Faqir of Ipi : Myth and Reality

Author: Dr.Fazlur Rahman (Asst.Professor, GPGC, Mansehra)

Today, the name of Ipi is hardly remembered outside the Muslim central Asia and Europe only by any surviving administrators and soldiers who served on the Frontier. The foremost authority on the region, Sir Olaf Caroe’s (1) official correspondence that time was full of the Faqir’s name, but he does not mention him in his post-war historical study on the Pukhtun. (2) It is also hard to trace the basic biographical information on the Faqir of Ipi because of the tribal way of record keeping. His life has always been in a mystery. He was born as Mirzali Khan sometime between 1892 and 1897, into the Bangal Khel clan of the Madda Khel section of the Tori Khel Wazirs, which belong to the greater Utmanzai branch concentrated in Northern Waziristan.

He got basic education from his father, then went to religious schools on the British side of the border, and, eventually, to a place near Jalalabad, where he became a murid (disciple) of the Naqib of Chaharbagh, at the time the most famous and influential religious leader of his time in Afghanistan. In 1923 Mirzali Khan performed the Hajj to Makkah and thereafter settled down in the village of Ipi, situated near the British military road connecting Bannu and Razmak. There he gradually acquired the reputation of saintliness among the clan of Daurs, but not attracting as yet the attention of the authorities as a potential agitator. (3)

On March 5, 1936, however, came the turning point in his career when the incident of a tragic ends of a love affair of a Hindu girl Ram Kaur with Nur Ali Shah resident of Jando Khel, district Bannu took place. She embraced Islam and was named as Bibi Marjana, later famed as ‘Islam Bibi’. It became a court case arousing considerable religious excitement in which the Bannuchis and the adjacent tribes joined in at the Faqir’s instigation. (4) The British retaliated by sending two columns converging in the Khaisora river valley. They suppressed the agitation by imposing traditional methods of extorting fines and destroying the houses of the ringleaders, including that of the Faqir of Ipi.

However, the triumph was not theirs. The subsequent withdrawal of the troops was credited by the Wazirs to be a manifestation of the Faqir’s miraculous powers. He succeeded in inducing a semblance of tribal unity, as the British noticed with dismay, among various sections of Tori Khel Wazirs, the Mahsuds and the Bhittannis, who were usually at logger-heads, thus well preparing the ground for his bold challenge which was soon to follow. He continued to ride on the wake of the ‘Islam Bibi’ case which, upon appeal, had been lost for the Muslims, gradually adding, measure by measure, a long catalogue of local Muslim grievances under the slogan ‘Islam in Danger’. (5)

Thus, after eleven years of relative peace in Waziristan, a major rebellion began to flare up. In the early autumn of 1936 the Faqir of Ipi openly adopted the role of champion of Islam. There were, however, other long-standing reasons for the rapid spread of unrest on the Frontier. The most important one was the recent constitutional changes following the Government of India Act of 1935 which granted self-government to the eleven provinces of British India. It indicated to the tribesmen that British authority over India was withering away in favour of a distant but still worrying perspective of a possible Hindu take-over. Paradoxically, in September 1937 the NWFP became the only Muslim province with a Congress government. (6)

For all intents and purposes, British and Indian troops in Waziristan were to remain on active service continuously for the next twelve months. The Faqir had successfully avoided all traps and remained constantly on the move over the rugged but familiar terrain, in which a modern army with its cumbersome equipment and long supply lines proved all too slow and inefficient. The elusive Faqir earned himself the nickname ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel of Waziristan’, as a contemporary couplet testified: ‘They sought him here, they sought him there, and those columns sought him everywhere.’(7)

Although his tactical moves still remained entirely unpredictable, he pursued his major political aim with single-minded determination: stirring up the maximum trouble for British authorities, forcing them thereby to withdraw beyond the administered border. Soon, a number of Waziri mullahs were to demand a complete British evacuation of Waziristan. (8) India’s Northern Command, despite substantial numbers of troops at their disposal, must have felt frustrated by their inability to design any coherent pattern of operation against the Faqir. The 1937 campaign was soon bogged down and fragmented into numerous separate operations none of which could dislodge the Faqir.

The fame of the Faqir’s miraculous powers spread quickly. He attracted a large number of followers who brought in food and money, which helped to some extent to keep his lashkars (9) in the field. As the tribesmen flocked under the Faqir’s banners in a genuine belief in his claims to divine support, Indian intelligence considered it important to analyze their credulity and superstition as an important strategic factor. Here are some of the miraculous powers commonly attributed to the Faqir of Ipi:

Firearms would not harm his followers, provided they were true ghazis, i.e. followers of Islam, and not mere plunderers and adventurers in search of private gain: his followers had only to cut off trees and the Faqir would turn the sticks into rifles: a few loaves of bread in the basket covered by a cloth, would suffice to feed a multitude; gas, if loosed by the troops, would be dissipated by divine breezes; divine power would turn bombs dropped from aircraft into paper. (10)

Fantastic as such stories may appear today; they were widely believed in tribal areas and even reached distant bazaars in India.

Throughout 1937 the tribal raids into the administered territory continued, seemingly undeterred by military action. Meanwhile intelligence sources tried to track down the Faqir himself. They found him hiding in a Mahsud village in the Shaktu river valley with the delightful name of Arsal Kot, which was then promptly flattened by air action – but without causing much harm to the Faqir as he had moved into the safety of a cave nearby. Here he was visited by many tribesmen, mostly those who were neither receiving British allowances nor profiting from the Khassadari system and had therefore little to lose. The Faqir also sent letters to all quarters, including the Mohmands, Afridis, and the Kurram Wazirs, as well as to tribes in Afghanistan proper, urging them all to join in the Jihad against the British. (11) In September 1937 he wrote a letter to Jawaharlal Nehru, then the President of the Indian National Congress, addressing him as ‘the leader of the liberty loving people and the distinguished Head of the Indian Nation’. (12)

However, despite all the Faqir’s extraordinary appeals to Muslim tribesmen, they failed in their main purpose due to the inability of the tribes to combine their considerable fighting power in any common cause under a unified command, even though the Faqir’s lashkars achieved quite a few stunning successes by blocking British lines of communication. In retaliation, the British set out to take Arsal Kot but, of course, found the nest empty. The Faqir had fled further south in an attempt to seek refuge among the Bhittannis. This, however, the British prevented by extensive air bombing and by sending in troops. But the ubiquitous Faqir yet again managed to elude them.

After failing to bribe the Faqir by offering him land outside Waziristan to help him to settle peacefully elsewhere, (13) the British attempted to get the Afghan government to assist in the capture of the Faqir. But, as could have been predicted, these attempts failed as well. (14) Meanwhile, the Faqir moved westwards. He was to hide for the rest of his life among the Madda Khel Wazirs. They continued to shelter him despite British reprisal. He occupied inaccessible caves in the mountain cliff at Gorwekht, barely a mile from the Afghan territory into which he could easily slip should the British ever attempt to dislodge him from his eagle’s nest.

Tribes’ grievances and British response:

The most notorious area of tribal unrest in the British Empire on the eve of the Second World War was Waziristan, situated in the southern tip of the non-administered Tribal Territory between the Indo-Afghan border, known since 1893 as the Durand Line, and the North-West Frontier Province of India. These tribal districts have been one of the few regions in the world whose inhabitants have cherished a strange anarchic independence from the constraints of ‘civilized’ governments. Even when the British succeeded in forcing their way through almost every tribal valley, they were never able to administer the tribes, let alone to disarm them. Although the British established many fortified outposts in the area, improved communications by bringing railways and roads closer to their cantonments, appointed political agents who were capable of conversing fluently in the local languages with the tribal maliks (chiefs) and mullahs (religious leaders), this brought no permanent solution.

One of the solutions was Curzon’s ‘Close Border Policy’, instead of the ‘Forward Policy’ failed. In this regard, Sir Kerr Fraser-Tytler, (who served during this period as a young subaltern in a Frontier Cavalry Regiment and later during the crucial years of 1935-1941 as British Minister in Kabul) recalls his frustrating experience in fighting the tribes:

And always there were the raids, the sudden alarm, and the long dust-choked tide through the stifling heat of a July night, clattering out on to the stony glacis of the frontier hills, and away forty miles before dawn only to find as often as not that the birds had flown, leaving a trail of death and destruction behind them. (15)

To the British point of view, grievances of the tribal borders were economic and social. Sources of income were extremely meagre. The only choice was to carry out raids or to starve. Following the established practices of the Mughal and Afghan governments, the British first satisfied themselves by paying allowances in cash to the tribal maliks, which for instance for the year 1940 amounted to nearly one million Rupees for the whole Tribal Territory. (16) Theoretically, these were paid for services rendered such as road and camp protection performed by the Khassadars (17).

As a result of their dealings with the authorities on both sides of the Indo-Afghan border, the Wazirs and other Pukhtun tribes had, rightly or wrongly, come to the conclusion that the shortest cut to lucrative allowances was not through loyal service, but by occasional demonstration of their nuisance value. In particular the Wazirs, in the barren and inaccessible country athwart the Durand Line, were in an admirable position to play this game.

It is certainly no exaggeration to describe the Pukhtun tribes as the largest known potential reservoir of guerrilla fighters in the world. (18) There were more modern rifles among the tribes and certainly more fighting men than in the entire Indian Army. As a result of this challenge, a vast proportion of the Indian Army had to be permanently posted on the Frontier, which made them unavailable for other tasks. At the outbreak of the Second World War the Indian Army formed the largest segment of British imperial troops: 187,000 of which 140,000 were Indian. (19)

Furthermore, between the two world wars the Frontier offered practically the only combat experience to young and adventure-seeking British officers facing the boredom of a monotonous service in India. (20) It was the Frontier where the young Churchill had gained his first experience of direct fighting during the 1890s. (21) Sending troops on punitive expeditions against rebellious villages and bombing them from the air received the full support of strong military commanders in India. (22)

Thus as continuous friction with the Afridis, Mohmands and Wazirs mounted during the 1930s, British ‘Forward Policy’ on the Frontier was turning into a more rigid one and dominated entirely by military criteria. Fraser-Tytler criticized the ‘Forward Policy’ as adopted on the Frontier after 1929 for giving undue preference to the military over the civilian point of view. This policy found itself between two extreme options: a more reasonable one which demanded the incorporation of all Pukhtun by pushing steadily forward to the Hindu Kush; but under the circumstances it chose the more difficult middle course. (23)

Public opinion at the intellectual levels in Britain and elsewhere became increasingly aware of the military escalation on the NWF of India. The British government was criticized at home and abroad for the ‘uncivilized’ pattern of warfare applied against civilian populations in the form of air bombing. The outspoken C. F. Andrews, a Quaker and a friend of Gandhi, made an eloquent plea for a drastic revision of British policy by stating his case in a nutshell: ‘We cannot stand out boldly for disarmament in Europe while carrying on war in Asia’. (24) He proposed that troops should be withdrawn from the Tribal Territory and civil methods of administration applied to help to come to terms with the tribes.

In 1939 the Marquess of Linlithgow, the Viceroy, himself participated in the preparation of a comprehensive document on Frontier policy. Although strongly favouring at least a partial disarmament of the tribes, he admitted that as yet no way had been found to eliminate the gun factories in Waziristan, and that this would also be impossible to implement in view of the international situation. Lord Linlithgow’s recommendations amounted in fact to no more than a very slight modification of the existing ‘Forward Policy’. (25)

World War II and the Faqir:

The tribesmen had never accepted a state authority above them nor were they anxious to form a government of their own. Their courageous exploits were bound to attract the attention of Great Powers interested in weakening or defeating the British Empire. During the First World War Imperial Germany had despatched Werner Otto von Hentig (26) and Oskar von Niedermayer to Kabul with the purpose of winning over the Afghan government for a subversive scheme against British India. The scheme was to be largely carried out by the Frontier tribes. The mission failed but the idea persisted. The Axis powers, for instance, made several attempts to exploit the lonely ‘freedom hero of Waziristan’ (27) for their own purposes. It cannot be entirely ruled out that the Soviets might have harboured similar intentions, though the outside world has found only a few indications of their immediate schemes. (28)

Axis Connections:

It was alleged that the Faqir’s incredible capacity to throw in his lashkars whenever he liked was largely due to his receiving Italian money and arms. On 16 April 1937, for instance, the Daily Herald claimed on its front page that “Mussolini was behind the revolt on the NWFP’. The British Minister in Kabul could find nothing to substantiate this wild claim. (29) But the rumours continued. The Sunday Chronicle of 26 February 1939 implied that a radio link between the Faqir of Ipi and the Italians had been established and added, for good measure: ‘Meanwhile Hitler is active in Kabul… where more and more German airmen are being sent as instructor.’ Again, Fraser-Tytler refuted these rumours, but, on the other hand, he did admit that the Italian Minister at Kabul, Signor Pietro Quaroni, was using deceitful methods to spread extremely aggressive anti-British propaganda among Indian visitors. (30)

Meanwhile, the Nazi Foreign Minister Ribbentrop issued instruction to Hentig to go to Kabul. His task was to observe actively ‘the national independence movements in Iran and Afghanistan’. It was planned to establish connection and extend cooperation with them. (31) Hentig was further instructed to ascertain British strength and position both in India and Afghanistan. He had to coordinate all German agents and experts available at the time in Afghanistan, with the purpose of using them, if necessary, against the government in power. He received specific orders to establish direct links with the Frontier tribes and their leaders – among whom the Faqir of Ipi was seen as the most important. Fortunately for the Allies, Hentig never reached Kabul due to combined Anglo-Soviet diplomatic pressures on the Afghan government. Following the events in Iran, this also brought about, later in November, expulsion of Axis nationals from Afghanistan. (32)

It was in fact Pietro Quaroni, the Italian Minister at Kabul, and not his German colleague, who became the driving spirit in establishing direct contact with the Faqir of Ipi. Already in June 1939 he was reported to have declared in front of two Indian visitors that the Frontier tribes should be worked up and, in the case of war, led against the British: ‘We could not defeat Great Britain in a war in those areas, but seriously injure her, and we possess adequate instruments for the purpose.’ (33) One month later Quaroni told the Germans in Kabul that the Axis powers should coordinate their political activities in Afghanistan with a view to using Amanullah as well as promoting unrest among the tribes on the Frontier in the event of war with Britain. (34) But how the Axis would have used Amanullah and the Faqir of Ipi at the same time was a difficult task. On the other hand, Quaroni played a crucial role in helping Subhas Chandra Bose, a former President of the Indian National Congress and the most serious rival to Gandhi and Nehru, to acquire an Italian passport when he was hiding in Kabul in February 1941. Bose was then able to reach Berlin via the Soviet Union and became the most prominent Asian revolutionary to collaborate with the Axis both in Europe and in Asia. (35) Quaroni summed up his conversation with Bose as follows:

If in June 1940 that is at the time when the defeat of England seemed certain we had a ready organisation like the one Bose proposes now, it could have been attempted to liberate Indian, and it might have been possible. Politically and militarily, India is the cornerstone of the British Empire. Last year’s chance is gone, but a similar one could come this year also; one should be ready to take full advantage of it… Our enemies, in all their wars, the present one included, have always largely used the ‘revolution’ weapon with success: why should we not learn from our enemies? Two things are necessary to make revolutions: men and money. We do not have the men to start a revolution in India, but luck has put them in our hands: no matter how difficult Germany’s and our monetary situation is, the money that this movement requires is certainly not lacking. It is only a question of valuing the pros and cons and to decide on the risk. (36)

Bose indeed assigned the Tribal Territory an important role to play in his comprehensive ‘Plan for Cooperation between the Axis Powers and Indian’, which he submitted immediately after his arrival in Berlin. Isolated attacks, such as those carried out by the Faqir of Ipi, were to become part of an ambitious scheme to combine propaganda and subversion against the British Empire at its most vulnerable spot. In his single-minded fascination with ousting the British from India, Bose was convinced that mere appearance of a small force of 50,000 soldiers with modern equipment on the Frontier would have been sufficient to turn the British out of India. (37) However, the Axis proved incapable even in following up Bose’s more modest suggestion to set up a strong propaganda centre on the Frontier with a radio transmitter and printing equipment, though these were available at Axis legations in Kabul, let alone to airlift commando troops to Afghanistan.

According to Quaroni’s own extremely detailed testimony made to the British after the Italian surrender in 1943, it had taken the Axis agents a whole year after the outbreak of the war to establish direct contact with the Faqir of Ipi. Because of procrastination both in Rome and Berlin, it was not until March 1941 that Quaroni’s proposal to send the first payment to the Faqir was accepted. (38) The holy man from Waziristan had a quite definite idea how he should charge the Axis for his real and potential capabilities. Through his intermediaries, the Axis legation in Kabul received the following price list: £25,000 paid every other month to keep the pot boiling; to double the sum if tribal unrest should be extended to other areas; in the event of a general uprising on the Frontier the price would have to be tripled, not counting supplies of weapons and ammunition which the Faqir also required urgently. (39)

The German Minister in Kabul admitted that to keep the tribes in the field against the British was a sheer question of money. But even if the Faqir’s annual requirements amounted to around half a million Reichsmark,(40) it would have been quite a cheap price considering the cost which the government of India had to spend on each punitive expedition into the Tribal Territory. It was not so much the problem of forwarding foreign banknotes to Kabul. The Axis could use the Soviet territory for traffic to and from Afghanistan. The problem was converting pounds sterling and US dollars into a convenient currency like Afghanis or Indian Rupees which the Faqir’s men could use (41).

Indian intelligence received first concrete evidence of links between the Axis and the Faqir in June 1941. It was the arrest of an interpreter to the Italian Legation in Kabul while he was visiting his relatives in Baluchistan. According to him, “several Italians had visited the Faqir between 1939 and 1941 with supplies of money and weapons, including machine-guns and a wireless transmitter and receiving set.” He also supplied the British with the names of Afghan officials and army officers collaborating with the Italians and with the Faqir. These were the days when some cartridges, money and weapons were held up by the orders of king Zahir Shah. It was reported that these were allegedly sent by Germans and Turks via Afghanistan to the Faqir. He threatened Afghan authorities for its consequences but in vain. This information enabled the British and Indian governments to exert more pressure upon the Kabul authorities. (42) When Quaroni was confronted with such statements; it infuriated him that the British ‘could have swallowed the most obvious rubbish’ and made themselves ‘ridiculous in Afghan eyes by using it as evidence’. (43)

The only European to have visited the Faqir during the war was Enrico Anzilotti, the Secretary of the Italian Legation, who did so alone and in disguise as a Pathan tribesman in June 1941. What was the real picture, but Anzilotti reported that the Faqir was in principle ready to start action against the British on the Frontier. He required money, weapons, and ammunition. He repeated the terms of cash payments and the Faqir’s wish to have a wireless transmitter with a trained operator. Abwehr denied the claim that Anzilotti had visited the Faqir. Even they accused him of keeping money for himself. (44)

The Germans, too, wanted to establish their own link with the Faqir. But unlike the Italian inventiveness theirs had to be on a truly pretentious scale. The establishment of contact with the Faqir, furnished with a transparent code-name Operation Feuerfresser (fire-eater), was to be followed by Operation Tiger, a full-scale uprising among the Frontier tribes scheduled for September 1941. The plan had been hatched by Abwehr II, responsible for sabotage and subversion, whose commander stipulated Tiger’s task as follows:

a. To incite the Frontier tribes, mainly the Mohmands, Afridis and Wazirs;

b. to damage important military installations in North-West India, and

c. to supply weapons to the tribes so as to enable them to attack field fortifications prepared by the British in the Frontier passes. (45)

Abwehr officers were despatched to Rome to contact Amanullah and to Sweden in Order to consult the last survey maps of India with Sven Hedin, the famous explorer and authority on central Asia. (46) In the same year a cyclostyle poster dated November 1940, under the signature of the Faqir had been recovered in Bannu. It stated that Mujahideen of Waziristan have declared war against British government and anybody helping the government would be considered as an infidel, and urged everybody to help the Mujahideen, since Germany would win and British would soon leave India. (47)

Confronted with the traditional tribal society, the Faqir was conscious about the consequences of receiving aid from foreign powers. He summoned the leading tribal Ulama to Darre Khela to seek their verdict about the acceptance of financial and material aid from one foreign power against another in the light of Shari’ at. After the verdict of these Ulama he openly announced the arrival of German workers in Waziristan. (48)

Meanwhile, in Kabul, preparations for the full-scale uprising on the Frontier (Grossaufstand) were in full swing. The chief Abwehr agent there, Lieutenant Wetzel, who under the cover name ‘Pathan’ was to be in charge of contact arrangements with the Faqir of Ipi, was full of optimism. He had already started giving sabotage instructions to members of the ‘Bose-Organization’ in Kabul. (49) It did not occur to him at the time that the main recipient of his sabotage instructions, and indeed of most of the Axis money, was at the same time spying for the Soviets. His name was Rahmat Khan, a member of the Kirti Kisan party in Punjab which was known as crypto communist. In January 1941, he escorted S.C.Bose from Peshawar to Kabul. (50)

Thus, in mid-July, shortly after Anzilotti’s successful return, the impatient Germans could wait no longer. Off to Gorwekht they sent their two specially trained agents, accompanied by a dozen tribesmen carrying ammunition and money. They never reached their target, falling into a trap set up by the Afghan authorities in the Logar valley just south of Kabul. In the ensuing exchange of fire with an Afghan patrol waiting in ambush for them, Professor Manfred Oberdorffer was killed and Dr. Fred Brandt wounded, the tribesmen arrested and everything confiscated. Oberdörffer was a specialist in tropical medicine and had participated in several expeditions to Africa and Asia, Brandt was a lepidopterist. Both had nonetheless been fully trained agents of the Abwehr with a very definite task to perform. The Abwehr experts in Berlin thought that if the two men posed as ‘leprosy experts’ and collected insects and butterflies en passant, they would appear entirely harmless and inconspicuous on the Frontier. (51)

To save face in the eyes of every watchful British and Soviet diplomats, and in order to preserve the policy of strict neutrality during the war, the Afghan government apparently criticized the conduct of the German Legation for their direct involvement in the Logar incident. But privately the German Minister received an apology from the Afghan Premier, who was quick to reassure him that his government, in the event of German troops approaching, was ready, as Pilger had reported to Berlin, ‘to let all of Afghanistan take up arms on our side… about 500,000 men including the tribes’. But he begged Pilger repeatedly to abandon all such ventures like the recent incident. Such attempts were all bound to fail given German ignorance about the country and its people and given the vast British spy network. (52)

The Logar incident demonstrated that German intelligence was incapable of mounting even a small scale operation in Afghanistan, let alone a major one on the Frontier. Axis activities with the Faqir through intermediaries went on for some time. Axis legations still had some money to spend. About half-a-million Reichsmarks was still left unspent. This equalled about two and a half million Afghan Rupees. The other half-a-million had already been brought to Kabul during 1941 before the Allied occupation of Iran by five couriers from Germany. Such funds enabled the German Legation in Kabul not only to send regular payments to the Faqir of Ipi but also to finance their schemes in India until the end of the war. (53) However, despite receiving Axis money, the Faqir still failed to launch a ‘large-scale’ operation against the British. (54)

Since 1941 Indian intelligence had been worried by repeated rumours about two German mechanics working with the Faqir of Ipi. They were reported to be spending their time sketching the countryside, presumably in connection with the preparation of a landing-ground for Axis warplanes, and counterfeiting Indian and Afghan banknotes. (55) By February 1943 Indian intelligence estimated that the Faqir must so far have mount up about half-a-million Afghanis paid to him through the Axis legations. (56) During that and the following year, however, the British were able to acquire a fairly accurate picture of the Faqir’s strength, his gun factory and other hiding places. They were satisfied to learn that the Faqir had neither wireless transmitter nor any receiver, but only a simple radio set. There was no European in Gorwekht, nor had there been any let alone those mysterious Germans. (57)

During the dramatic months of 1941, the Faqir remained in seclusion at Gorwekht, despite German intentions to induce him into action. He continued to display an intriguing unawareness of the world situation. In one of his letters to mullahs in Southern Waziristan, which came to the knowledge of Indian intelligence, the Faqir stated, while continuing to vilify the British, that no help should be given to the Germans as they were opposed to Islam. (58)

But in the following spring, symptoms of growing tribal unrest became clearly detectable in Waziristan. The Faqir persisted in his attempts to fine Wazirs engaged by the British in defence works and threatened local contractors with religious sanctions. It is important to realize that these seasonal job opportunities were the only ones available to the tribesmen, already suffering from the economic constraints imposed by the war on both sides of the Frontier. (59) In May, the Faqir besieged the fortified outpost at Datta Khel with approximately 500 tribesmen, supplemented by machine-guns and a few primitive pieces of artillery. The British sent in a relief column supported by light tanks and aircraft, but the convoy failed to reach its objective because of road blocks. Two additional infantry brigades had to be sent in and it was not until August that the road to Datta Khel could finally be opened and repaired. (60) What worried the British was not just that the Faqir had recruited a substantial number of Afghan subjects to his ranks but, even more, that the Axis legations had re-established direct contact with him – despite the fact that in the previous autumn over 200 Axis national had already been expelled from Afghanistan, leaving behind only a skeleton staff at both legations. (61)

Meanwhile, in August 1942, a major internal upheaval flared up in India. The Congress-inspired rebellion was not only the most important rising to occur within the entire British Empire, but within the entire United Nations coalition during the war. ‘The Quit India Movement’, wrote Lord Linlithgow to Churchill, was, ‘by far the most serious rebellion since that of 1857, the gravity of which we have so far concealed from the world for reasons of military security.’ (62) One would have expected the Axis powers, as long as they still possessed strategic initiative, to make a maximum effort to exploit the crisis in India, ‘when the British position was never so weak and that of the Axis never so favourable’. During the siege of Datta Khel the Faqir was appealing to the Axis for financial assistance and ammunition which could have been dropped by airplanes. (63)

Further south, a fanatical sect of Hurs stepped up sabotage activities in damaging railway lines, frequently interrupting traffic between Karachi, Hyderabad and Lahore. In June martial law had to be proclaimed over the area. The Hurs continued the train-wrecking till the spring of 1943, when their savage leader Pir Pagaro was finally caught and sentenced to death.(64) In addition, unprecedented landslides, following exceptional floods in Upper Sind and Baluchistan during July 1942, resulted in a further interruption of the important strategic railway lines connecting the port of Karachi. It was the main American base in India at the time, with the approaches to Afghanistan and the NWFP. (65) Although the train-wrecking by the Hurs had no political motivation, the German Legation in Kabul was led to believe that these actions had been directly instigated by Bose’s underground organization in India, and that the Faqir of Ipi had been co-ordinating with Pir Pagaro. (66)

Mainly because of their preoccupation in quelling the rebellion in India, British pressure on the Afghan government during that period almost ceased. It cannot altogether be ruled out that an internal crisis in Afghanistan, aided by Axis intrigues, might have given ex-King Amanullah one more chance. The India Office feared that continuous Axis intrigues among the tribes and with the pro-Amanullah elements in the country ‘might undermine and bring about the downfall of the present Yahya Khel regime whose continued stability is so obviously in our interests to promote’. (67) There were indications that the Amanists in Axis Europe wanted to set up an Afghan government in exile. The prime mover behind this scheme was not the ex-King himself but his brother-in-law and former Foreign Minister, Ghulam Siddiq Khan. He was in contact with the Grand Mufti in Jerusalem, with the ousted Iraqi Premier, Rashid Ali al Gailani, and especially with Subhas Chandra Bose, the most important Asia exile in Berlin. Had an Afghan government in exile been established in Germany, Bose was convinced – ignoring Hitler’s fundamental opposition on this issue, a ‘Government of Free India’ would soon follow suit, thereby striking an incalculable blow to Allied propaganda.

Fortunately for the British, the Axis had no clear concept of how to accommodate under one roof its support for Amanullah’s restoration with that for the Frontier tribes and the Faqir of Ipi. (68) After the outbreak of the Congress Rebellion, Amanullah made it known to the Italians that he was now ready to broadcast and use his name in the Axis press. His aim was to encourage his supporters in Afghanistan, as well as fellow Muslims in India, to rise in revolt against the British. He was afraid that the British, after eliminating the Congress as negotiating partners, might go ahead with the ‘disastrous scheme of Pakistan’. Amanullah was said to be particularly keen to offer his good offices for influencing the Pukhtun tribes who neither recognised the Kabul government nor the Axis powers, but were seemingly ready to fight for the ex-King. But the Italians declined his offer as they were in perfect agreement with the Withelmstrasse that the moment was not favourable enough to alienate the existing Afghan government in favour of Amanullah. (69)

It was not earlier than December 1942, when the main thrust of the Congress Rebellion had already been suppressed. The chief Abwehr agent in Kabul, Lieutenant Witzel, produced his most comprehensive scheme, an all-round military action to be staged on the Frontier. (70) The idea was, in fact, the same old one which had been tried unsuccessfully by the Germans during the First World War; namely that of using the armed tribesmen to tie up as many British troops as possible in North-West India – thereby facilitating the expected Japanese advance on India from Burma. The scheme was equally as bold as it was immature. It anticipated strong pro-Axis feelings among the tribes, of whom Witzel calculated that about 400,000 armed men, would potentially be available against the British. Wetzel’s key man whom, needless to say, he never met, was the unapproachable Faqir of Ipi, being already in contact, so he claimed, with other guerrilla leaders such as Hassan Khan in Baluchistan and Pir Pagaro in Sind.

In order to prepare for a major uprising (Grossaufstand) in these three areas, Witzel estimated that at least one million Rupees, 25,000 Sovereigns, and 200 kg of gold would be required. Necessary ammunition was to be supplied by air; Witzel calculated that in order to supply a fighting force of 50,000 tribesmen in Waziristan with 250 cartridges each, 525 tons of ammunition would have to be flown in. His calculations were wrong, for him cargo would have amounted to 5,000 tons and this would have to be transported over a distance of 4,000 kilometres. This Luftwaffe was in no way fitted to carry out.

Leaving aside such speculation as what the Afghan government’s reaction might have been to such massive violation of their airspace, the basic strategic premise for the Axis operation in India rested upon an assumed penetration of the Caucasus by German troops. But by the end of 1942, this was definitely doomed. How seriously was the Axis threat to the stability of Afghanistan and to India taken by the British? Although the Axis connection with the Faqir of Ipi was vastly exaggerated by Indian intelligence, British diplomats in Kabul saw it more realistically. Thus, the new minister, Sir Francis Wylie, summed up his appreciation in October 1942:

“There was a healthy little disturbance in North Waziristan a couple of months ago fomented by Ipi. Simultaneously the Germans were advancing towards Volga at a terrific pace. If Pilger and Quaroni were really dangerous man and if they had unlimited resources and really close contacts with Ipi, what better chance of doing something nasty and incidentally of tying up quite large formation of British Indian troops were they likely to get or at what more suitable juncture?… The axis legation (a) undoubtedly had some money though probably not enough to ferment large trouble either in internal India or on the Frontier; (b) that whatever they had in the way of resources they had so far succeeded in giving us very little trouble___ compared with the not inconsiderable fears which we harbour about their activities and the high potentiality which we are inclined to accord to these activities.”(71)

One year later Quaroni admitted to his British interrogators that he himself had already realized during the summer of 1941 that the Axis plans to use Faqir of Ipi were a sheer waste of time and money. The most promising time, he maintained, to start action against the British on the Frontier would have been in the autumn of 1940. But the German in Kabul, whom he characterized as to a greater or lesser degree incompetent, had wasted their time in slowly collecting information, in working at cross purposes, and in spending most of their time sending mutual denunciations secretly to Berlin. Quaroni gave four reasons why it became impossible to start a general revolt on the Frontier by using the Faqir after the outbreak of the Russo-German war:

a. The Faqir’s authority was too circumscribed;

b. even with unlimited supplies of arms the Faqir could not gather more than 10,000 adherents;

c. he and his men would be useless outside their mountain fastness;

d. the Faqir relied on arms which could no longer be supplied by land after Hitler had attacked Russia whence previously arms could have been smuggled through as ‘ factory machinery’.

As regards the idea of smuggled warplanes to the Faqir, Quaroni believed that it had been technically feasible since the Italians possessed at the time long-distance planes which could have taken off from their base at Rhodes. However this idea had been rejected allegedly in deference to the Faqir’s own view that whilst the planes would not bring him much material help, they would inevitably attract the attention of the British, who would proceed un-mercilessly to bomb the Faqir’s headquarters and all surrounding villages. (72)

During 1944 the Frontier remained unusually quiet, the peace being occasionally disrupted by the customary raiding and by the British retaliation in the form of bombing. Although German intrigues with the Faqir continued, they were entirely harmless. They would have been more frustrated had they known about the true ‘Great Game’, which was the double-crossing of Axis plans through the exploits of the multiple Rahmat Khan¬¬¬___ a closely guarded top secret by the IPI (Indian Political Intelligence). It would have been otherwise incomprehensible why the Allies did not insist after November 1941 on the expulsion of the remaining Axis ‘diplomats’ from Kabul. (73)

Emergence of Pakistan and the Faqir:

The end of the War did not stop the Faqir of Ipi from resuming his activities against the British who were, in any case, ready to quit India soon. Thus the year 1946 again saw the British in action in Waziristan and the Faqir making yet another attempt to unite the Mahsuds and the Wazirs. (74) After partition the Faqir turned into the most vehement tribal opponent to the Pakistan takeover of the British heritage. He allied himself with the Red Shirt leader Abdul Ghaffar Khan for an independent Pukhtunistan, thus transferring regardless of the fact that they shared with him the same creed. In 1948 the Faqir succeeded at last in taking Datta Khel. Although the Pakistani authorities did not want to and could not afford to imitate the British “Forward Policy” on the Frontier, they carried on the tradition of air bombing in order to disperse the Faqir’s lashkars. (75) The Faqir is known to have made a series of overtures to Pandit Nehru, whom he allegedly addressed as ‘king of India’ but to no avail. (76) Apart from receiving constant encouragement and material help from the Kabul government, who referred to the Faqir of Ipi as the president of ‘National Assembly for Pukhtunistan’(77), he increasingly became suspected of being recipe of Soviet assistance¬¬¬ — though this allegation still needs to be substantiated by hard evidence. However, in 1955, that is when the Faqir was still active and fighting, the Afghan Prime Minister Prince Daud was known as a strong advocate of Pukhtunistan, received official backing for his policy from the visiting Soviet Premier Bulganin and party secretary Khrushchev. The Kremlin leaders then referred to Pukhtunistan and overtly stated that the Soviet Union stood for a ‘just settlement of the problem.’ (78)

When he died in 1960, The Times of 20 April described him as ‘a doughty and honourable opponent… a man of principle and saintliness… a redoubtable organizer of tribal warfare…’ But only with a tinge of irony could the obituary claim that ‘many retired Army officers and political agents… will hear the news with the tribute of wistful regret’. A wry smile and a curse perhaps would have been a more accurate description.

One should not forget Lord Curzon’s dictum: ‘I do not prophecy about the future. No man who has read a page of Indian history will ever prophecy about the Frontier. (79)


The study reveals that the life and struggle of a tribal man against the British Rule is a remarkable historical reality of the most turbulent period between 1936-1947 and again 1947-1960. Although various events caused an uprising in the tribal territory of NWFP, however the rais on d’etre behind was deep-rooted hatred against an alien rule.

The study further enlightens that Faqir’s guerrilla war was well-administered and wisely planned against the British war machinery. The man behind the struggle had the propensities of provoking, organising and maintaining religious sentiments on the one hand and utilizing the traditional force of his tribal people on the other.

Official papers and documents, in this respect, are the ample proof of reality which portrays the Faqir a legendary figure among the contemporaries. Uprising movements in the tribal territory of NWFP was also complemented by the then global situation of shrinking and secession process of the British Colonialism. This implies the vision of the Faqir beyond the mountain peaks of an insurmountable land of the people of peculiar traditions and mind set. More in reality, the Faqir took advantage of both history and geography. Regarding the “Myth” which covers his life is mainly related to:

1. Lack of communication with the outside world. No printing or otherwise facilities were available in the area to orderly keep and to disseminate the relevant information;

2. traditional approach of keeping and maintaining secrecy about the person involved in fighting with an empire on the one hand, and providing saintly religio-social guidance to a very traditional people on the other.

History also reveals that the Faqir, though, could not succeed in bringing the tribal power under a unified command, however, his movement had made the tribal area of NWFP the most ‘notorious’ and the toughest belt for the British Empire to subjugate.

Final resting place of Mirza Ali Khan alias Faqir of Ipi at Gurwek (North Waziristan)


Notes and References

1.    Entered the ICS (India Civil Service) in 1919.Pol.Officer in the             NWFP since 1923 and then 1933-4 Chief Secretary to its                 Governor. From1934-7 Deputy Secretary in the For. And Pol.             Dept.of theGovernment Of India (GOI).Between 1937-38 British             Resident in Waziristan and Agent to the Gov.General in                Baluchistan.From 1938-9 Revenue commissioner in Baluchistan.From         1939-45 Secretary of the External Affairs Dept., GOI. From             1946-7 Governor of NWFP.

2.    Olaf Caroe, The Pathans550B.C-AD 1957 (Karachi: Oxford University         Press, 1976).

3.    “Notes on the Faqir of Ipi”, June24, 1937, National Documentation         Centre (henceforth NDC), Cabinet Division, Islamabad.

4.    Crown versus Amir Noor, Register General No: 2002/1173, Record Office, District Courts, Bannu.

5.    Foreign Office London (henceforth FO), ‘Activities in Khaisora             Valley.FO 371/20313-20314; Activities of the Faqir of Ipi;                 (India     Office Records henceforth IOR) L/P&S/12/3236/3237,             3192-3193, 3249, 3217-3219.

6.    S.Rittenberg, “The Independence Movement in India’s North             West Frontier Province, 1901-1947”, an un-published Ph.D             thesis submitted to Columbia University, 1977.

7.    It was estimated that the cost of the thirty months’ effort to                 capture the Faqir must have been in the region of ₤ 10 million.             Major General J.G.Elliot, The Frontier 1939-1947. The Story of             the North West Frontier of India (London: 1968), p.273

8.    FO, Archives in the Public record Office (henceforth PRO),             371/21065, N4935/14/97.

9.    A self-supporting tribal levy, capable of action without                 replenishment     for about twenty days.

10.    File No.L/I/I/1414, (IOL & R., London), NDC, Islamabad.

11    FO 371/21065, N5642/14/97.

12.    J.Nehru, A Bunch of Old Letters (Bombay: 1960), p.251-252.
    13    ‘Peace Terms for Waziristan Tribes’, The Eastern Times (Lahore), August 27, 1937. See also, ‘Waziristan Peace Terms’, The C&M Gazetteer (Lahore), August 28, 1937.

14.    260 S.T.B.I, Receipt telegram No.M/20 from Coleridge, Bannu to Norwef, Peshawar, 11/1/37; Intelligence Peshawar, to Criminare, New Delhi, 4/1/37; D.O.No. V/41/37, from D.D.I., Peshawar to D.D.I. Delhi, 4/1/37(Tribal Research Cell, Home Department, Peshawar Secretariat, henceforth TRC). See also: FO 371/22234-22238. The Afghan Prime Minister Muhammad Hashim admitted to the British Minister in Kabul that it was quite impossible for the Afghan government, for usual reason of religion and lost of face with their own people, to cooperate with the British in armed operation against the Faqir of Ipi (IORL&/p&S/12/3236).

15.    W.K.Fraser Tytler, Afghanistan (London: 1967), p.190-191.

16.    War Office208/773: ‘Tribal allowances in the NWFP’.

17.    Khassadars were untrained men, many either young boys or             old men in the     last stages of decrepitude, selected by their local             maliks. They were used alongside with other irregular or                 auxiliary forces such as the Frontier Constabulary or the                 Scouts, before the military were called in. They were, however,             considered unreliable by the military who almost invariably             insisted on the withdrawal of all khassadars from any area in             which military operations took place.

18    This is proved especially in case of Afghanistan. Nadir Shah             got his     throne through these tribes. Afghanistan Jihad is the             ample proof of their potentiality as guerrilla fighters. The tribes             on Pakistan side have     always played the role of “king makers             and king breakers” in     Afghanistan.

19.    B.Prasad(ed), Defence of India: Policy and Plans. Official                 History of the Indian Armed Forces in the Second World War             1939-45 (New Delhi: 1963), pp.35-37,118-120.

20.    C.Allen (ed), Plain Tales from the Raj (London: 1977), p.197. 

21.    W.S. Churchill, My Life 1874-1908(London: Odhams, 1930), p.107-        167.

22.    W.K.Fraser Tytler, Afghanistan (London: 1967), p.269.

23.    Ibid, p.270.

24.    C.F. Andrews, The Challenge of the North West Frontier. A
    Contribution to World Peace (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1937),

25.    ‘Memorandum by the Viceroy on Frontier Policy’, July 22, 1939,             TRC, Peshawar.

26.    He was the head of the Oriental Section in the Political                 Department of the Withelmstrasse till the outbreak of the war,             and was rightly regarded by the British as the most competent             and therefore dangerous expert on the Islamic countries.

27.    Milan Hauner, “One Man against the Empire: The Faqir Ipi and             the British in Central Asia on the Eve and during the Second             World War”     in The Second World War: Essays in Military             and Political History     edited by Walter Laqueur (London: Sage             Publications, nd), p.376.

28.    There is some scanty evidence that in 1937 the Soviets through their Naval Attache offered advice and assistance to afghan military cadets in Turkey who had requested it for the Faqir of Ipi. (283 S.T.B.I., Telegram xx No.5, from Loraine, Istanbul to Foreign Office, London, 26/7/37. TRC, Peshawar).

29.    IOR L/P&S/12/3249.

30.    FO 371/23630.

31.    Milan Hauner, “One Man against the Empire…” p.387.

32.    Milan Hauner, India in Axis Strategy, Germany, Japan, and Indian         Nationalists in the Second World War (Stuttgart: 1981), Ch: III, p.3

33.     FO. 371/23630 and IOR L/P&S/12/3249.

34.    Milan Hauner, “One Man against the Empire….” p.387.

35.     Milan Hauner, India in Axis Strategy, Germany, Japan, and Indian         Nationalists in the Second World War (Stuttgart: 1981), Ch: II, p.8

36.    Extracts from Quaroni’s report of April 2, 1941, as reported in S.C.         Bose, The Indian Struggle 1920-1942(Calcutta: 1964), p.415-418.

37.    Milan Hauner, “One Man against the Empire….” p.387.

38.    L/P&S/12/1805; see also FO 371/34931, 34932, 39936.

39.    Milan Hauner, “One Man against the Empire…” p.389.

40.     Ibid. After the War Henting claimed that the money had never reached          the Faqir.

41.    File No.K.C. For 1944, S.No.775, from D.D.I, Peshawar to A.Ds, 1/4/41,         T.R.C., Peshawar
     42.    File No.16-S/39, Intelligence Report No.44-D/1211, 29/9/39.

43.     FO 371/34932, E 8036.

44.     Milan Hauner, “One Man against the Empire…” p.390.

 45.    File No.350 S.T.B (I), from D.D.I., Nathiagali, 25/7/40, See also File No.350 S.T.B.I., Special Survey of Intelligence, D.D.I., 25/7/40; File No.361 S.T.B.I. Vol III, Weekly Summary of Events in Waziristan, 24/1/42, T.R.C., Peshawar.

46.    Milan Hauner, “One Man against the Empire…” p.391.
    47.    File No.361 S.T.B.I. Vol III, Weekly Summary of Events in Waziristan, 24/1/42, T.R.C., Peshawar.

48.    File No.361 S.T.B.I. Vol III No.1-S/1941, Weekly Survey of Intelligence, D.D.I., 25/7/40, see also File No.361 S.T.B.I. Vol II, Express Letter No.1-S/41 from Resident in Waziristan, Bannu, 22/2/41; Weekly Summary of Events in Waziristan No.1 S/43 for the week ending 10/7/43, T.R.C., Peshawar.

49.    Milan Hauner, “One Man against the Empire…” p.391.

50.    Subhas Chandra Bose had arrived Peshawar in 1941 by Frontier Mail         enroute to Afghanistan to escape the British. He stayed in Taj Mahal         Hotel, Bajuri Gate Peshawar posing as a Muslim employee of an             insurance company. A group of Bose supporters including Akbar Shah,         who was then a member of the forward bloc in the Congress party,             Abad Khan, Mian Muhammad Shah of Pabbi and Ram Gupta had             helped him in his escape from India to Afghanistan via remote Tirah         Valley in the Khyber Agency in January 1941. [Zulfiqar Ali, “Netaji’s         daughter-in-law visits Peshawar”, in Dawn (Islamabad), 3/5/05]; see         also [M.J.Akbar, ‘The Cotton Revolution’ Dawn (Islamabad),             19/5/05.]  

51.    IOR L/P&S/12/1572&1778.   

52.    Milan Hauner, “One Man against the Empire…” p.392.

53.    Milan Hauner, “One Man against the Empire…” p.392.
    54.    File No.467 S.T.B. (I), Weekly Summary of Events in Waziristan, for the week ending 17/10/40, T.R.C., Peshawar.

55.    Army & Air Headquarters Intelligence Weekly Summary of NWF &         Afghanistan, NO.30, July 1941. See also NO.37, Sep. 1941, and             NO.45, November 1941, TRC, Peshawar.

56,    Weekly Summary of NWF & Afghanistan NO.2 of 15 Jan.1942;             See also NO.13, April 4, 1942; Kabul Weekly Intelligence Summary         NO.2, Jan. 1943, NO.5, Feb. 1943 and NO.7, Feb. 1943. TRC,             Peshawar.

57.       IOR R/12/1/122.

58.       GOI to India Office (henceforth IO). NO. 5889, Oct. 27, 1941.

59.       General Headquarters India Weekly Intelligence Summary of NWF &   
            Afghanistan, NOs.18-24 from May 8- June 19, 1942. TRC, Peshawar.

 60.       File No.260 S.T.B.I. Vol VII, Memorandum No.777-S/39 from Resident in Waziristan to the Chief Secretary N.W.F.P., Peshawar, 23/4/40, T.R.C., Peshawar.

61.       Weekly Summary of NWF & Afghanistan, Kabul to GOI,     NO.221.June19, 1942. See also FO.371/31324.

62.       N.Mansergh and E.W.R.Lumby (eds), The Transfer of Power 1942-47:  
            Constitutional Relations between Britain and India (London: Her     Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1971), Vol.2, NO.662.

63.       Milan Hauner, “One Man against the Empire…”.p.393.

64.       WO. 208/786 & 795, 106/3712.

65.       The Manchester Guardian, March20, 1943.

66.       Milan Hauner, “One Man against the Empire…”.p.394.

67.       IOR L/P&S/12/1789, G.E.Crombic, Principal in IO Pol.Dept, to 
             R.T.Peel, Head of IO.Pol.Dept, December 22-24, 1941.

68.      Milan Hauner, “One Man against the Empire…”.p.394.

69.      Ibid.

70.      Ibid.

71.      IOR L P&S/12/1928, Comments on Peshawar Intelligence Summaries 
          on Events in Afghanistan by F. Wylie to D. Pitditich, Director  
          Intelligence Bureau, Delhi, Oct. 21, 1942.

72.     FO371/34932, E 8036/1757/97.

73.     Milan Hauner, India in Axis Strategy…” CH.III, p.8.

74.      FO 371/52290; see also WO 208/761A, India Command Fortnightly 
           Intelligence Summary, NO.12, June 1946.

75.      IOR L/P&S/12/3241.

76.      The Dawn (Karachi), June 28, 1948.

77.      James W. Spain, The Pathan Borderland (The Hague: Mouton and     Company, 1963), p.237-243.

78.      The Dawn (Karachi), Dec 18, 1955.

79.      Lord Curzon of Kedleston, Speeches as Viceroy and Governor General
            Of India 1898-1905(London: 1906), p.43.


Leave a comment