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Pathan Revolt - 1897

"Except at the times of sowing and of harvest, a continual state of feud and strife prevails throughout the land. Tribe wars with tribe. The people of one valley fight with those of the next. To the quarrels of communities are added the combats of individuals. Khan assails khan, each supported by his retainers. Every tribesman has a blood feud with his neighbor. Every man's hand is against the other, and all against the stranger.

"Nor are these struggles conducted with the weapons which usually belong to the races of such development. To the ferocity of the Zulu are added the craft of the Redskin and the marksmanship of the Boer. The world is presented with that grim spectacle, "the strength of civilisation without its mercy." At a thousand yards the traveller falls wounded by the well-aimed bullet of a breech-loading rifle. His assailant, approaching, hacks him to death with the ferocity of a South-Sea Islander. The weapons of the nineteenth century are in the hands of the savages of the Stone Age.

"Every influence, every motive, that provokes the spirit of murder among men, impels these mountaineers to deeds of treachery and violence. The strong aboriginal propensity to kill, inherit in all human beings, has in these valleys been preserved in unexampled strength and vigour. That religion, which above all others was founded and propagated by the sword -- the tenets and principles of which are instinct with incentives to slaughter and which in three continents has produced fighting breeds of men -- stimulates a wild and merciless fanaticism. The love of plunder, always a characteristic of hill tribes, is fostered by the spectacle of opulence and luxury which, to their eyes, the cities and plains of the south display. A code of honour not less punctilious than that of old Spain, is supported by vendettas as implacable as those of Corsica.

"In such a state of society, all property is held directly by main force. Every man is a soldier. Either he is the retainer of some khan -- the man-at-arms of some feudal baron as it were -- or he is a unit in the armed force of his village -- the burgher of mediaeval history. In such surroundings we may without difficulty trace the rise and fall of an ambitious Pathan."

Story of the Malakand Field Force: An Episode of Frontier War Winston Churchill (1898)

Whatever Churchill wrote in this account still holds very much true. In 1896 Churchill was a subaltern in the 4th Hussars when his regiment went to India. In 1897, finding regimental life too quiet, when he heard that a Field Force of three Brigades was being formed under General Sir Bindon Blood to quell a revolt of the Pathan tribesmen, asked to join it. Churchill saw service as both soldier and journalist on the North-West Frontier. His dispatches for the London Daily Telegraph, published in 1898 as The Story of the Malakand Field Force, attracted wide attention, and launched a career of authorship that he intermittently pursued throughout his life. Churchill was not rich, and had no income apart from an allowance from his mother. For the rest of his life his main source of income was to be his pen.

The summer of 1897 found the Northwest Frontier border in an inflammable condition. Exaggerated accounts had been circulated of the successes gained by the Turkish armies in their war against Greece, while the growth of a fanatical spirit was fostered by the Mullas, and by the belief that aid would be forthcoming from Kabul. Apart from these reasons for religious excitement, the operations taken to demarcate the new Durand line, and the occupation of the Samana range, the Kurram valley, Daur, and Wana, the passage of British troops through various tracts, and administrative grievances, such as the tax on Kohat salt, added to the discontent of the tribesmen. The prevalent excitement soon sprang into flame.

The tribes in the Swat Valley, with whom peaceable arrangements had been made, and to whose chiefs large subsidies had been promised and paid, commenced an outbreak. In Toch, an unexpected visit from the Political officer, accompanied by an unusually strong escort, on June 10, to the village of Maizar, of which the inhabitants were already in disgrace for the murder of a Hindu, caused the explosion. After being hospitably entertained, the troops were treacherously attacked. All the British military officers were killed or wounded, but the escort, with the Political officer, withdrew in good order to Datta Khel.

The news spread rapidly and everywhere formed the text of fanatical harangues by Mullas, and in particular by a Bunerwal of Upper Swat named Sad-ullah, whose eccentricities had earned him the name of the Mulla Mastan (' mad'). On July 26, followed only by a few boys, one of whom he proclaimed king of Delhi, he started from Landakai, a village about 6 miles above Chakdarra on the south bank of the Swat river. The tribesmen flocked after him, and by evening, with ever-increasing numbers, the gathering approached the Mala- kand. A sudden attack was made on the Malakand and Chakdarra simultaneously. The numbers, which at first had barely reached 1,000 men, were rapidly swollen to 12,000 at the Malakand and 8,000 at Chakdarra.

The extent and character of this attack were of such a nature that two brigades, one containing four and the other three regiments, with three mountain batteries, were sent forward to support the garrison. After five days' fighting, the force under the command of Sir Bindon Blood, about 5,000 men, completely defeated the tribes. By this victory the attack on the Malakand Fort the principal fort on the road by an army of 6,000 men was prevented. A week later several thousand men of another tribe attacked one of our forts only 15 miles from Peshawar. That attack was, after fierce fighting, brilliantly repulsed. Heavy fighting continued at both places, until the Malakand was relieved on August 1 and Chakdarra on the 2nd. The assailants then drew off with a loss of not less than 3,000 men, while the British losses had amounted to 33 killed and 188 wounded. On the relief of Chakdarra the gathering quickly dispersed, and the task of punishment and prevention of further combination was taken in hand at once.

The next to rise were the Mohmands. Animated by the discourses of Najm-ud-dm, the Adda Mulla, a gathering of about 5,000 armed men from all sections (except the Tarakzai) advanced on August 7 into the Peshawar valley, and attacked the village of Shankargarh, in which there is a large Hindu element, and the adjoining police post of Shabkadar. Troops were dispatched from Peshawar, and the tribesmen were driven back into the hills.

Meanwhile, throughout Afridi and Orakzai Tirah the excitement had been growing; and frequent rumors reached Peshawar, Kohat, and Kurram of the reconciliation of intertribal feuds and the gathering of clans for jihad, at the bidding of Mulla Saiyid Akbar, Aka Khel Afridi. The trouble began with desultory firing by the Orakzai at the troops on the Samana on August 15. The Government of India promptly poured troops into the district, and by the middle of August British forces had increased to about 37,000 men. At that date, according to one account, "the tribes were all up through a mountain district of 600 miles long by 200 miles broad." By the 23rd and 24th the whole of the posts in the Khyber, held only by the Khyber Rifles, whose British officers had been withdrawn, fell before a strong combination of Afridis. By the end of the month the Orakzai and Afridis had collected 15,000 men, all the posts on the Samana were closely invested, Shinawari (a police post at the juncture of Upper and Lower Miranzai) had fallen, and Hangu was threatened.

Then came the treacherous outbreak of the Afridis, a tribe hitherto loyal to the Government, and to whom had been intrusted for nearly 20 years the guardianship of the Khaibar Pass. In September the British were attacked at Nawagai. The Khan of that tribe was the chief who " openly declared himself a friend of the Government on receipt of the proclamation. His tribe attacked British forces with 3,000 men. These tribal risings have necessitated military operations on a most gigantic scale. The siege of the Samana posts continued till September 14, when Fort Lockhart and Fort Cavagnari (Gulistan) were relieved, the small post of Saragarhi having fallen on September 12. On the approach of the relief force the enemy withdrew from the Samana ridge into the Khanki valley.

Lord Lansdowne said on November 9th that the forces on the frontier numbered 70,000 men-more than double the number we had engaged at Waterloo-and a larger number than have been engaged in a conflict in India before.

Lord George Hamilton stated that not even in the recollection of those who passed through the Mutiny has there ever been so spontaneous and unaccountable an outbreak. Balfour stated that the chief cause was the victory of the Mohammedan Turks over the Christian Greeks. The Indian Secretary was of opinion that the triple visitations of famine, plague, and earthquake, combined with the repulse of the Greek invasion of Turkey, were the main causes of this outbreak. It is a significant fact that one of the tribes, in reply to Sir W. Lockhart's proclamation, protested against the occupation of Swat, the district through which the road runs, and declared that they would oppose further inroads. It may be that a belief that the Chitral road and its garrisons were the first steps towards the destruction of the independence of the tribes kindled the conflagration which cannot be extinguished except at the fearful sacrifices which the telegrams from India daily recorded.

These attacks, which had not been without success, involved active military operations as a punishment and a deterrent. The operations began with the dispatch of two brigades (7,000 men) to Datta Khel in the Tochi valley, which caused the submission of the Madda Khel, who agreed to give up seventeen ringleaders, make compensation for the property taken at Maizar, and pay a fine. The final submission was, however, not concluded till 1901, after further operations.

In Swat a quicker settlement was made. Before the end of the year Upper Swat, Bajaur, Chamla, and the Utman Khel country had been penetrated by British troops, and the fines imposed had been realized. In January, 1898, an expedition was sent through Buner, fines were realized from the Khudu Khel and Gaduns of the Yusufzai border, and the Mulla Mastan was expelled by political pressure from Dir and Swat. The Malakand Field Force consisted of three brigades with the usual complement of divisional troops, in all 10,000 men.

The punishment of the Mohmands was effected by two brigades (7,000 men) advancing from Peshawar, in co-operation with two others detached from the Malakand Field Force. Difficulties were encountered in the advance of the latter, during which the affair at Inayat Kila took place ; but before the end of October the Mohmands had been punished, and the Adda Mulla fled to Afghanistan. On his departure a fine was paid by the tribe and weapons were surrendered.

Tirah was invaded from Mlranzai by the route passing from Shinwari over the Chagru Kotal, between the cliffs of Dargai and the Samana Sukh. The army consisted of two divisions, under Sir W. Lockhart, supported by columns at Peshawar and in the Kurram. The advance began on October 18, and on the 2ist was fought the severe action of Dargai, in which the British loss was 38 killed and 191 wounded. The troops then penetrated to Maidan and Bara. By December 20, the Orakzai had completely fulfilled their obligations, but the Afridis, who had as yet received little punishment, held out. Their territories were, therefore, still further harried; but the demands of the Government were not complied with till April 1898, and the posts in the Khyber were held by regular troops till December 1899, when they were made over to the Khyber Rifles. About 30,000 men were employed in the Tirah campaign, which had taken place in a difficult and unknown country, with an enemy who gave the troops no rest and pressed close on the heels of every retirement, while cleverly avoiding resistance in strength to an advance.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:29:15 ZULU