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North West Frontier Revolt of 1936-37

In 1936, a revolt broke put in Waziristan, a mountainous region inhabited by warlike tribes, an area that is today part of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province. A Muslim holy man, Mirza Ali Khan - the Faqir of Ipi [Faqeer of Ipi], led the Wazirs against the occupying British-Indian regime for many years, and the revolt remains one of the greatest twentieth-century South Asian insurgencies. After the demise of Haji Saheb Taurangzai and Mullah Powinds, the lone un-purchaseable mujahid left in the field was Faqir Ipi. Ipi, the village of the legendary freedom fighter Faqir of Ipi, is sited between Mir Ali and Thall in North Waziristan.

A fakir (fker`, fa`k?r), [Arab.,=poverty], in Islam, is usually an initiate in a Sufi order. The title fakir is borne with the understanding that poverty is the need to be in relation to God. This term, along with its Persian equivalent, dervish, was extended in Western usage to Indian ascetics and yogis, and incorrectly used generally for itinerant magicians and wonder-workers. The term has come to be specially applied to the Hindu devotees and ascetics of India. There were two classes of these Indian Fakirs, (1) the religious orders, and (2) the nomad rogues who infest the country. The ascetic orders resemble the Franciscans of Christianity. The bulk lead really excellent lives in monasteries, which are centres of education and poor-relief; while others go out to visit the poor as Gurus or teachers.

The second class of Fakirs are simply disreputable beggars who wander round extorting, under the guise of religion, alms from the charitable and practising on the superstitions of the villagers. As a rule they make no real pretence of leading a religious life. They were said to number nearly a million [as of 1911]. Many of them are known as "Jogi," and lay claim to miraculous powers which they declare have become theirs by the practice of abstinence and extreme austerities. The tortures which some of these wretches will inflict upon themselves are almost incredible. They will hold their arms over their heads until the muscles atrophy, will keep their fists clenched till the nails grow through the palms, will lie on beds of nails, cut and stab themselves, drag, week after week, enormous chains loaded with masses of iron, or hang themselves before a fire near enough to scorch. Most of them are inexpressibly filthy and verminous.

In 1936, a Tori Khel Wazir named Mira Ali Khan began an anti-government campaign in Waziristan that continually menaced the British until their departure from India in 1947. More commonly known as the Faqir of Ipi, he first gained British attention when he tried to disrupt a trial in Bannu. The British had little success in capturing or killing important fugitives in Waziristan. The Mullah Powindah and the Faqir of Ipi eluded British pursuit for decades. The Pashtun tenant of melmastia, the complex terrain of Waziristan, and their religious status helped ensured Powindah and the Faqir never were killed or captured by the British.

The Faqir of Ipi's anti-government rhetoric prompted a two column British show of force through northern Waziristan. In contrast to other punitive expeditions, the British operated under restrictive rules of engagement which forbade troops to shoot until shot at. Every military rule for effective Frontier warfare was in conflict with political rules - all of which the tribesmen knew very well and took every advantage. During the 1933-37 operations by the British against the Fakir of Ipi in North Waziristan, the Mahsuds from South Waziristan, Ahmed Wazirs from Bannu, Bhittanis and Bakka Khels from Bannu FR, operated under Ipi's flag.

The show of force, intended to demonstrate British strength, ended in disaster as tribesmen continually attacked the columns and inflicted heavy casualties. The failure of the columns elevated the Faqir of Ipi's prestige and incited the Wazirs, Mahsuds, Bhittanis, and even Afghans across the border to rally to his cause. The British responded by sending four more brigades to Razmak in 1937. Though the British hoped to catch the Faqir of Ipi in a fixed engagement, he never made a stand and eluded capture. In April 1937, tribesmen ambushed a British convoy traveling to Wana and killed or wounded 92 officers and soldiers.

The challenges of the elusive enemy and broken terrain in Waziristan forced the British to operate in a very deliberate and set piece manner that ultimately inhibited flexibility and initiative. The British responded to their failure to subdue the Faqir of Ipi by destroying villages but achieved nothing conclusive. By late 1937, the heavy destruction eventually dampened support for the Faqir. The British consequently decided that a large presence inside Waziristan was counterproductive and reduced troop levels to pre-crisis levels. Fighting flared up again in 1938-9, albeit on a smaller scale. The Faqir managed to raid Bannu, at further expense to British prestige.

During the war (1939-1945) the Axis tried to stir a tribal rising in the NWFP against the British. Their main purpose was to engage the British Indian army in the tribal belt to prevent Indian armed forces from being sent to the Mediterranean. After the war it was revealed at the Nueremberg Trials that the Italians had planned, with the support of the Germans, to induce Mirza Ali Khan (Faqir of lpi), the legendary anti-British Pashtoon religious warrior, to carry pro-Axis propaganda and to create troubles in the NWFP. The Faqir of Ipi, as reported by the Intelligence Diary dated 10 November 1941 is said to be very much displeased at the Afghan Government's decision in expelling the Germans and Italians, and is now spreading propaganda against the Yahya Khan regime among his followers in the Southern Province'. The Faqir of Ipi consented to the Axis proposal of establishing a radio transmitter station in the tribal belt to intensify the anti-British propaganda.

The Faqir continued menacing the British until their departure in 1947, but violence did not reach the same levels it did during the 1930s. The first major incident took place in July 1948, when Faqir of Ipi, supported by Afghanistan, attacked the Dattakhel and Boya posts in North Waziristan and set them on fire. His Lashkar (fighters) even surrounded Razmak, Dosalli and Thal areas inside Pakistan. But the Pakistani scouts and loyal tribesmen fought them back.

The British left India without ever capturing or killing the Faqir of Ipi. He later died of natural causes in 1960. Central Waziristan (North & South Waziristan) was the hunting ground of the Faqir of Ipi and presently, Niaz Ali, his nephew. The Frontier Corps moved into the old and historic cantonment and posts and by end 1976, a Cadet College had been conceived at Razmak - something totally unthought of.

The parallels between the hunt for the Faqir of Ipi and bin Laden are obvious.



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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:28:57 ZULU