Welcome To WAZIRISTAN
Waziristan (Pashto: نزیرستال) is a mountainous region of northwest Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan and covering some 11 585 km² (4,473 mi²). It comprises the area west and southwest of Peshawar between the Tochi River to the north and the Gomal River to the south, forming part of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The North-West Frontier Province lies immediately to the east. The region was an independent tribal territory from 1893, remaining outside of British-ruled empire and Afghanistan. Tribal raiding into British-ruled territory was a constant problem for the British, requiring frequent punitive expeditions between 1860 and 1945. The region became part of Pakistan in 1947.
Waziristan is divided into two "agencies", North Waziristan and South Waziristan, with estimated populations (as of 1998) of 361,246 and 429,841 respectively. The two parts have quite distinct characteristics, though both tribes are subgroups of the Waziris and speak a common Waziri language. They have a formidable reputation as warriors and are known for their frequent blood feuds. Traditionally, feuding local Waziri religious leaders have enlisted outsiders in the Pakistani government, and U.S. forces hunting al-Qaeda fugitives, in attempts at score-settling. The tribes are divided into sub-tribes governed by male village elders who meet in a tribal jirga. Socially and religiously Waziristan is an extremely conservative area. Women are carefully guarded, and every household must be headed by a male figure. Tribal cohesiveness is so strong through so-called Collective Responsibility Acts in the Frontier Crimes Regulation.
The north is inhabited by the Darwesh Khel or Wazir tribes (from which the region derives its name), who live in fortified mountain villages, and the Dawars (also known as Daurr or Daur), who farm in the valleys below. Geographically, Wazir live in the mountainous region of the area while Dawar live in the plains. Razmak, Datta Khel, Spin wam, Dosali, and Shawa are the places where wazir are living; Miranshah, Mrali, Edak, Hurmaz, Hassu Khel, and Haider Khel are the places where Dawar are Living.
The south is predominantly inhabited by the Mehsod tribes, who live in tent villages and graze their characteristic fat-tailed sheep, which are white with black faces. The South Waziristan Agency has its district headquarters at Wana. South Waziristan, which comprises about 6,500 square kilometers, is the most volatile agency of Pakistan; it is not under the direct administration of the government of Pakistan, but is indirectly governed by a political agent, sometimes an outsider, sometimes a Waziri— a system that was inherited from the British Raj.
Waziri relations with Pakistan
Relations with the Pakistani state have been tense for many years. There has been a strong strain of Pashtun unity (thus irredentism in national terms). This is not surprising, as the border with Afghanistan, though it follows the geography of the high watershed divide, is made porous by many high mountain passes of long traditional use. Thus the international border, of relatively recent creation, owes nothing to traditional ethnic boundaries. It is only nominally controlled by the Pakistani authorities and is in practice largely independent of the state, with the tribes fiercely guarding their independence and on occasion fighting state forces.
After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, thousands of Afghan refugees fled across the border to Waziristan, which became an important base for the mujahideen guerillas fighting the Soviet occupation. Afghan refugees were categorized in to (a) Muhajerrin or Refugees and (b) Mujahideen or freedom fighters. The government's public explanation was that only refugees are living in settled areas of Pakistan while the Mujahideen are based in the tribal areas. The area reprised its 1980s role in 2001 during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, this time playing host not only to refugees but also to defeated Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. Osama bin Laden himself was widely believed to have taken refuge either in Waziristan or just across the Afghan border.
The Pakistani government sent thousands of troops into the region in 2002 to hunt for bin Laden and other al-Qaeda fugitives. In March 2004, heavy fighting broke out at Azam Warsak, near the South Waziristan town of Wana, between Pakistani troops and an estimated 400 militants holed up in several fortified settlements. It was speculated that bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri was among those trapped by the Pakistani Army. (see Waziristan War). Bin Laden is now suspected to be found located in this region.
NEK mohammad (A hero of the new century)
Nek Mohammad was spending the night in a tribal chief's house in Dhog village, about 3 miles north of Wana, headquarters of the South Waziristan tribal agency. Eyewitnesses said that Nek Mohammad and five other men were sitting outside on the lawn when the missile hit them. Villagers confirmed that Nek Mohammad had been using his satellite telephone just before the attack. Locals widely believe that a drone operating overhead tracked down Nek Mohammad's satellite telephone and communicated his location to a missile battery for the strike. Some villagers, who had been on their roofs guarding their homes, claimed they saw a bright ray of light emanating from the white drone just before the missile hit (The News, Wana, June 20).
Nek Mohammad was reported to have sustained injuries to the head, an arm and a leg He was rushed to a hospital in Wana where he died several hours later in the early hours of June 18. The swiftness of the action and the precision of the missile strike have prompted even educated Pakistanis to speculate that the US military provided technical assistance to the Pakistani military to score such a direct hit. A well-known Pakistani reporter visiting the area said that the missile strike was so precise that it did not damage any part of the building except the lawn where Nek Mohammad was seated. Five of Nek Mohammad's companions were also killed. Later, army sources claimed that three additional "foreign militants" were killed in the attack. There is speculation that the Pakistani military do not possess the technology to track down satellite telephones such as the one Nek Mohammad was using. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had also conceded in the past that 12 to 15 US special agents and technical experts based in Pakistan were assisting the Pakistani military in tracking down suspected terrorists (The News, Wana and Peshawar, June 19).
Nek Mohammad belonged to the Yargulkhel sub-clan of the Ahmadzai clan of the Wazirs, which had been prominent in supporting the Taliban against the Northern Alliance in the late 1990s in the Afghan civil war. Earlier, the Wazirs, along with other tribes from the Pakistani borderland, fought with the Afghan mujahidin against the Russians in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. In a detailed profile of Nek Mohammad, carried in Pakistani magazine Herald and run in its sister newspaper Dawn on June 19, the bearded Nek Mohammad was portrayed as a man of "Byronic good looks and proud tribal mien." Born in 1975, his formative childhood years in Kaloosha village, west of Wana, were influenced by the jihad in Afghanistan, conducted by mujahidin funded and trained by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). At that time, residents of Wana teamed with CIA and ISI agents to recruit and train tribal youth. During that time, Saudi Arabia and Gulf states furnished money to establish Wahhabi-style Islamic seminaries in the region.
Nek Mohammad became a student in one of those seminaries. His father was a minor chieftain of limited means, who depended on traditional government allowances and subsistence farming on a small piece of land in Kaloosha village to support his family. Nek was the second of the chieftain's four sons. A headstrong youth with a mercurial temperament, Nek never graduated from school, opting instead to join the Taliban in Afghanistan to fight the Northern Alliance. During the late 1990s, Nek commanded his Wazir fighters at Bagram airbase, the Panjshir frontline, Mazar-e Sharif and Badghis, sites of some of the bloodiest battles that the Taliban fought against Ahmad Shah Madood's Northern Alliance. Nek's reputation was built on dogged determination never to abandon his position during battle -- even when the higher command ordered a pullback. However, like the rest of the Taliban, he had to retreat when US forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001.
Nek's initial experiences with foreign fighters began in the spring of 2002 when US forces from the Shahikot Mountains of Paktia province uprooted them during Operation Anaconda. Hundreds of Arab, and Central Asian fighters needed an exit route and Nek was there to provide it. He soon became the foreign fighters' chief contact in Wana. Nek had already made some money during his term as a Taliban commander and had returned to Kaloosha in late 2001 with six all-terrain pickup trucks. By December 2003, with Arab money from foreign militants, Nek possessed a fleet of 44 pickups, including several bulletproof vehicles. All these vehicles were available for use by his foreign "guests."
When the Pakistani military launched its first operation in South Waziristan in March and closed in on his village Kaloosha, Nek reportedly spirited Uzbek militant commander Tahir Yuldashev to safety by hurling his bulletproof truck against Pakistani military forces. From the above account, it appears that Nek Mohammad did have deep ties with fighters loyal to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Indeed, in the aftermath of US intervention in Afghanistan, South Waziristan and possibly other tribal areas in Pakistan may be harboring many more militants. The real question is why the Pakistani military has taken so long to flush them out.
THE MAIN TRIBES AND PAST AND PRESENT OF WAZIRISTAN.
A LOOK FROM KHALIL_UR_REMAN WAZIR
They are poor but brave… and although turbulent and difficult to deal with, still have a great love of their country and cherish their independence, possessing qualities that we admire ourselves, and which deserve consideration and respect’.
Recently, the military operations against extremist foreign militants and their tribal supporters in Waziristan area have made national and international news headlines. People have expressed their views about the pros and cons of such operations. Waziristan is both geographically, economically and socially at the extreme periphery of the Pakistani society. Therefore, it is not surprising to notice that there is significant lack of information about the region and its people. This article will look at the region and its people. Recent historical factors which had helped shape the region and the relationship of its people with the surrounding areas will be elaborated in detail. The article will also look at the military expeditions of past including the role of religious factor and leaders in the disturbances which occurred in the area from time to time. This background information will help a better understanding of the region and its complex dynamics.
The area now called Waziristan is in the Suleiman Range with very rough terrain. There is a chain of rugged mountains, ridges and ravines which occupies the border area of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The area has been historically independent of any central authority. Afghan Amirs and rulers of India had no control over this area due to inaccessibility of the region. On the north of Waziristan lies the Kurram Agency, in east districts of Kohat, Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan, on the west and north-west lies the Afghan districts of Birmal and Khost while in south lies Zhob district of Balochistan. The land is totally barren and only small tracts are suitable for subsistence agriculture. For centuries the survival of the tribes of the area depended on raids on caravans passing through their area (the nomad tribes of Afghanistan used two passes; Tochi and Gomal in Waziristan territory) and looting raids of villages and towns of the plains. This was their main source of income and there was no stigma attached to this activity. In fact a successful raid on a caravan or robbing adventure was the desirable trait and much praised. In the past, such harsh conditions had not allowed any significant increase in the population. Among all the Pushtun tribes on frontier region, the inhabitants of Waziristan are strongly independent to the extent that sometimes their own tribal chiefs have limited influence over them. The main tribes inhabiting the region are Wazir (also called Darwesh Khel Wazir), Mahsud, Bhittani and Dawar.
Like other Pushtun tribes, Wazir are subdivided in clans and sub-clans. The two major clans of Wazir are Ahmadzai (living around Wana and Shakai) and Utmanzai (living in Tochi valley and Shawal). Both clans are further subdivided into sub-clans. Utmanzai have three sub-clans of Ibrahim Khel (further branched into Madda Khel, Manzar Khel and Tori Khel), Wali Khel (further subdivided into Bakka Khel, Jani Khel and Kabul Khel) and Mohmit Khel (further branched into Bora Khel, Wuzi Khel, Hassan Khel and Khaddar Khel). Ahmadzai have two main sub-clans of Kalu Khel and Sani Khel.1 A small number of Wazir mainly Gurbaz Wazir live in Afghanistan near Khost. Wazir brought their flocks to plains in search of fodder and came to Bannu district for other legitimate occupations. After independence, large sections of Wazirs have moved to Bannu and other settled districts.
Compared to other Pushtun tribes, Wazir were able to evolve a system where internal feuds were dramatically reduced. Among most Pushtuns a murder is to be avenged and the killing is not limited to actual perpetrator of the crime. Even family or clan member of the culprit could be killed in revenge which sets off a long standing blood feud shattering many families. Among Wazirs, only the actual culprit is to be punished and with this single rule they have been able to eliminate the scourge of revenge and long standing blood feud among the members of the tribe. This gives more cohesion to Wazirs as compared to other tribes of the frontier. Overall, Wazir are considered brave, tough in their own neighbourhood cherishing their independence.
Mahsud are divided into three main clans; Bahlolzai, Alizai and Shaman Khel. The two main centers of Mahsud concentration during British time were Kaniguram and Makin. Mahsud controlled two main passes of the area; Gomal Pass and Tank Zam which was the main route used by nomadic powindahs. Raiding of these caravans provided Mahsud a lucrative source of income. Regular raiding and plunder attacks of Mahsud on settled villages irritated British administrators and since 1855 there were several recommendations to send an expedition against them. However, the events of 1857 didn’t allow any such venture. Finally in March 1860, the day of reckoning came when about 3,000 Mahsuds recklessly attacked the main town of Tank. The town was garrisoned by about 158 soldiers of 5th Punjab cavalry commanded by a native officer Risaldar Saadat Khan. When the news of imminent attack reached Tank, Saadat Khan attacked the swarm of Mahsud outside the town. About 300 Mahsuds, including six leading maliks were killed and the rest fled in total confusion.2 Since then there were many skirmishes between Mahsuds and British Indian government.
Mahsud are very good marksmen and have the reputation of trustworthy. Mahsud is the most independent of all the tribes. Even their own maliks have a very limited control over these independent spirits. However, since independence, Mahsuds have been increasingly integrated with the Pakistani society.
Bhittanis (they claim descent from Baitan) are small in numbers and their territory is hills bordering Tank and Bannu. There are three clans of Bhittanis; Dhann, Tatta and Uraspan. Due to their small numbers they were never able to mount large attacks but served as guides and spies for their neighbours. However, later they allied with British as their lands were close to settled districts and they could be punished more easily. They mainly kept herds and traded with border villages. Later, they gradually moved to settled areas especially Dera Ismail Khan and now own lands. Their organization is looser and generally they do not recognize one chief.
They are also small in numbers and centred in Tochi valley. Their three main branches are Tappizad, Idak and Mallizad. They cultivated lands in Tochi valley and were small traders in Miranshah bazaar. However, like other tribes of the region they have also moved to other areas.
The Romance – Waziristan during the British Rule
‘To be successful on this frontier, a man has to deal with the hearts and minds of the people and not only with their fears’.
After the annexation of Punjab in 1849, British came in direct contact with many tribes of the region. The organization of district government under British officers brought these officers in direct contact with inhabitants of Waziristan. Officially, the area was under Afghan suzerainty but actually no one had control over the land. In 1892-93 agreement, Amir Abdur Rahman ceded the area to British with the exception of Birmal. During this time an Ahmadzai jirga came to Dera Ismail Khan to petition that British government take over Wana and they might become British subjects.3 Throughout British direct or indirect rule, many expeditions were carried in Waziristan area. The main object of these expeditions was punishment for long continuance of crimes by tribes in settled districts. The crimes were usually robbery, murder or kidnapping in settled district or attack on civil caravan or military convoys in tribal territory. The usual form of punishment was blowing up defensive towers, cutting of crops and burning of villages. When the tribe submitted, they were asked to pay a certain amount of fine and surrender few rifles and the forces would be withdrawn. Some frontier fighters of British army especially Sir Charles Napier and Sir Colin Campbell had severely criticized the collective punishment policy of the government. Some of the most difficult and violent campaigns were carried against Wazirs and Mahsuds. Many British military and civil officers made their name during their service in the frontier and Waziristan. Robert Sandeman came in contact with Wazir and Mahsud when he was appointed in charge of Dera Ghazi Khan in 1866. R. I. Bruce and S. S. Thorburn dealt with Wazir and Mahsud when they were in charge of Dera Ismail Khan. Sir George Cunningham served as Political Agent of North Waziristan in 1923-24 (later he was governor of NWFP). Sir Michael O’Dwyer, Sir Neville Bowles Chamberlain, Lieutenant General Sir William Stephen Alexander Lockhart (1841-1900), Harry B. Lumsden (the father of famous Guides), Major Pierre Louis Napoleon Cavagnari (later Resident at Kabul and Sir), Herbert Edwards (later Commissioner of Peshawar), Captain H. R. James (later Commissioner of Peshawar), Captain B. Henderson, Macaulay (he served as Deputy Commissioner of Derajat for seventeen years), Evelyn Howell (he served as Political Agent of Waziristan and later Sir), Sir Samuel Brown (inventor of famous Sam Brown belt still worn by officers of Indian and Pakistani armies), Lieutenant Colonel Wilde (he raised Wild’s Rifles, later Brigadier), Lieutenant Colonel R. G. Taylor, Captain J. Coke (he raised Coke’s Rifles, First Punjab Cavalry), Lieutenant C. P. Keyes (of Ist Punjab Infantry, he had served his whole life from Lieutenant to Brigadier at the frontier), Lieutenant Colonel Richard Harman (commandant of South Waziristan Militia), Lieutenant Hugh Pettigrew (South Waziristan Scouts) and many others distinguished themselves in Waziristan.
Compared to other Pushtun tribes, the tribes of Waziristan were fiercely independent to the verge of anarchy and even traditional tribal elders (maliks) had limited control over Mahsud. In 1893, a European overseer along with a trooper was murdered by Mahsud in Zhob area. Bruce summoned the maliks and asked them to hand over the five culprits. When the maliks brought the five men to Bruce, he requested that the men should be tried by the tribal council (jirga). The men were found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment. Few weeks later, three of the leading maliks were murdered when they returned to the hills.4 Most of the times the tribesmen who joined the tribal militia raised by British remained steadfast but at other times isolated violent incidents and desertions also occurred. Charles Duke, Political Agent of North Waziristan was on a tour along with his escort. Few shots were fired at the party by some men. During the exchange of shouts, the commander of the escort, Subedar Darim found out that his own son was among the group who had fired at the party. Darim shouted to his son that ‘sahib is in my charge and I shall shoot you unless you go home’. Darim shot his own son during this encounter.5 On the other end of the spectrum, in September 1904 a young Mahsud militiaman (Kabul Khan) murdered his own Political Agent Bowring and in February 1905, another young Mahsud recruit killed the Commandant of South Waziristan Militia, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Harman.6
British officers who dealt with the tribesmen developed a bond with them. Many of them would refer to tribesmen as ‘my people’ and ‘our chaps’. Winston Churchill has very eloquently summarized the relationship as he had served as a young lieutenant (he served with Queen’s Hussars) with Malakand Field Force. He wrote about Sir Harold Deane (first Chief Commissioner of NWFP) during the days in Malakand Field Force. ‘We had with us a very brilliant political officer, a Major Deane, who was most disliked because he always stopped military operations… Apparently all these savage chiefs were his old friends and almost his blood relations. Nothing disturbed their friendship. In between fights, they talked as man to man and as pal to pal’.7 Herbert Edwards wrote about the Ahmadzai Wazir malik Sowan Khan with all praise describing him ‘an enormous man, with a head like a lion, and a hand like a polar bear’ and ‘a more splendid specimen of human nature in the rough I never saw’. Edwards also admired the malik’s attitude as he never made a bow to Edwards.8 In 1901-02 expedition against Mahsuds, a notorious robber Sailgai was in action. During the negotiations with a British officer, he talked to his mother about his plan to shoot the officer. His mother stopped him telling him that ‘the sahib has given you no cause. He has spoken to you fair.’ Later when Sailgai died in action, O’Dwyer who watched the siege declared that ‘he was a brave man and not without a sense of honour’.9 During 1860 expedition against Mahsuds, two Darwesh Khel Wazirs were mistakenly wounded by rear-guard party. Once the mistake was recognized, the two were brought to camp, treated and then sent back with presents. In 1905, after the murder of Commandant Colonel Harman by a new Mahsud recruit, Political Agent Howell disarmed the Mahsud members of the Waziristan Militia. However, barely two months later, when he went for a shooting excursion in mountains, his gun was carried by a young Mahsud.10
Respect was mutual and many British officers who dealt with frontier tribes wanted an open and honest relationship. In 1877, just before the outbreak of Second Afghan War, Viceroy Lord Lytton’s policy of pushing the outposts close to Afghan border was based on contempt of tribes and Afghans and confidential arrangements with Maharaja of Kashmir (to establish a British agency at Gilgit). Old frontier officials of administration strongly opposed this policy of secrecy and advocated straightforwardness with tribes.11 Many of these officers who spent years among the tribes had rare qualities of courage, perseverance and patience. There was a bond between these officers and tribesmen and the respect was mutual. Sir Olaf Caroe has described these sentiments very clearly from British point of view. He stated, ‘Who does not remember those farewell tea parties when men who have made your life a burden for months and years all at once crowd around with fervent hand-clasps, and, bidding you God-speed – could it be with a tear in the eye – make you half believe that after all the burden was worth carrying?’12
Controlling the Uncontrollable
It was during British rule that Waziristan came in contact with settled areas on large scale. This had economic, social and political effects on the tribal society. In the early part of British rule (starting in 1849 after annexation of Punjab) the area was totally independent of both British and Afghan authorities. British Deputy Commissioners of settled districts dealt with the tribes adjoining their districts. Deputy Commissioners of Bannu and Derajat dealt with Waziristan tribes. This arrangement meant that a strong personality which earned the respect of the tribes and could communicate with them was more successful. Written agreements were negotiated with tribes where the tribe would be responsible for the security of their area and control raiders while government would provide allowances (called muwajibs) to maliks. These intermediaries were the key in this policy called closed border policy. In these arrangements, the tribes were not subjects and the measures were meant only to prevent looting raids on settled districts. There were many military expeditions during this period but no permanent occupation of strategic areas. During the Second Afghan War (1878) the penetration of Baluch tribal areas was accompanied with increased penetration of Waziristan, however the penetration of Waziristan was never at the scale of Baluch territories. The area remained no man land until the 1893 treaty with Afghanistan negotiated by Sir Mortimer Durand. Waziristan with the exception of Birmal came under British sphere of influence. The demarcation of boundary was resisted by Wazir and the area saw heavy fighting. The Tochi Valley and Wana were occupied and two agencies called North and South Waziristan were established.13 After the Third Afghan War (1919), Mahsud country was penetrated extensively and roads and posts were built. When maliks were seen as unable to deliver due to strong independent nature of Mahsuds, for a brief period of time British tried to introduce a new system where allowance was given to whole tribe (called tuman). The Commissioner of Derajat, Merk also started to deal with the whole tribe in mass assembly called ‘the great jirga’. It was impossible to reach any reasonable agreement with an armed crowd of 5000 Mahsuds and after Merk’s departure the system was scrapped and maliks restored. However, collective benefits were restructured through establishment of tribal police called Khassadars.14 At the same time another irregular force composed of tribes but with a significant non-local component called Scouts was created. The local militia was named Frontier Corps headed by an Inspector General with its headquarter in Peshawar. The South Waziristan Scouts and Tochi Scouts for North Waziristan were operating in Waziristan area.
When more penetration of Waziristan occurred then incentives included recruitment in tribal militia with its economic benefits. At the same time the punishment scope also increased. A system of collective tribal responsibility for any outrage committed by any member of the tribe was instituted. This included not only termination of allowances but blockade of the culprit tribe (called bandish). The tribe members would be prevented from grazing their flocks in neighbouring districts and excluded from markets. Another method was arrest of individuals and seizure of animals and property of the culprit tribe in settled areas (called baramta). Last resort would be a punitive expedition against the culprit tribe or clan which was usually of a short duration. In 1872 Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) was introduced in tribal areas which authorized settlement of quarrels by customary methods conducted by the jirga. FCR also gave Political Agent significant powers which could not be challenged in any court. This system is still operative in tribal areas with very little change and Political Agent with his administrative staff and militia is the sole representative of the central government in the area.
‘Burning houses and destroying crops, necessary and justifiable as such measures may be, unless followed by some form of authority or jurisdiction, mean starvation for many women and children … and for us a rich harvest of hatred and revenge’. Lord Fredrick Roberts
The strength of tribes in Waziristan lies in the inaccessibility of their area. The tribesmen have used this to their full advantage. Within a year of annexation of Punjab, British had to start military operations in Waziristan. In January 1850, a large group of Wazir and Mahsud attacked the post of Gumatti which was defended by Extra Assistant Commissioner McMahon with 350 soldiers. This was followed by minor skirmishes for over two years and finally Deputy Commissioner of Bannu Major John Nicholson was given permission for an expedition against these tribes. The force was divided into three columns and some clans (Jani Khel and Bakka Khel) helped the force as guides. First column consisted of 2nd Punjab Infantry (led by Captain Johnston), second one consisted of Ist and 4th Punjab Infantry (led by Captain Walsh) and third column consisted of 2nd Punjab Cavalry and mounted police (led by Lieutenant Younghusband). The nature of the conflict can be understood by looking at the events closely (and the pattern has continued for more than a century). In this whole expedition, British casualties were only two men wounded. However, twenty one men who had straggled away from main force were killed by Wazir.15 Brigadier Chamberlain led an expedition against Kabul Khel Wazirs in 1859. The immediate cause was the murder of captain Mecham (Commander of 3rd Punjab Light Field Battery) at Lattamar. Chamberlain led a force of about 4,000 and the military and civilian participants of this campaign consisted of the list of the who and who of the frontier (Lumsden, Taylor, Henderson and James). After this strong show of force, the tribes were offered a deal. Commissioner of Bannu Lieutenant Colonel R. G. Taylor invited tribal chiefs (maliks) to his camp and told them that they have to help him in the capture of murderers of Captain Mecham. Ahmadzais formed a tribal force (lashkar) which ventured far into the hills to capture one of the killer Mohabat. He was delivered to Taylor and at the very spot where the murder was committed, temporary gallows was erected and he was hanged.16
In March 1860, a lashkar of Mahsud ignoring all odds, recklessly attacked Tank defended by a native officer Risaldar Sadat Khan of 5th Punjab Cavalry. When the cavalry was finished with business more than 300 Mahsuds were dead and many wounded.17 In 1860, Chamberlain also led a force of about 5,000 in a campaign against Mahsuds and his entire force was composed of native troops and tribal levies.18 During this expedition, Mahsud again gave a spectacular show of his bravery when about 500 Mahsuds dashed with swords in their hands on one of the camps (Palosin camp) killing 63 and wounding 166.19 It was during this campaign that British first occupied two important towns of Mahsud country (Kaniguram and Makin). Later Lockhart commanded the Waziristan expedition of 1894-95 while 1919-20 expedition was commanded by Major General Skeen.
The term expedition can be sometimes misleading. While sometimes large scale violence was involved and large number of soldiers and tribesmen killed and wounded but at others there were very few casualties on either side. In 1860, only in forcing through the Barari pass, 80 soldiers were killed and 86 wounded and in 1920, more than 2,000 soldiers were killed and wounded in one encounter with Mahsuds. On the other hand in the 1881 expedition against the same Mahsud only 8 soldiers were killed and 24 wounded.20 In 1872 expedition against Dawars no one died on British side and only six soldiers (Ist Sikh Infantry) were wounded.21
The interaction between Wazir and Mahsud and British was very strange. Most of the time, even a small escort and supply convoy would be attacked viciously while at other time almost no action was mounted by the tribesmen. During the Second Afghan War of 1878-79, a convoy route was opened between Tal and Bannu which was extensively used by the Kurram Valley Field Force. Military movement along with supplies and transport animals was a very attractive target for the tribes but surprisingly for almost three years there was no major event. The reason was very simple. The military employed Wazir camels for the transport of supplies and for the protection of the convoys escorts were enlisted from local clans of the Wazir. On Bannu side clans of Ahmadzai (Khoja Khel, Sadda Khel, Sudan Khel) while on Kohat side Kabul Khel and Malik Shahi protected British convoys and supply lines. Personal allowances were also allotted to many prominent maliks. When both maliks and common tribesman were making money from helping the military convoys there was no incentive to attack the convoys.
After the Third Afghan War, Kabul was alarmed at penetration of British in tribal areas and tried to excite the tribesmen. An Afghan officer Shah Daula visited Waziristan and very soon trouble started. In April 1919, Afghan General Nadir Khan advanced to Tal. This caused much excitement among the tribes and there were large scale desertions from North Waziristan Militia. In the ensuing hostilities, Wana was evacuated. The tribesmen captured brand new 1,200 rifles and one million rounds of ammunition. It was thus not surprising that in the next six months over hundred raids were made on settled districts. The most sanguine battle was fought at Ahnai Tangi which raged for five days. The British force suffered 2,000 killed, wounded or missing including 43 officers. Mahsuds also suffered heavily in this encounter.22 Many tribesmen watched carefully for the British response before throwing their lot with Afghan army. The Tal Relief Force (it consisted of five battalions of infantry, a cavalry squadron and twelve pieces of artillery) under the command of Brigadier Rex Dyer (Jalianwala Bagh fame) was dispatched from Peshawar. To Dyer’s credit, the force reached their destination in record time with forced marches with Dyer himself marching at the head of his convoy. There was a brief encounter with a 4,000 strong Afghan and Wazir lashkar (led by Malik Babrak) before the lashkar melted away. The Afghan regular troops withdrew without any combat.23 The disgrace which Dyer suffered due to his action at Jalianwala Bagh in Amritsar in 1919 completely overshadowed his remarkable leadership in the relief of Tal. Due to excitement of the tribes and drain on British Indian army during First World War, if Tal had fallen, it was likely that Kohat would be next and there could have been a general uprising all along the frontier. Dyer was commanding about 2,000 young enlistee who were not properly trained and only one British 1/25th London Regiment, a disgruntled territorial unit eager to go back home after the great war rather than chase tribesmen. It was Dyer’s superb command which saved the day for British.
In early twenties, the modernization reforms of King Amanullah Khan in Afghanistan roused the suspicions of tribes, including those straddling the Durand Line. After Amanullah’s fall in 1928, a Tajik Habibullah (known as Bacha-e- Saqao) became Amir in Kabul. Three brothers (Nadir Khan, Hashim Khan and Shah Wali Khan) embarked on an adventure to recover the throne for Muhammadzais. Theoretically, they claimed that they were working to recover the throne for Amanullah. In 1929, Nadir Khan attempted to recruit tribesmen to his cause. After failing to recruit Afridis and Orakzais, he was able to attract a number of other tribes to his banner with a promise of loot. This tribal lashkar consisted of Darwesh Khel, Tota Khel and Ahmadzai Wazir, Jaji, Mangal and Jadran. This lashkar was instrumental in Nadir’s success to capture Kabul. Nadir had no money to pay to Wazirs and Mahsuds therefore he was forced to allow them to loot his own capital. Houses of wealthy people and government buildings in Kabul were looted by the tribesmen.24 However, he could not allow all of them to take everything and the result was that many who didn’t get enough loot were disgruntled. In July 1930, when there was a revolt in Kohistan (led by a Tajik Purdel), Nadir again used his tribal lashkar from British side of Durand Line to crush the rebellion with severe brutality. Nadir occupied the throne and declared himself Shah. The partisans of Amanullah (he was in exile in Italy) got an idea to use the same Wazir and Mahsud to get rid of Nadir and restore them to the throne of Kabul. The tribesmen were told that they should repeat their success of 1929, go again to Kabul and restore the rightful King Amanullah and come back again to their homes once more laden with loot. In 1933, tribesmen crossed the Durand Line and laid siege to the Afghan town of Matun in Khost. King’s brother Sardar Shah Mahmud defeated these tribesmen to end their menace.25 British government used aircraft on its side to force the break up of the lashkar.
The expeditions against the tribes were part law enforcement, part political. The military expedition was always accompanied with a political officer who would be involved in the negotiation process with the tribal chiefs. In 1859 expedition led by Brigadier Chamberlain, Commissioner of Peshawar Captain H. R. James accompanied the force as political officer. In addition, Deputy Commissioner of Kohat Captain B. Henderson was also accompanying along with tribal levies under his command. In 1860 campaign against Mahsud, Commissioner of Derajat Lieutenant Colonel R. G. Taylor and Deputy Commissioner of Dera Ismail Khan Captain H. W. Coxe accompanied Chamberlain as political officers. Commissioner of Derajat Major A. A. Munro and Deputy Commissioner of Bannu Captain J. W. Johnston accompanied as political officers the expedition against Dawars in 1872 led by Brigadier C. P. Keyes. In 1880 expedition against Malik Shahi Wazir led by Brigadier J. J. Gordon, Major T.J. Plowden accompanied as political officer. Political Officers often severely restricted military operations. Troops were moved only in ‘proscribed areas’ in which they were not allowed to fire at any group of less than ten men. Outside these areas, the patrol could fire only if they came under fire. The negotiation process was lengthy and the deal never lasted too long. Tribesmen are as good at bargaining as they are with their rifles.
In early twentieth century, the British policy towards Waziristan was summed up by Sir Denys Bray which recognized the importance of Mahsud in the equation. He was of the view that Mahsud were in strategic heart of Waziristan separated from British districts by Bhittanis and from Afghanistan by Wazir which gave them strength due to inaccessibility of both countries. He also outlined that military occupation was not the answer and after the short operations, troops would be replaced by local scouts and Khassadars. As a backup, the domination of Mahsud country would be then through two posts (Razmak and Wana) which lied outside Mahsud country and held by troops and linked by a road. The British were however well aware that even the ‘peaceful penetration’ would not mean an end to hostilities with tribes. They acknowledged the fact that as any change would be seen by tribes as impinging on their way of life therefore ‘there would be constant bubbling in the tribal cauldron, but that we should never stir so strongly that the devil’s brew of tribal unrest would boil over into widespread revolt’.26 In late 1930s, there was one brigade stationed in Wana (South Waziristan) and Razmak (North Waziristan).
In 1878-80, Mullah Adkar had settled in Kadam in Khost. During the Second Afghan War, he tried to encourage Wazir to attack British convoys but Wazir had made an arrangement with the British and there was no major unrest. In 1879, when British arrived in the Kadam Valley, Adkar fled to upper Dawar area. He tried to encourage Dawar to attack British lines but he was successful only in encouraging some small scale raids and assassinations. Adkar had also many religious students (Talibs) who participated in these raids. In early 1880, a Turi (Shi’a tribe in Kurram Valley) caravan was attacked near Tal by some Wazir and Dawar influenced by Mullah Adkar and Turis lost a number of men. Few days later, a group of few Talibs along with some Mahsud and Dawar tribesmen attacked the Khattak labour camp on Tal-Kurram road. In May 1880, the military post of Chapri (garrisoned by about 80 soldiers of 5th Native Infantry and Ist Bengal Cavalry and commanded by Lieutenant W. H. Cazalet) was attacked resulting in death of eleven men including Lieutenant O. B. Wood.27 British responded by sending troops into the area to subdue the culprit clans. Mullah Adkar remained a nuisance for British for a while before disappearing from the stage.
In 1894, Mullah Powindah (he belonged to Shabi Khel sub-clan of Alizai clan of Mahsud) emerged on the scene of the Waziristan. The background of his rise was typical of the tribal society. Two of his friends who had been jailed in 1886 swore to kill the incharge of the jail, Allahdad Khan as he had insulted them. Surely, after their release, they attacked Allahdad’s house killing him and taking away all valuables. As they had connection was Powindah there was suspicion of his complicity also, therefore Powindah fled to the hills and took refuge in the village of Idak in Lower Dawar. He became disciple of Mullah Gulab Din in the area and after the latter’s death became prominent and took the title of ‘Badshah-e-Taliban’ (King of the religious students). He then settled in Mahsud country near Makin. He made his own zone of influence independent of traditional maliks. This brought him into conflict with them. In addition, he got financial support from Kabul (his patron was Amir’s brother Nasrullah Khan). At his instigation, the maliks who had handed over the murderess of a British Public Works Department officer Kelly to government were killed. He got support from Mahsuds because handing over culprits was in sense bowing to authority and infringement on their total freedom. The tribal resentment was strong enough that in addition to the three maliks who were killed, two others were hounded out of the country and the rest kept low profile. Mullah Powindah was competing with the authority of the maliks and wanted to deal directly with British. He collected about 1,000 men and came near Wana. He then sent a messenger to Bruce for negotiations. He was told that British would deal only with maliks and he should disperse his followers and go home. That night a daredevil attack by about 500 Mahsuds on Wana camp resulted in death of 45 officers and men and seventy five wounded.28 During the jirga negotiations with British, Mullah also arrived in Shakai. When the troops entered the area, he was on the run. First, he went to Darrah Valley and then to Birmal (in Afghanistan) which relieved pressure on Mahsuds. Later, Mullah Powindah tried to incite tribes in Dawar and Khost but with no success. He lay dormant for few years and in 1898-99, it was suspected that some attacks were due to his influence in the area. In February 1900, Political officer Watson met Mullah Powindah for first time and listened to his grievances. To his credit, Mullah Powindah refused to accept any allowance but wanted British to address the grievances of his clan and tribe.29 However, Sir Olaf Caroe states that he accepted the allowance but requested that it should be kept secret and the amount given to him was three times given to any other individual.30 Mullah was a nuisance for the British authorities until his death in 1913.
Mirza Ali Khan was a Tori Khel Wazir whose career was astonishing in the sense that from a labour at Public Works Department he became the main source of discussion among the Political Agents, Governor and Viceroy. He was to be later known as Faqir of Ipi. He first settled in Dawar country and made fame when in 1936 he led their lashkar to attack settled area of Bannu. Although there was no clash but when more troops moved out of Bannu, he was able to embroil Mahsuds in the affair. Later, he made his base in Shaktu Valley and Tori Khel clan frankly told British that they could not expel him. In March 1937, Assistant Political Agent Captain Beatty was murdered and blockade of Shaktu Valley was attempted. In April, tribesmen ambushed an army convoy of fifty lorries at Shahur Tangi killing thirty four soldiers including seven British officers. In July, a 200 strong lashkar attacked the city of Bannu at night.31 For next several months there were many skirmishes between tribesmen and troops. Although Faqir remained unmolested in Shaktu Valley but he was not able to cause a major unrest as debilitating losses of Mahsud and Wazir discouraged any large scale violence. Even after independence, Faqir remained hostile to Pakistan. In 1949, in a tribal meeting at Razmak, he was elected President of ‘Pushtunistan’. He remained at loggerheads with Pakistan government spending most of his life in the caves and died in 1960.
In 1938, a Syrian named Said al-Jilani (known as Shami Pir) who claimed spiritual lineage with great sufi Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani emerged in Waziristan. He settled in Kaniguram and began preaching. Soon his talks took the political overtones and he issued a proclamation that King Zahir Shah was an usurper and his intention was to restore exiled former King Amanullah to the throne. A large lashkar of Wazir and Mahsud gathered around him. British were alarmed with the possibility of large scale violence on frontier. Governor Cunningham went to Razmak and met with Political Agent Barnes. Barnes spent several days at Ladha taking oaths from maliks and khassadars that they would not join the lashkar.32 Tribal maliks were summoned and warned against joining the Shami Pir. In the meantime, the Pir contacted political agent who met him at Wana where terms of settlement were finalized. Shami Pir agreed to leave India if paid 25,000 sterling pounds. After the money changed hands (the check was drawn from Cunningham’s bank), the Pir ordered the lashkar to disperse and was airlifted from India.33 The exact nature of this affair is not clear but Caroe is of the view that on the eve of Second World War, this was an effort by Hitler to tie up as many British troops on frontier by lighting up a fire in tribal area and Afghanistan. In this he was helped by mufti of Jerusalem Al-Hajj Amin al Hussaini and a network of Jilanis in Middle East.34 Cunningham’s biographer is of the view that Mussolini was supporting Amanullah’s partisans to embarrass the British.35 The Shami Pir was from Syria and exiled King Amanullah’s wife Queen Surraya’s mother was Syrian. Surraya’s father Mahmud Beg Tarzi had married a Syrian girl during his exile in Damascus. There is a possibility that there was a family connection between Pir and Surraya’s maternal household. Another theory is that the Shami Pir was none other than the famous Lawrence of Arabia who was used by British for their game in Afghanistan (Lawrence was serving at a remote Royal Air Force facility in Waziristan area).
In late 1960s, a Mullah migrated from the Bannu district and settled among the Wazirs of South Waziristan. He built a mosque in Wana along with a residential complex for religious students (Talibs). In few years, he increased influence tremendously which encompassed religious, social and economic arenas. First he incited the Wazirs against Mahsud by declaring the latter unbeliever (kafir) and later he clashed with the political authorities. Once he crossed this line he was dealt with severely. Scouts and regular troops marched in force. Wana bazaar was destroyed and Mullah was arrested thus ending the episode.36
The disturbances created by religiously oriented native or foreign leaders were largely a localized affair; however it forced the government to take them seriously. The reputation of these rebels increased several folds when higher government officials spoke about them. Mullah Powindah would gain more respect among his tribesmen when the Viceroy Lord Curzon called him ‘a first class scoundrel’ and Commander-in-Chief General Horatio Herbert Kitchener called him ‘pestilential priest’. The popularity graph of these leaders rose proportionately to the force used by the central authority. Religious idioms were used by many smart tribal leaders to gather the support of tribesmen and challenge the authority. This nuisance value was used very cleverly by many to fulfill their ideological or economic goals. Whenever Sahibzada Sir Abdul Qayyum Khan asked for more responsible government for the frontier province, he was told that it was too small compared to India for any advancement. To this he very eloquently replied summarizing the frontier situation that ‘fleas were small too, but a nuisance in one’s trousers’.37
After the partition of India in 1947, the successor state of Pakistan decided to remove regular troops from the tribal areas. The country’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah personally took this important decision and the Brigade from Razmak was evacuated (the operation was named Curzon). Since independence, many social, economic and demographic changes have occurred in Waziristan. The Wazir have come far down into the plains from their hills in adjoining settled districts. Increasing education facilities have opened new avenues and many of them enlist in army and militias. Similarly large number of Mahsuds has also joined the mainstream Pakistani society. When the Hindu traders of Tank left after the partition in 1947, most of their shops were taken over by Mahsuds. Now Mahsuds are employed in militia and regular army, state bureaucracy and involved in business all around the country. Many of them are now living far away from their native lands.
Immediately after independence, Wazirs and Mahsuds were part of the tribal lashkar which entered Kashmir. They quickly reached the outskirts of Srinagar defeating the Maharaja’s troops. However, when the regular Indian army troops attacked the tribal lashkars on November 7, the latter suffered heavy casualties and their withdrawal started within two days.38 They were later blamed for many excesses including murder and looting. By November lorry loads of Wazir and Mahsuds started to arrive back with their loot from Kashmir. The tribal involvement in Kashmir shows both the strength and weakness of an operation performed by irregulars. In a sudden ‘blitzkrieg’ move, tribal lashkars can stun the enemy. The reason is that the irregulars can move fast as they don’t have long line of commissariat. Each tribesman carries his own food and ammunition. The weakness of these irregulars is that they have no strict discipline and command structure. Therefore, when the operation is extended, the tribesman simply leaves the scene to head back home. Similarly, when confronted by stiff resistance and regular army operations, the irregulars can melt away very quickly. In an alien territory, he cannot switch to his classic ‘hit and run’ mode. However, Wazir and Mahsuds still cherish the memory of their great ‘Jihad’ in Kashmir even today.
The home of Wazir and Mahusd is an inhospitable mountainous terrain bordering between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This location has given them the flexibility to maintain some independence from central authorities of both countries. Like all other tribes, Wazir and Mahsud cherish their independence and are fully conscious of their reputation of ‘honour’ and ‘bravery’. They use these qualities to convey their ethnic superiority. Wazir and especially Mahsud efforts to resist any penetration of their enclave was due to their intense independent spirit which almost borders on anarchy. In this ‘the Mahsud effort was inspired by a deep-seated instinct which drove the tribe at all costs to resist subjection and to preserve their own peculiar way of life’.39 Every Mahsud considers himself as an equal to other Mahsud. The sentiment was well expressed by a Mahsud leader Jaggar who told Evelyn Howell that ‘Let it be field’. Blow us all up with cannon, or make all eighteen housand of us Nawabs’ suggesting that all were equal.40
Gradual change has occurred in Waziristan due to increased interaction of tribes with government and settled districts adjoining them. The most significant experiment of British was raising of Militias (later called Scouts) from the area. It gave the tribesman an alternative to boring life of tending the fields. The system has all the incentives which a tribesman can enjoy. He is clothed, fed and given cash. He is given a good rifle, the prized possession and he lives in his own hills with opportunities to use his rifle. In last fifty years, the region has seen a dramatic change where the tribal society is increasingly attached to the settled area both economically and socially. This has limited some of the independence which the tribesman’s forefathers enjoyed. If he chooses to challenge the central authority, he has to suffer more than his forefathers. On the other hand the government’s authority to punish the whole tribe is also restricted to some extent due to increased integration of tribesmen into settled districts. In modern times, a more imaginative policy is needed to handle this delicate situation.
‘They fight for the love of fighting, and though at the moment they are contented and peaceful, they say openly that they must soon relieve the monotony by having a rising’. Wife of Viceroy Lord Minto after the visit to the frontier tribes April 1906 41
- End Notes
- For details of these tribes in early part of 20th Century, see Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India. North West frontier Tribes between Kabul and Kabul Rivers. Volume II. (Quetta: Nisa Traders, 1979, Reprint of 1910 Edition), p. 334-36 & James W. Spain. The Pathan Borderland (The Hague: Mouton & Co, 1963), p. 50-53)
- Frontier and Overseas Expeditions, p. 366-67
- Frontier and Overseas Expeditions, p. 415
- Philip Woodruff. The Men Who Ruled India: The Guardians (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1954), p. 148-49
- Woodruff. The Men Who Ruled India, p. 294
- Sir Olaf Caroe. The Pathans. (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1986 Edition), p. 393
- Quoted in D. S. Richards. The Savage Frontier: A History of the Anglo-Afghan Wars (London: Macmillan, 1990), p. 152
- Quoted in Caroe. The Pathans, p. 336
- Lawrence James. Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India (London: Little Brown and Company, 1997), p. 410
- Caroe. The Pathans, p. 393
- P. E. Roberts. History of British India Under the Company and the Crown (London: Oxford University Press, 1967. Reprint of 1921 Edition), p. 437
- Caroe. The Pathans p. 409
- Caroe. The Pathans, p. 383
- Caroe. The Pathans, p. 401-3
- Frontier and Overseas Expeditions, p. 337-40
haji mir zali khan(FAQIR API)
A REVOLOUTION IN THE MOUNTAINS
SHAWAL, Pakistan - A star shines crystal-clear in the pitch black sky over the mud fort of the chief of the Shawal tribes. But the people in this remote region in the Federally Administered Tribal Region of North Waziristan in Pakistan, 9,000 feet above sea level, are not impressed: they are convinced that the star is in fact a US satellite, and that it's keeping a beady eye on them in preparation for the next battle.
This correspondent reached the residence of Chief Zarma Jan at dusk, and was treated to a lavish dinner in the annex of his mud fort. During the meal, the chief's green eyes reflected an ocean of worries, and he spoke constantly in a hushed Pashtun dialect with the senior cleric of the area, Maulana Salahuddin, who was sitting close to him.
Subsequently, after the conclusion of the fifth prayers of the day (no later than 9.30pm) , at which time most Muslims in the area go to bed to be fresh for the first prayers of the next day at 5am, Zarma Jan remained huddled with the misharans (leaders) of the Shawal tribes deep into the night. The next morning they joined us after breakfast, but one could see that they were still seriously preoccupied.
An accompanying friend from the area explained: "Things are getting serious here. Zarma Jan is in deep trouble as Islamabad has demanded that he either produce some wanted tribesmen who are believed to be sheltering Taliban and al-Qaeda people, and who are also believed to have been involved in the killing of a major of the Pakistan army, or produce himself for arrest."
Spotlight on Shawal
United States authorities are convinced that at least three important "high value targets" are holed up in the Shawal area. However, the "Shawal" the US authorities refer to is about 10 kilometers from the Pakistani Shawal area, across the border in Afghanistan.
The Afghan Shawal area comprises about 25 square kilometers, in which are jammed at least 17 mountains, separated by narrow valleys. Due to its inhospitable nature, the area is in effect a no-man's land.
It is here that US authorities believe about 500 Arab, Chechen, Uzbek and Chinese Muslim fighters have formed a base, from which they carry out attacks on US targets in the eastern Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika.
The last known video footage of Osama bin Laden and his deputy Dr Aiman al-Zawahir, shot in 2003, is thought to have been made in this Shawal area, due to the unique nature of the vegetation shown in the video.
The masters of the Afghan Shawal are the people of the Data Khail and Zaka Khail tribes. They have a long history of defiance and have never capitulated to any intruder. The tribesmen are as tough as the terrain, and they have been known for centuries for their strong bonds of loyalty, such that "even an enemy who requests shelter would be given it". These two tribes are now the protectors of the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters based in Shawal. These tribes are also found across the border in the Pakistani Shawal.
But the Pakistani Shawal area, too, is under suspicion. Obviously, it is possible to travel on foot between the two Shawals, albeit with extreme difficulty as there are no easy routes. Officials therefore believe that fugitives might also use the Pakistani Shawal area as a base as it is not nearly as rugged as the Afghan territory and offers better opportunities to replenish stocks. Hence the ultimatum to Zarma Jan, and the US pressure on Islamabad to conduct military operations there as soon as possible. Although Zarma Jan is from the Baka Khail tribe, he is chief of all Shawal tribes and is being asked to use his influence to help "smoke out" suspects.
Dynamics of the Shawal area
Pakistan's Shawal has long been a natural sanctuary for rebels. Faqir Api, a Pashtun legend in the freedom movement against the British Raj and later against the Pakistan army, had his headquarters in a Shawal valley just five kilometers from the present chief of Shawal's residence.
In the past 50 years, as the population of Shawal has grown, the residents have turned more to agriculture, hewing fields into the hills and valleys. At present, Shawal produces apples, apricots and other fruit, and its different valleys are named after fruit - such as Mana (Apple).
After September 11, 2001, a brigade of the Pakistan army for the first time entered the Shawal area to secure the border against Northern Alliance soldiers across in Afghanistan. Local tribes welcomed them. The army even laid some rudimentary tracks. Yet in the winter, the land still becomes completely impassable, and Shawal residents move to their second houses in nearby Bannu city.
Across the border, the Afghan Shawal presents a massive military headache to the US, with its tight valleys and numerous mountains. There is no way that US or Pakistani troops could enter in any numbers as they would be easily trapped. The only real options are to saturate the area with massive "daisy cutter" bombs, or enlist the help of local tribes. The former choice, as proved by the US bombing of the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan in 2002 in an attempt to catch bin Laden, is not likely to succeed in rooting out fugitives from their maze of nooks and crannies.
This leaves the tribes. On the instructions of Islamabad, a tribal lashkar (group) was formed in Pakistan's Shawal and given the task to arrest all Taliban, al-Qaeda and Afghan resistance figures. However, Islamabad (like the US) is not satisfied with the performance of the laskhar , and the tribal leaders now feel that the Pakistani army will take matters into its own hands.
A chief speaks out
For the first time, the chief of the Shawal tribes, Zarma Jan, spoke to a correspondent from outside the Pakistani tribal belt.
Asia Times Online: The Pakistan army is now stationed in some areas of the Shawal. Is this with your permission, or has it been imposed on you?
Zarma Jan: Traditionally, the Shawal has been associated with Afghanistan. Our elders were title holders in Afghan courts. My father, Colonel Habib Jan, was given the honorary position of colonel by the former king, Zahir Shah, and he received the salary of a full colonel from the Afghan court. However, I chose to be a Pakistan citizen, and we love our armed forces. After September 11, 2001, we felt that our borders were vulnerable because of the Northern Alliance, and the growing Indian influence. Therefore, we happily allowed the Pakistan armed forces to establish their check posts in Shawal. But this was conditioned with a few terms, such as that they would not interrupt the custom-free trade links between Afghanistan and the tribal areas, and they would respect our tribal traditions. At the same time, they were also supposed to develop the infrastructure in the area for schools, hospitals and communications.
ATol: What about the allegations of the presence of foreign fighters in the Shawal?
Zarma Jan: We do not know about this.
ATol: But it is widely believed that a few tribes (Shawal tribes on both sides of the border fall under Zarma Jan's jurisdiction) have given sanctuary to foreign fighters.
Jan: If this is so, the government should point out to us who has given them protection. Then we would question these tribes. We would investigate the matter, and then for sure take the criminals to task. Let me make clear to you, we cannot allow anybody to use our land for any unscrupulous activity or any activity which would cause trouble to us.
ATol: The government seems unwilling to rely on the tribal jirga (council) system. Even for the recent military operations in South Waziristan, they began while the local jirga was in progress. If the government tries to do the same in Shawal, what would be your reaction?
Jan: If the government tried to go against the tribal code of conduct and intruded, it would find more damage than it sustained in South Waziristan [Scores of Pakistani troops were killed]. I tell you, we are the most neglected people of the last half a century. The people of Pakistan did not even know the name Shawal until after September 11 it came into the limelight. Now is the time that the government should win our confidence by providing us with facilities, and then we would extend maximum cooperation to the government. The government should know that we have solutions for all problems through our tribal codes of conduct and in the jirgas . The government should abide by these tribal traditions. As far as foreigners are concerned, you have visited much of the Shawal area, and you have observed for yourself that there are no foreigners in Shawal. Yet if they are holed up somewhere, the authorities should point them out to us, and then they would see how we take them [the foreigners] and their helpers to the task.