Future of Pakistan’s Western Frontier

By Prof Farakh A Khan

(This is continuation of my last article.. It was felt that this subject requires greater depth since people in Pakistan have distorted view of our Fata issue. The origin and evolution of Jihadi Wahhabi movement has to be put in proper perspective)

Conflict in society is the oldest human response inherited from our evolutionary animal past. As human society graduated from sticks and stones as weapons of aggression to high explosives and air war the level of carnage increased dramatically. We are now entering phase of robotic war lased with nuclear technology where power of destruction has escalated to a new level. The level of misery caused by modern wars is not acceptable anymore. War in Afghanistan either by foreign forces intervention or internal conflict for the last 50 decades has left the nation in state of perpetual war. Since Russian intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 Pakistan still has 1.7 million Afghan refugees. The conflict in Afghanistan has spilled over into Pakistan where since 2004 estimated 35,000 people have been killed and many more disabled. The only winners of war are the manufactures of arms and ammunition. For Pakistan Federally Administrated Areas (Fata) formally called the Tribal Areas has been devastated and there is no end in sight. For Pakistan Balochistan is also an area in turmoil. The Americans are also pointing fingers at our Balochistan human rights record.

Pakistan’s religious and cultural hereditary ties with Central Asia, Iran, Afghanistan and Middle East have always been strong. Any development in one country has its impact on others including Pakistan. Today we are caught in conflict in Afghanistan tomorrow we may be in a bigger mess if Iran is attacked by Israel/American forces. Attack on Iran will be most unpopular with the people of Pakistan and destabilise its leadership especially the army.

Endgame in Afghanistan

The Nato/American occupation of Afghanistan since 2001 directly impacted on Pakistan especially in Fata. People Pakistan actively volunteered to resist the invading army but was initially overwhelmed by the firepower of the American guns. Historically people of Fata has seen whole host of aggressors from the West and East. Each time aggressors have called people of what are now Fata and of Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa different names at different times of history labelled as terrorists, militants, rebels, religious extremists/fanatics or freedom fighters. The ten-year war in Afghanistan has taken toll of the American purse and its fighters. The French want to pull out by next year. On the other hand the Afghan people are constantly suffering. Both sides are in fatigue mode. The Americans are openly talking to Afghan Taliban leadership since November 2010 to end American occupation of Afghanistan. The talks are at a crucial juncture where a Taliban office is to be opened in Qatar. The Americans are considering release of five Taliban leaders from infamous Guantanamo prison to be stationed in Qatar. Team led by Marc Grossman from the American side and Qari Yousaf Ahmedi from Afghan Taliban side are in discussions (DeYoung, Karen. US links Taliban talks to Karzai’s consent. Dawn/Washington Post/ Bloomberg News Service. January 13, 2012). In Qatar talks the sticking point is release of Guantanamo Taliban commanders and timing of ceasefire. The Americans want ceasefire first before prisoner release but the Taliban want start of American troop withdrawal first (US, Taliban historic talks begin in Qatar. AFP. The News. January 30, 2012). Taliban has denied any talks with the US (Taliban deny talks with ‘puppet’ govt. AFP. The News. February 17, 2012).

The Americans with their many think tanks and experience of Vietnam and Russians bitter Afghan disaster perhaps made no impact on the American leadership. The arrogance of power overrides the long-term reality of war in Afghanistan. The British with long direct experience of wars in Afghanistan were also drawn into the conflict in 2001. Their famous war hero Lord Roberts of Kandahar after the Second Afghan War (1878-80) strongly advised Britain to avoid meddling in Afghan affairs. The Treaty of Gandamak (May 26, 1879) took away foreign affairs from Afghan rulers with fatal results. The right to foreign affairs was given back after the Third Afghan War (1919) following a treaty on November 22, 1921 (Shah, 2000). This was part of the Great Game strategy. But this was long time ago.

Besides American brokered talks with Taliban Afghanistan and Pakistan wants separate talks to be held in Saudi Arabia (Afghanistan seeks Taliban talks in Saudi Arabia: officials. AFP. The News. January 30, 2012). The Americans feel greater threat from Iran and want to windup operations in Afghanistan as early as possible. For Pakistan Fata is the key problem area. If Iran is attacked then the problem shall spread to rest of Pakistan.

In a discussion on at the Karachi Literature festival on ‘Afghanistan and Pakistan: conflict, extremism and Taliban’ Dr Maleeha Lodhi claimed that Pakistan’s stand regarding Afghan solution to be achieved through dialogue was rejected by the US. Ten years later the US is trying to do the same (Ali, Imtiaz. US follows what Pakistan said 10 years ago: Lodhi. The News. February 13, 2012). In 1838 Maharaja Ranjit Singh faced a similar problem with the British intention of attacking Afghanistan. The British tried to persuade Ranjit Singh to join them in the attack. The clever illiterate Sikh ruler understood the people of Fata, then part of Afghanistan, better and politely refused but gave free passage to the British army to attack Afghanistan. The result in 1842 when the proud ‘Army of the Indus’ was annihilated as predicted by the Sikh chief.

In an address to US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence CIA Director David Petraeus claimed that Pakistan was supporting Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan, it was alleged, was supporting Haqqani Network, Commander Nazir Group and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan by providing sanctuaries and war materials. The allegation is not new but may be partly true although this was hotly denied by Pakistan (Iqbal, Anwar. Pakistan not putting sufficient pressure on Afghan Taliban: CIA chief. Dawn. February 2, 2012). On September 22, 2011 Admiral Mike Mullen claimed that ‘Haqqani Network is part of strategic arm of ISI’ (Krasmer, D Stephen, 2012). The report based on prisoner’s interrogation in Afghanistan called ‘State of Taliban’ was ‘leaked’ to the press. It implicated the ISI in helping the Taliban direct attacks against the Isaf forces in Afghanistan. The report admitted that once Nato forces leave Afghanistan the state will collapse and open it to return of Taliban (Secret Nato report accuses Pakistan of helping Taliban. The News. February 2, 2012). For Pakistan a stable Afghanistan is essential for solving Fata problem. Unfortunately its army determines Pakistan foreign policy.

There are reports that US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta is thinking of US forces combat mission to end by mid-2013, a year earlier than previous estimates (US plans to end combat mission by mid-2013. OC. Dawn. February 3, 2012). He has urged Pakistan to help stop IED attacks, which allegedly were manufactured in Pakistan and used in Afghanistan (Iqbal, Anwar. Pakistan urged to help contain IED attacks. Dawn. Dawn. February 16, 2012).

How will withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan impinge on Pakistan? Withdrawal of US forces and handing over security to the Afghans is not as simple as it was seen in Iraq. The cost of US withdrawal would be in billions of dollars every year for decades to come to sustain the Afghan National Security Forces and the Afghan economy (Sehgal, Ikram. Drawdown in Afghanistan. The News. February 9, 2012). It is interesting to note that think tanks all over the world blame America for leaving Afghanistan to its own devices after Russian army withdrawal in 1989. Now that the Americans are in full force in Afghanistan the same think tanks want them out.

Taliban who?

But let us first define what Taliban means? In our language it signifies a student. A movement was triggered by few madrassa students led by Mullah Omar and later joined by the majority of Afghan people against the corrupt warlords of Afghanistan all were later called Taliban including former warlords. In Pakistan Taliban is an ideological group supporting Afghan Taliban in supply of fighters and war material. It is debated whether Taliban are products of madrassas in Pakistan. Nevertheless jihadi literature is common in our madrassas. Poor socioeconomic conditions do promote recruitment to Taliban fold. In Fata the Taliban umbrella includes besides Pashtuns other nationalities as well. They have in their midst Pakistanis mainly from Southern Punjab, Arabs, Chinese Muslims, Uzbeks and Muslims from the West. These ethnic groups are bound by religious ideology of jihad against invading American and Nato forces (Gul, Imtiaz and Jaffar, Nabil, 2012). Punjab developed massive madrassas with government help during Gen Ziaul Haq’s time to produce mujahedeen to counter Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The fallout from jihadi madrassas spilled over into sectarian violence and attacks on soft civilian targets leaving 30,000 dead. Jihadi madrassas were in place in KP (Haqqania in Okara Khattak) as well as in Karachi (Madrassa Bonaria) (Hussain, 2012). Unfortunately most people in Pakistan are convinced that attacks on Pakistani people are the work of American, Israeli and Indian intelligence agencies.

Pakistani Jihadi Organisations

With retreat of the Russian troops the jihadi organisations turned their attention towards Kashmir and India for their terrorist activities. During Gen Musharraf’s Kargil disaster (May-July 1999) these mujahedeen were wrongly portrayed as leading the attack. When these Mujahids were prevented from meddling in Kashmir and India under international pressure they moved to Fata and carried out suicide attacks in Pakistani cities (Hussain, 2012). The monster created by our intelligence agencies started to attack our own civilian population and security forces. For a while these home grown Taliban conquered Swat and were poised to establish ‘Islamic’ system of government before army crackdown in 2009.

For the western media Taliban became associates of Al Qaeda in the leadership mode and after 9/11 were the target of the American might. Let us be clear that Taliban had no role in 9/11 beyond sheltering their leader Osama. Osama being an Arab had no leadership role in the tribal society of Afghanistan or Fata. For last six years of his life he was hiding in Abbottabad, Pakistan and had no role in Afghan resistance movement.

Taliban in western literature became synonymous with any religious organisation targeting the invading forces in Afghanistan and hence an enemy. The Western paranoia reached a stage where all Muslims and their religion Islam were designated as radical Islam, terrorists, militants, extremist or fundamentalists. Unfortunately other religions do not describe their ‘extremists’ in the same way as Islam. The Christian evangelists are just as radical as ‘ultra right’ Jews or ‘extremist’ Hindus. All religions have subset of people who claim to know the ‘true’ meaning of their religion but the issue is of imposing their views on others. The West should have recognised Taliban as freedom fighters against an occupying army. In fact Taliban designation covers a large number interest groups ranging from Jihadi ideologues to outright dacoits striving for loot through robbing banks or kidnapping for ransom. The Taliban do not have a standing army. The dress code has not changed over centuries, which include carrying arms, and we cannot distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. We also have to recognise that Wahhabi interpretation of Islam did not emerge with funding from Saudi Arabia during Russian occupation of Afghanistan. In fact Wahhabi Islam reached Fata area in 1824 and soon spread to Afghanistan initially as anti Sikh and later anti British platform to oust the infidels from the Muslim society.

People admire the bravery and tenacity of Pashtuns of Fata and Afghanistan and their place in history. They have been devastated and made paupers in the name of ‘gairat’. The Afghan leadership has also been eulogised for their farsightedness and sagacity. Nothing can be far from the truth (Siddiqi, Muhammad Ali. No Sandhurst no West Point. Dawn. February 16, 2012).

Emergence of TTP

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is not a single homogeneous body. TTP was formed under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud in an agreement between 13 different armed groups in December 2007 against the Pakistani security forces, schools, mosques, markets and Nato forces in Afghanistan but it remains a loose federation of different interest groups. The Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar is striving to unite these groups to concentrate on on-going battle against the Nato forces in Afghanistan. A meeting organised by Afghan Taliban on December 11, 2011 in Datta Khel area, NWA the Afghan Taliban requested TTP to sink their differences and fight the Americans. Hakimullah Mehsud, Waliur Rehman, Maulvi Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur attended the meeting. Sirajuddin Haqqani was representing the Afghan Taliban. Two representatives of Quetta Shura along with Al Qaeda commander Abu Yahya al-Libi attended the meeting. It was decided to establish a five-member Shura-e-Murakeba (Observation Council) which was launched on January 2, 2012 to sort out differences and concentrate on fighting the Americans in Afghanistan rather than take on the Pakistani security forces (Murshed, S Iftikhar. A dagger at the heart. The News. January 30, 2012).

The TTP is also involved in suicide bombing in major cities of Pakistan. The basic resentment emerged as the basis of revenge against killing of their kith and kin by the security forces and drone strikes. Revenge is basic cultural trait of the people of Fata. On the other hand killing of innocent people in Pakistan alienated any sympathy for them and went against the TTP public popularity. It is not surprising that bombing of cities in Pakistan has been put on hold. There is the issue of cross border attacks on Nato forces by some organisations in Fata. Since the Pakhtun relations lived across the porous ‘border’ (Durand Line) the TTP and other organisations were duty bound to help their brethren in Afghanistan. This has been strongly resented by the Americans and tried to put pressure on Pakistan to stop these attackers. The other aspect of Taliban ideology is found in rest of Pakistan especially in Punjab and hence called Punjabi Taliban. The Taliban belief of war against West, India and Israel and pro Taliban jihad is rampant in religious and main political parties in major urban areas of Pakistan. Majority of Taliban jihadi ideology mind set in Pakistan do not subscribe to violence as a means of change in the society. We do fear a military intervention (coup) since they are the ‘saviour of Pakistan’ and custodians of its ideology? Gen Zia’s indoctoration of the Pakistan military has played a significant role in the mind change of previous set of military commanders. Gen Hamid Gul is the prime example of jihadi generals of the past now part of ‘Defence of Pakistan Council’ organisation based on hate America, India and Israel.

Nato Invasion of Afghanistan and its Aftermath

Up to 2001 Afghanistan was an insignificant state ruled by Wahhabi leaning semi literate bunch of nobodies living in the Stone Age with scant understanding of developments in the world. They imposed their version of Wahhabi Islam. The world had forgotten Afghanistan with retreat of Russian army in 1989 till 2001. The most powerful army ever seen in the world seething with rage decided to ‘take out’ Osama after the 9/11 attack by a group of Arabs mainly from Egypt-none from Afghanistan. It seemed that the Taliban in Afghanistan would be pushover against the might of high-tech American army and their 500lb bombs dropped by air. It was predicted that Taliban would be totally eliminated by American hammering and what would be left of them shall beg for peace on American terms. Little did they realise that ten years later they would be still trying to find a way out of Afghanistan. Unfortunately the world and Pakistanis know very little about the conflict area in Afghanistan or Fata. For the world and Pakistani Fata and adjoining Afghanistan became the ‘bad lands’ and ‘most dangerous place in the world’ after 9/11. For the British in India these places were always the ‘bad lands’ only fit to train their army and seek medals for valour of their fighters against improvised lands. We need to explore the background of resistance of the people in the area before we make sweeping judgments.

The past of Afghanistan is haunting the Americans today and we need to divulge the past to understand what is happening today. We need to explore the historical role of foreign fighters and Punjabi Taliban in present context. These foreign fighters never assumed leadership role in the tribal system. The phenomenon of people crossing into Afghanistan from India to fight is not a new one.

Afghanistan Invasions in History

The Achaemenid Empire founded by Cyrus the Great (575 BC-530 BC) followed by Darius the Great (550-486 BC) included Afghanistan and part of Pakistan. Alexander’s objective was to conquer the Persian Empire and invaded Pakistan in 326 BC calling it India. He stopped at the banks of river Beas because beyond that was not India. This was a short Greek incursion of which the people of the area had no recollection. Bactrian Greeks ruled Afghanistan and northern Pakistan from 256 BC to 1st century BC when Parthians finally defeated them. This was followed by invasion by Yuezhi (Kushan) and Scythians (Saka). The impact of invasion by different armies on local culture there is no documented evidence of change besides development of Indo-Greek sculpture used by Buddhists during Kushan period and adoption of Parthian dress of salwar kamiz by the people. In the middle of 4th century AD Afghanistan was overrun by Epthalite branch of Huns. They finally managed to conquer most of northern India. Huns introduced title ‘khan’ into Afghanistan and Pakistan (Tanner, 2002). Besides invading armies over centuries different ethnic groups have silently moved across India from the west to permanently settle there. These migrating bands quietly integrated into the Indian society. Unfortunately these historical migrations have not been properly documented. In recent times war in Afghanistan has also displaced people. During the Russian invasion more than 3 million Afghans migrated to Pakistan. Today some 1.7 million Afghans refugees are still in Pakistan.

In more recent times the British invasion of Afghanistan by the ‘Army of the Indus’ to install a British puppet (modern American Karzai) as their ruler in 1839 led to annihilation of the army in its retreat in 1842. The Afghan invasion was pushed by the then Governor General Lord Auckland due to unfounded fear of Russian expansion into Afghanistan (this finally happened in 1979 when Russian army invaded Afghanistan). This was the time when Britain was the sole super power. British arrogance led them to disaster. To boost army’s morale Sindh was conquered in 1843. This was followed by annexation of Punjab in 1849. These British moves sent clear message about future British intentions to the hill tribes in the north west of the expanding British Empire. As early as 1847 Herbert Edwards as the British officer with the Sikh administration posted to Bannu as Assistant Resident, at that time border of ‘Eastern Afghanistan’, was able to subdue the valley and extract revenue for the Sikh Darbar (Obhrai, 1983). Starting in 1849 the British were regularly sending in punitive ‘expeditions’ into the Tribal belt. By 1857 British had launched 15 expeditions into the ‘Frontier’. By 1939 the ‘expeditions’ had increased to 58 (Barthorp, 2002). It is unfortunate to note that the British army in India used Fata as live training ground for its soldiers. But when the army faced well-equipped European armies during the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) and WW I it was found to be sadly lacking in battle skills. It was highly unethical to use the people of Fata as a military training ground for fame and glory. But if you are all powerful then ethics do not matter.

Before Sikh invasion of Peshawar (1818) the city was the summer capital of Kabul ruler. The city was finally annexed by the Sikhs in 1834 and was ruled by Gen Paolo Avitabile. His reign of terror was known as ‘gallows and gibbets’ (Wikipedia, 2012). The first British envoy Mountstuart Elphinstone visited the Afghan king in Peshawar in 1807 (Schofield, 2003). During the Sikh Darbar the Sikhs held the plains but the mountains in the west remained independent. By 1818 the Sikhs had taken Peshawar valley but part of the territory was given as Jagir to three brothers of Kabul ruler Amir Dost Mohammad. Till 1834 the Afghans were ruling Peshawar as Jagirdars of the Sikhs before it was annexed. Peshawar was the summer capital of ruler of Kabul. The Sikh army under the dreaded general Hari Singh Nalwa defeated the Afghan army in Nowshera and in 1838 Sikh Kardars replaced the Afghan administrators. Sikh garrisons were placed in Peshawar, DI Khan, Kohat and Teri. After the First Sikh War under a treaty signed on December 16, 1846 British formed Council of Regency and Hazara, Bannu, Kohat, DG Khan and DI Khan were placed under the British Assistant Residents. Chief Commissioner ruled Punjab in 1849 and in 1859 by Lt Governor. North-West Frontier got its Lt Governor in 1932. In the districts British Deputy Commissioners were appointed. During the Sikh wars Amir Dost Mohammad of Afghanistan moved into the Peshawar valley up to the Indus in December 1848. He made a grave miscalculation by sending a contingent of cavalry to aid the dying Sikh rule against the British.

During the Sikh rule Peshawar valley (Kabul River) up to Jamrud in the west was held with great atrocities. In 1849 the British took over the Sikh Darbar territories and established pickets (check posts) along the eastern banks of Indus and in Kabul River valley along the bases of mountains to restrain raids from tribes beyond in the mountains. The British were now in direct contact with Afghanistan and Persia. The first incursion of the British forces through what was Afghan tribal area took place when their army attacked Ghazni and Kabul in 1839 what became the disastrous 1st Anglo-Afghan War (also called Auckland’s folly) (Barthorp, 2002). This was followed by revenge attack in August 1842 when the invading British forces (‘Avenging Army’) under Gen Pollock and Gen Nott brutally killed people of all ages and both sexes. This according to Duke of Wellington was ‘Restoration of Reputation in the East’. Kabul was sacked and bazaar burnt but this time the ‘Avenging Army’ retreated quickly.

Role of ‘Hindustani Wahhabi Fanatics’ in History

The origin of ‘Hindustani Wahhabi Fanatics’ needs to be explained. From times immemorial the Pakhtun belt now located between Afghanistan and Pakistan has not changed although they were Hindus at one time then converted to Buddhism and finally to Islam. Babar (early 16th century) records his attack into Bonair to gather livestock and make a pyramid of heads of the local population (a Turkish tradition of Central Asia). At the time of Emperor Akbar, who held Kabul as a province of his empire, the Mughal policy was to pay some tribes for safe passage and to send expeditions to others. The unrest of Fata tribes instigated by Pir-e-Roshan (Sheikh Bazid Ansari) and his descendants, formally of South Waziristan Agency resident of Jalandhar (now in India) hence technically  ‘foreign fighters’, against religious doctrine of Deen-e-Elahi and occupation of Pakhtun homeland by Mughals was a severe test for Akbar’s armies. He sent in 15 expeditions to counter the jihadis in Tirah and Waziristan and after much bloodshed (including loss of his court jester Raja Birbal) he managed to make the area peaceful through diplomacy (Hosain, 1938; Shah, 2000). The tribes were in constant war with each other but united against any invader usually led by a religious figure. Nothing has changed since.

In more recent times Wahhabi cleric Syed Ahmed Shah moved from Bareilly, India, to what is now Fata to incite the tribes against Sikh rule in Punjab in 1824. In 1830 Syed Ahmed Shah, having not received any support from the tribes, was killed fighting the Sikh army in Balakot where he was buried.  His 300 surviving followers retreated to Sitana in Bonair and settled on the property of Syed Akbar Shah who became their Amir. The subsequent resistance movement was Wahhabi in nature. They were displaced from time to time but managed to establish ‘training’ centres in Tirah, Chamarkand and other places. Bonair became a serious problem for the British in 1852 when ‘Hindustani Wahhabi Fanatics’, as labelled by the British, with the help of Hasanzai tribe took over the Kotla fort belonging to Nawab of Amb. An expedition was launched against them in 1853 and the fort was taken back.  At the time of Mutiny of 1857 the Hindustani fanatics led by Maulvi Inayat Ali Khan caused some problems. Their village called Narinji was attacked in July and later in August 1857 by a British force and set on fire. According to Major Vaughan “Not a house was spared; even the walls of many were destroyed by elephants…Three prisoners were taken—one was a Bareilly Maulvi, second a Chamla standard-bearer and the third a vagrant of Charonda; they were all subsequently executed.” Next was attack on the village of Sitana led by Sir Sydney Cotton. The Hindustanis came into attack dressed in white in silence and ‘every Hindustani in the position was either killed or taken prisoner (Nevill, 1910; Wylly, 1912).

Hindustani Wahhabi in Bonair 1860s

The scenes of massacres were still fresh in the memory of the tribes when the British forces launched Frontier War in 1863. The idea of this war was to teach a lesson to the tribes of Bonair to stop raids into the settled areas under British control and to ‘Hindustani fanatics’ of Wahhabi Islam who considered the British as occupier of their lands across India making jihad legitimate. The British felt that ‘Hindustanis’ were also spreading Wahhabi Islam in Fata and had to be stopped (Albinia, 2008).

To oppose British occupation the ‘Hindustani Wahhabi Fanatics’ were receiving funds from ‘Southern’ Bengal’ with its headquarter in Patna in Bihar. The arms and ammunition was coming from the Gulf and Afghanistan. Later armaments were supplied from ‘Mesopotamia’. The Mulka village in Mahabun Mountains of Syeds of Bunair housed left overs of Syed Ahmed Shaheed (d 1830) uprising against Sikh rule, was eventfully burnt by the locals under a British detachment in 1863. Between 1850 and 1863 the British launched 20 expeditions into the mountains beyond the plains occupied by the British forces. Each time the number of invading forces increased. In Sitana campaign (1863) more than 5,000 troops were used and later enforced. The initial force was trapped in Ambela Pass and Gen Sir Sydney Chamberlain was evacuated with severe wounds. The cost of the expedition was worrying for the British administration. The opposing tribesmen had few matchlock guns and mostly relied on swords and hurling stones. Swords were used in close quarter action (Adye, John. Sitana: a mountain campaign of the borders of Afghanistan in 1863. Published 1866). In 1860s the Afghan jezail with a range of 300 yards was better then the Brown Bess used by the British army. The introduction Snider and later Lee Metford and Martinis rifles (1897) with smokeless powder backed by artillery gave the British again the advantage. Finally the introduction of machinegun (Gatling and Maxim) made the British army a superior force. At the same time the tribes managed to acquire new weapons and balance was again maintained (Skeen, 1932). By 1906 Muscat imported 278,000 pounds worth of rifles from four European countries. The arms were transported to Mekran coast by boat and from their Afghan camel caravans took them to Southern Afghanistan and sold to the tribes. The British tried to block the movement by sea and land (Wylly, 1912).

The main issue of attacks by the British beyond its borders into Tribal Areas of Afghanistan (now Fata) was raids (cattle lifting) by tribes supported by ‘Hindustani Fanatics’ in the area. We must realise that the people living in inhospitable mountains had limited agricultural resource, living partly a nomadic life and raids in the more prosperous plains. In 1858 the British army raid destroyed Sitana, Bonair on the southern slopes of Mahabun Mountains. The British claimed that part of Amb State which was under British protection had been invaded by ‘Hindustani Wahhabi Fanatics’ and had to be evicted by the British Army. This was followed by destruction of ‘Hindustani settlement’ of Mulka located on the northern slopes of Mahabun Mountains in 1863. The British army in another raid destroyed ‘Hindustani village’ of Mundee in 1864. The other British approach was to block supplies, funds and fighters from British India. For the people of Fata fear of British occupation of Sindh and later Punjab was an indication of their advancement and occupation of their areas  (Punjab Administration Report, 1863-64 and 1867-68). The retaliatory raids into Tribal Territories by British forces became a nuisance for the poor. The tribes requested the Hindustani Jihadis to move their training camps into remote areas or leave the area. The Jihadis from outside Fata returned following Russian invasion in 1979.

20th century Wahhabi Movement in India

There was resentment against British occupation of India among the educated youth in India. The Wahhabi doctrine of jihad carried intense appeal for these men. They decided to launch their jihad from Pakhtun tribes of British and Afghan frontier. They hoped that Afghanistan and Turkey would help them to conquer India. Large number of educated Muslims in India decided to move into the Tribal Area and some into Afghanistan in 1905. These British citizens called ‘Hindustani Wahhabi Fanatics’ were interned in Afghan territory at Jallalabad by the Afghan king Amir Habibullah Khan under pressure from the British. Influential Indians in Afghan court finally released them. Although highly educated young anti British volunteers were influenced by Deoband School led by Sheikhul Hind Maulana Mehmoodul Hassan they were looked upon with suspicion. The money was supplied from across India from Calcutta, Patna and Punjab. However they were sadly disillusioned with the state of affairs they found in Afghanistan. There was no rule of law and the justice system was a replica of ancient system where the only the king finally gave his verdict. There was no system of education and this is where the ‘Young Afghans’ with the help of young Indian students led by Dr Abdul Ghani from various parts of India proposed to bring change. A society with proposed constitution and educational awareness threatened Amir Habibullah’s rule. In 1909 Dr Abdul Ghani and 38 British subjects members of Mashroota movement were interned in the Ark Fort Kabul while seven Afghani citizens were blown from artillery pieces. The Islamic Wahhabi renaissance of Afghanistan with system of the West ended with complete disillusionment of educated Muslims of India. Amir Habibullah was assassinated in 1919 and the new Amir Amanullah released them.

The Muslims of India during the WW I felt betrayed by the British when it went to war against Turkey a Muslim country and the home of the Khalifa of the Muslim World. This was the Khalafat Movement joined by Hindus and Sikhs as a means to ouster of the British from India. The Muslim preachers across India were asking for jihad against the infidels in particular an end of Indian occupation by the British.

Another jihadi group of about 20,000 people entered Afghanistan from India during Khalafat Movement of 1920. A poor country like Afghanistan could not afford to house and feed these people who has burnt their boats in India and had nothing to live on. Most moved back to India but a small hard core remained but their cause was doomed. By this time the political scene had changed. Russia as a communist state was expanding into Central Asian states also became enemy of the religion and hence of Muslims. Some Mujahids became communists. Many of jihadis in Kabul were seeking communist help to push the British out of India. Other Indians wanted help from Turkey but the country was in dire strait and refused anything to do with these Indian ‘revolutionaries’. There were endless intrigues within the Indian ranks in Russia, which did not help their cause. Amir Amanullah was advanced financial support and fearful of Russian intention he aligned with the British and would not tolerate anti British moves in his kingdom. Many of new jihadi arrivals moved to Fata and settled in older Hindustani settlements. For the British transportation of explosives was worrying and made efforts to stop this. They used secret agencies to affectively stop funding of Hindustani settlements from their sympathisers in India. The jihadi movement by Hindustani Fanatics continued till the 1930s but were a spent force and did not pose any danger to the British authorities. Only two Hindustani settlements were remaining in Fata.

The movement for jihad by Hindustani Wahhabi volunteers had sever setbacks from changing world scene and from within their ranks. However one cannot but admire these people from relatively affluent background in India chose a life of immense struggle and hardships. With no military training they faced hostile tribes, corrupt police, suspicious rulers and dacoits these people were moving across Asia and Europe despite poor resources. Their travels in Afghanistan, Central Asia and Turkey could have given credit to any Western explorer of that time (Shah, 2000). With the Russian and later American invasion the old ‘Hindustani’ now Pakistani Mujahids started to stream into Afghanistan to fight the invaders. Nothing has changed.

Fata during the British Raj

The Agencies of Fata were created firstly of Khyber to keep a hold on the Pass in 1878. Following cession of Kurram by the Afghan government in 1879 it was made an agency in 1892. The Malakand, Tochi and Wana (later Waziristan) were developed between 1895 and 1896.  The people of Waziristan were up in arms against demarcation of western border based on strategic heights rather than tribal lines. To force the tribes in accepting Durand Line Waziristan Field Force was organised in 1894. In 1901 the settled districts were made into province of North West Frontier and the Agencies separated (Obhrai, 1983). Starting in 1920 railway line from Peshawar was extended to Landi Kotal (Bayley, 1926).


The British continued its policy in Fata of ‘Butcher and Bolt’ in retaliation of tribal raids. After subduing the lashkar the villages of ‘miscreants’ were torched or blown up, the crops burnt, waterways destroyed, livestock rounded up and economic blockade of the offending area put in place. Each time a new agreement was made with the tribal elders. Starting in 1917 the British troops used ‘Air Service’ to attack the Mehsud tribal lashkar. In response the old style of Lashkar attack was abandoned. In 1930s Chief of the Air Staff Sir Hugh Trenchard proposed use of fighter aircraft to keep the tribes in check rather than rely on slow cumbersome land expeditions. He was overruled due financial constraints (Barthorp, 2002). Now drone strikes by the Americans and bombing by Pakistani F16 are trying to do the same. With advancement of military technology armoured cars and later light tanks were used. In Tirah the tribes were asked to remove ‘Turk and Afghan’ settlers (now foreign fighters) which they did sending them back to Afghanistan (Obhrai, 1938). It seems that nothing has changed in the 21st century. Unfortunately we have no written record of the suffering or body count of people during various invasions and devastations caused by armies entering the area.


The British policy regarding Fata had been shifting. John Lawrence was in favour of ‘backward school’ making the Indus as the final ‘natural’ border. Sir Mortimer Durand advocated a ‘scientific frontier’, which was a soft face of ‘forward policy’ (Diver, 1935). The Durand Line split the ancient tribal system to secure military vantage points for the British. Whatever the policy development work in the area was limited to making roads to facilitate movement of troops at short notice. When the British left in 1947 Pakistan reversed the Fata ‘forward policy’ and pulled out the regular troops from Fata. We had peace in Fata till 2004.


Recent Developments in Fata

Let us jump to recent events shaking Fata and Afghanistan. The bookshops today are full of bewildering array of old and new publications on Afghanistan, Taliban and Al Qaeda (see Bibliography). Most of the modern authors have little understanding of the area, people or its history under discussion. Even the Pakhtuns of KP have vague understanding of the people of Fata. Fata tribes are individually unique and do not fit into a single cultural pattern. Al Qaeda, initially an all-Arab group, as an entity appeared on our radar screen through American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Al Qaeda led by Arabs has a foreign agenda and is irrelevant for Pakistan’s Fata problem.


The Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 galvanised the tribes and people of the country and Fata against the occupiers. This time Russian had helicopters, APCs and tanks but in this asymmetrical war the Afghans had the terrain on their side and supplies of manpower and ammunition from America, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Al Qaeda, a small splinter group, was born out of this triple marriage. The supply of Stringer missiles by the Americans negated Russian air power. On our visit to Bokhara in 1995 it was sad to note a large soldiers graveyard in the local park killed in Afghanistan-a needless butchery of the youth of Bokhara.


The American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 united the Fata tribes once again into military opposition. People of Pakistan are also opposed to American intervention in Afghanistan and drone attacks in Fata. They are supplying manpower and funds to Taliban as seen in 1860s. The ‘Hindustani fanatics’ are now ‘foreign fighters’ or called ‘Punjabi Taliban, Arab fighters or Uzbeks’. The Fata Pakhtun ‘raiders’ of 1863 were transformed into Mujahedeen during Russian occupation and then into Taliban when the Americans came in. AK47, 50 calibre machinegun, sniper rifle, Improvised Explosive Device (IED), landmines, Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) and suicide bombers now affectively replace the Stringer missiles. The Pakhtuns are innovative. Pakistan became an enemy of the Taliban fighting the American and Nato armies because of Pakistan governments support to Americans in the form of supplies and drone attacks. We saw spate of suicide and IED blasts in major cities of Pakistan.


The incidence of Lal Masjid in Islamabad and then attack of the Pakistani army into South Waziristan in 2004 was the last straw for peace. Most of the students who died in Lal Masjid in the army assault were from Fata and KP. Then came the incidence of US troops killing 24 FC soldiers in cold blood in North Waziristan on November 26, 2011, which was followed by retaliatory freeze of Nato supplies through Pakistan and returning of Shamsi Air Base used for drone strikes in Fata. Earlier CIA agent Raymond Davis was held for shooting two motorcyclists in Lahore and then released after payment of blood money under Islamic law. He was never tried for murder of two young men in America. This was followed by the killing of Osama in an American raid in Abbottabad, which produced bad blood between the two countries. The people of Pakistan were told of thousands of visas issued by Pakistani embassy in US to dubious people considered as CIA agents.


Ten Years of American Occupation of Afghanistan

America is bleeding in Afghanistan like its predecessor the Russians. The 1st World armies require expensive services and equipment, which are not appropriate for war in the 3rd World. With killing of Osama the main reason for invasion of Afghanistan has been removed. The original motivational force for the American troops in the field was to make America ‘safe’ and revenge for 9/11 by removing Al Qaeda leadership has been achieved. The Americans have killed enough innocent Afghans to settle revenge for 9/11. The civilian deaths in Afghanistan in 2011 were estimated as 3,021, which was more than 8% in 2010. A total of 4,507 civilians were wounded. These deaths were attributed to militants (77%) and 14% due to Isaf and Afghan forces. The number of suicide bombings (450) increased by 8%. Homemade explosive landmines killed 967 people (Johson, Kay. Civilian deaths in Afghan war hit record high. Dawn. February 5, 2012). A report by Amnesty International claims that 500,000 Afghans are homeless due to on-going war. About 400 people are made homeless on daily basis (War, neglect leave 500,000 Afghans homeless, says AI. Agencies. The News. February 24, 2012). Today Americans are questioning the basic reason for US invasion of Afghanistan (Cloughley, Brian. Afghan war is based on lies and deception. Counterpunch/Daily Times. February 20, 2012).


The US soldiers in the field are now fighting a non-ideological war where it is now ‘them or us’. It is not surprising that American soldiers have been caught taking fingers as souvenirs and urinating on dead Afghans. It is time they got out without giving an impression that they have their tail between the legs. In any case Americans do not need troops on the ground in Afghanistan to ward off any untoward incidence. They have 50 bases in the Middle East and Qatar and Bahrain bases are not far from Afghanistan. For surveillance the Americans have ample supply of drones and settilites. Their troops can be moved into Afghanistan at short notice. I do not see how the Americans can maintain Karzai as the leader of Afghans once they leave.


Fata Solution-Options

The other player in Afghan scene is Pakistan. Afghan leadership never had soft corner for the Pakistan. The bone of contention between the two is the 2,640 km 1893 Durand Line Agreement inherited from the British for fixing ‘spheres of influence’ between the two countries. Thus the British claimed Fata and what is now most of KP as their ‘sphere of influence’. Today neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan can dictate to the Fata tribes. Both keep Durand Line as a porous border and bone of contention. The attacks into Pakistan by Taliban or its splinter groups have been worrying. Like the British earlier the American and Pakistani leadership have made agreements with the various groups of Pakistani Taliban and tribes, which each side claim were broken by the other. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan have to give a clear programme for the betterment of the people.


Legally the situation in Fata and Balochistan is quite similar. In Balochistan Area A, which is only 3% of the province is under direct provincial rule where the administration is functioning. In Area B (97%) the Sardars have been given the responsibility of governance and maintenance of private armies. In Fata, since there were no tribal chiefs, governance was given to the tribes with the right of the central government to intervene under Frontier Crime Regulation. The ancient tribal autonomy is the main issue for integration of Fata into mainstream of Pakistan. There have been many suggestions for bringing Fata into the mainstream of Pakistan. Since last year political parties have been allowed to function in Fata. Some claim that Fata should change its status from ‘sphere of influence’ into a province of Pakistan. Then there are others who want Fata to become part of corrupt Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province (Afridi, Ghulam S. Fata’s integration. Dawn. February 8, 2012). The political solution has to emerge from the people of Fata and cannot be dictated by the Pakistan government. The present military policy of creating displacement of the population (IDPs) followed by indiscriminate destruction of what little livelihood of the people of the area had has been a disastrous policy. The ‘hull’ (solution) for Fata is not war but economics and education. In any case Pakistan cannot financially afford even low-level military intervention in the area. Pakistan was spending (directly and indirectly) Rs259.10 billion on ‘war on terror’ in 2005 but by 2010 this was increased to Rs2,975.04 billion. Another estimate claims that Pakistan is loosing Rs3 billion daily and Rs93 billion every month on ‘war on terror’ (Abbasi, Ansar. Pakistan lost Rs7,020b, got only Rs990b. The News. February 8, 2012). The cost of human lives lost and those maimed is also significant (Shah, Akhtar Hussain in Stabilising Afghanistan, 2011).


Historically Afghanistan was on the trade route from Central Asia and Iran to India. Later the Russians joined in. With communist take over of Russia (1917) the borders were hermitically sealed and the ancient trade movement stopped. Afghanistan became dependent on India and later Pakistan for its basic needs.


From times immemorial Afghanistan and Fata was trading and providing heavy work to India till the Russia, British and later Pakistan came to define borders. Horses and cloth were brought in from Iran and Central Asia to be sold in India. Dry fruit sale was in their hands all over India. Heavy work such as building mud walls and providing wood to the rural areas in India was the work of these hardy men from the mountains. Today Fata has a million armed men but is heavily dependent on food, electricity, infrastructure, fuel and some places gas from Pakistan. Only 7% of land in the area is cultivable. Fata survives on smuggling, heroin export, and jobs in local militia and in rest of Pakistan. We are not sure of mineral wealth of Fata since no survey has been carried out. Thanks to the Americans we now know that neighbouring Afghanistan is full of mineral wealth including rare earth minerals (Simpson, 2011). Before the Russian invasion there was insignificant poppy growth in Afghanistan. Today they are producing 5,800 tons of opium a year and the American army has failed to make a dent on heroin production or its export (Cloughley, Brian. Doing Afghan drugs. Daily Times. January 29, 2012). Fata is one important outlet for heroin export and source of earning for the poor people.


We also need to evaluate the impact of developments in Afghanistan on Pakistan. First and foremost Talibanisation to a degree has taken place in Pakistan where most people are supportive of Islamisation, which cannot be equated with Talibanisation. The first step towards Islamisation of Pakistan took place with Objectives Resolution in 1949. Since then the rulers of Pakistan have used Islam to promote their rule over the country. Some of the so-called religious scholars have used Islam for financial gains or to grab power. Money has flowed from local and foreign sources in support of different factions. Religion has become the biggest industry in Pakistan. Religion has also been source of deadly conflict within Pakistan as different sects jockey for power.


The Arab Spring in Middle East and North Africa has drifted to Islam as a source of inspiration. Even Turkey with years of enforced secularism as visualised by its army is trying to find Islamic values. The lack of understanding by the West of the Muslim World is the basis of the problem of being threatened by Islam. There is also much confusion among the Muslim World as to what is Islamic and is coloured by cultural past of each society in the Muslim World. On the other hand Muslims should understand that ‘Islam is (not) in danger’ and they do not require armed conflict to achieve their goal. The Muslim World has to realise that we are now living in a global village and cannot survive in isolation as being tried by Iran. Most of all the West needs to understand the mind set of emerging Muslim World. A free stable Afghanistan needs to evolve from Stone Age and not forced at gunpoint to perceived Western values and governance. Afghan peace would bring peace in Fata. Rest assured the Afghans or people of Fata are not going to declare war on the West.


There is a strong parallel between Russian and later American invasions. The Russians came into Afghanistan to make them communists while the Americans after the period of rage want to build a capitalist system in their style of democracy. Neither of these super powers have made any dent on the Afghans. Change comes from the mind and not guns. This was the effort of Bacha Khan the Frontier Gandhi. He was essentially a social worker and not a politician dubbed as a traitor by the Pakistani leadership. We should use the carrot rather than the stick to solve Fata problem. There has been in place Fata Development Authority for many years it has dismal record of socio-economic development as compared to rest of Pakistan. Fata also has Fata Disaster Management Authority collaborating with UN Development Programme, which requires $200 million (Ali, Zulfiqar. Donors seek access to monitor Fata uplift. Dawn. February 15, 2012). Poor figures of health and education are alarming. We do not have correct information since the army feeds it and we have no independent observers in the area (Qureshi, Shafiullah. Fata failure. The News. January 29, 2012).


Guns shall make the Fata situation worse since there is no military solution. Above all we need professional research of the area and a ten years planned strategy with the consent of the Fata tribes. The old social structure has been altered with massive influx of arms and ammunition during Russian invasion. The old British administrative system is in tatters. The Political Agent and Malik equation and the jirga system have been dismantled. We are not dealing with old Fata anymore. Solution of Fata has to emerge from its people. Before we plan for a long-term policy for Fata it has to be taken off the hands of the Pakistan Army.


PS. Today Pakistan faces a more serious problem of separatist nationalist movement in Balochistan, which unlike Fata is not a religious issue. Unfortunately successive governments in Pakistan have been in a state of denial and used the gun to make Balochistan fall in line. This time it is not going to work.


Radicalisation of Pakistani society unleashed by Gen Zia fast gaining ground is also a major issue yet to be addressed (Hussain, 2012).


Selected Bibliography


  1. Adye, John. Sitana: a mountain campaign of the borders of Afghanistan in 1863. ASIM: BOO6PE65CC. Published 1866.
  2. Ahmed, Khalid. The mystery of what Pakistan wants. Friday Times. Jan 2/Feb 2, 2012.
  3. Al Qaeda in its own words. Edited by Gilles Kepel and Jean-Pierre Milelli. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 2008.
  4. Albinia, Alice. Empires of the Indus. John Murray, London. 2008.
  5. Baha, Lal. NWFP: administration under British rule 1901-1919. National Commission on Historical and Cultural Research, Islamabad. 1978.
  6. Barthorp, Michael. Afghan wars and the North-West Frontier 1839-1947. Cassell & Co, London. 2002.
  7. Bayley, Victor. Permanent way through the Khyber. Jarrolds Publishers, London. MCMXXXIV (1924).
  8. Bellew, HW. Afghanistan and the Afghans: brief review of the history of the country and account of its people. Samson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, London. 1879.
  9. Bergen, Peter L. Holy war Inc: inside the secret world of Osama bin Laden. Phoenix, London. 2002.
  10. Borovik, Artyom. The hidden war: a true story of war in Afghanistan. Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1991.
  11. Bruce, Richard Isaac. The forward policy and its results. 1898.
  12. Burns, Alexander. Cabool: a personal narrative of a journey to, and residence in that city, in the years 1836, 7, and 8. Reprint Ferozesons Ltd., Lahore. 1961.
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  18. Dupree, Louis. Afghanistan. Oxford Pakistan Paperback, Karachi. 1997.
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  21. Fata- a most dangerous place. Principle Author Shuja Nawaz. Centre for Strategic & International Studies. 2009.
  22. Griffiths, John C. Afghanistan. Pall Mall Press, London. 1967.
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  43. Nichols, Robert. Settling the Frontier: land, law and society in the Peshawar Valley, 1500-1900. Oxford University Press. 2001.
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  66. Zaeef, Abdul Salam. My life with the Taliban. Hachette, India. 2010.





Chronological Table of North West Frontier Campaigns (Barthorp, Michael, 2002).



1849               Baizais                                                1879               Zakha Khel
1850               Kohat Afridis                                     1880               Marris
1851               Mohmands                                         1881               Mahsuds
1852               Ranizais                                              1883               Shiranis
1852               Utman Khel                                        1888               Black Mountain Tribes
1852               Waziris                                               1890               Zhob Valley
1852               Black Mountain Tribes                     1891               Black Mountain Tribes
1853               Hindustani Fanatics                          1891               Miranzai
1853               Shiranis                                              1891               Hunza and Nagir
1853               Kohat Afridis                                     1894               Mahsuds
1854               Mohmands                                         1895               Chitral
1854               Afridis                                                 1897               Tochi Wazirs
1855               Orakzais                                             1897               Malakand
1855               Miranzai                                             1897               Mohmands
1856               Kurram                                               1897               Orakzais
1857               Bozdars                                              1897               Afridis
1857               Hindustani Fanatics                          1900               Mahsuds
1859               Waziris                                               1908               Zakha Khel
1860               Mahsuds                                             1908               Mohmands
1863               Ambela                                               1915               Mohmands
1863               Mohmands                                         1917               Mahsuds
1868               Black Mountain Tribes                     1919-20         Waziristan
1868               Bizotis                                                 1923               Mahsuds
1872               Tochi                                                  1927               Mohmands
1877               Jowakis                                               1930-31         Afridis
1878               Utman Khel                                        1933               Mohmands
1878               Zakha Khel                                         1935               Mohmands
1878               Mohmands                                         1936-37         Waziristan
1878               Zaimukhts                                          1937-39         Waziristan




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