they were told to halt their advancement amid the extreme pressure put by UN upon Pakistan. By this time, they had released a lot of Kashmir territory from Maharaja and Indian occupation.

Prince Burhan remained the commander of Chitral’s bodyguard force until its transformation into Chitral Police Force in 1953. Then in Ayub’s era, he contested elections under the Basic Democracies and was elected the chairman of his subdivision Chitral. In 1990s, he was elected as the member of the Senate of Pakistan. In 1995, he died and was buried in his hometown.

The words “colourful” “infamous” etc. are used in the context of Prince Burhan’s name because he was an interesting figure. Quite a few used to look at him like an eccentric character. Air vice Marshal Harjinder Singh has quite a few tales to tell of Burhan – one of which involved Burhanuddin requesting Harjinder to teach him how to drive a car. As Harjinder recalls – Burhan was an absolutely hopeless case as far as learning to drive a car was concerned. Flying an aircraft was much simpler for him – with the simple throttle and all. But to drive a manual transmission car which requires solemn control over the clutch, Burhan proved absolutely beyond help and in fact ended up wrecking his car by reversing it into a wall. That was the first time he discovered that his car had a reverse gear!

There are some more funny and strange things about prince Burhan. One of his unit officers tells some of it. He says that “there were some people who never should have joined any air force. As the detachment commander at Miranshah, I had the misfortune to have a new posting. I will call him Burhan. Son of a petty chieftain from way up north, he first joined the army but one mess night he threatened to shoot his C.O. after the latter had remonstrated that Burhan’s two dogs would not let him enter the building. Burhan promptly retorted, “Sir, you shoot my dogs and I will shoot you.” Well, that is how I had him in my unit”.

Prince Burhan was a very simple and strictly Islamic person and he really had love for his Muslim brothers. This love can be perceived from his secret services which he performed to save lives of his Muslim brothers in the tribal region of Afghanistan during the final Afghan War. The pilots were told to target the resistive population of Afghanistan who had taken up arms against the British aggression. Before going on to accomplish his missions, he would use to send messages to the people of areas to be targeted to vacate them before bombardment. In the end, what I conceive from his services for Muslims and the independence of India is that he really deserves the title of a hero.


The writer has done master in political science from Islamia College Peshawar and is currently teaching at the same institution as an intern lecturer.

13 Replies to “Prince Burhanuddin, ‘colourful’ and ‘infamous’ hero of WW-II”

  1. Indeed a remarkable article highlighting a notable figure of our area.. Great effort IB keep it up… ?

  2. Wov! good story written, Beside of his Indian Army service & political career he paid nothing to Chitral.

  3. He did a fine job highlighting a very important figure from the history of Chitral to those among youth who are unaware of him and all you can do is criticise? Appreciate his work.

  4. “Son of a petty chieftain from way up north, he first joined the army but one mess night he threatened to shoot his C.O. after the latter had remonstrated that Burhan’s two dogs would not let him enter the building. Burhan promptly retorted, “Sir, you shoot my dogs and I will shoot you.” Well, that is how I had him in my unit”…..”.
    Let me say it LOUD AND CLEAR “JOKE OF THE DAY”!!!

  5. what did he do for the betterment of the people of chitral?like the wali of sawat he did everything best which he wants best for their people.yes,no object,our rulers were over the top in merrymaking or other such kinds of useless practices.they left no solid print in the feild of education and prospective projection of advancement to face new born challenges in and around the past print,then to commemorate them…

    1. Dear Abdus Sami
      Please note that he was a prince and not the “Ruler of Chitral”. Secondly he was the one who initiated development projects in the district during Ayub and Zia rule.

      1. Dear Ali khan,agree,he was not the ruler but it must be admitted that he was the one piller of aristocratic fabrics,he could made an easy way for the betterment of pulic in what way he likes to do.

  6. Giving land to Langlands Public School and College at much lower rate is not true. This is to set the record straight that he sold out the land to the then deputy commissioner Chitral Javed Majeed at market price.
    Another issue which someone here has tried to highlight rather taken great pride in saying that he stood by nephew Saifur Rehman. This was in way a service to the people of Chitral.

    1. Dear Afzal Amann , please check the School documents, Javed Majeed had left at the time when the land was sold to the School , You will accept the fact that the School land was sold at 50 % lower price than Market. The same is with the colony at dolomuts , the plot for Hostel and Jamat Khana were given for free.
      He was a great freedom fighter and revolted against the British, when the japanese surrendered and INA members were brought to India as prisoners of wars, Burhanuddin and his brother Mutaulmulk were kept at the Red Fort , Delhi. Jawahir Lal Nehru represented the two princes in Court.They were released by Nehru after the liberation of India in 1947. Please correct your figures and dont criticize without knowing the facts.

  7. Great effort to document one of the great veterans from Chitral. Just to add, He became member of West Pakistan Provincial Assembly during Ayub era, and Senator during Zia’s era. Japanese respected him a lot due to his support to the Japanese Army during second world war. On request of Japanese mountaineers he had made an official visit to Japan where he was given highest protocol and the visit was highly propagated in Japanese media. A staunch monarchist , Burhanuddin stood with his nephew HH Saifurehman during the turbulent years of 1949-1953. In order to reimpose the state’s writ , he suppressed the dissident voices of his brothers and ensured that no one challenges the Mehtar’s rule.
    He provided land to the famous Sayurj Public School at a much lower price than market to ensure that the School gets a proper building. A philanthropist , war veteran, traditionalist and politician , Shahzada Burhanuddin was gem of person. Chitral will always miss him

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