Faqir of Ipi

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Faqir of Ipi,
Published in Khyber.ORG on Friday, September 16 2005 (http://www.khyber.org)


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Faqir of Ipi

Publishing Date: Friday, September 16 2005

Faqir Epi's real name was Mirza Ali Khan. His father's name was Arsala Khan and Muhammad Ayaz Khan was his fore father. He was born in 1897 in Kirta - a small village situated near Kajhori Fort. He belonged to the family of Mada Khel Wazir's.

In February 1937 a young Pathan tribesman kidnapped a Hindu girl from a village in Bannu District. They fled to Waziristan where the girl embraced Islam and took the name of Islam Bibi, before marrying the boy; this was duly celebrated by the tribal Jirga according to their rituals. The British Resident of Waziristan and the Brigade Commander Bannu applied strong political pressure on the Torikhel and Madda Khel Waziris for the release of the Hindu girl. Next morning two companies of Tochi Scouts surrounded the village holding Islam Bibi, and a flight of fully armed RAF Audaxes circled overhead in a show of force. The tribal elders acceded to the Political Agent's plea to allow Islam Bibi to declare her decision in front of a Jirga comprising both sides. Before such a Jirga could be arranged, however, the Deputy Commissioner of Bannu, with the concurrence of the NWFP Government, somehow managed to whisk Islam Bibi and her parents away into the interior of the Punjab.

Helen of Waziristan

News flashed through the entire tribal belt that Islam Bibi's escape had been engineered by the British and this was taken as an unforgivable insult to the tribal elders. The enraged tribesmen mustered two large lashkars 10,000 strong and battled the Bannu brigade, with heavy casualties on both sides. Widespread lawlessness erupted as tribesmen blocked roads, overran outposts and ambushed convoys. A religious leader, the legendary Faqir of Ipi, sent out impassioned calls for an all-out jehad against the British. It was as if the drama of Helen of Troy was being reenacted in this remote corner of the world; Islam Bibi had set the whole tribal territory on fire.

The Faqir of Ipi, whose real name was Mirza Ali Khan, was a quadrilingual mystic who had studied theology extensively. He was a pupil of Mullah Alam Khan of village Ipi; he was also fiercely hostile towards the British. With his call for jehad over the Islam Bibi case he started a campaign to foment insurrection throughout north and south Waziristan. After independence in 1947, he transferred his hostility from Pakistan which he condemned as unislamic. His campaign was to blow hot and cold and plague the territory for more than twenty years, till the day of his death in 1960.

The Faqir Mobilizes

By March 37 many tribes from across the border had drifted into Waziristan in response to the Faqir's call to wreak vengeance upon the British. The situation became critical when the lashkars surrounded the government forces at Miranshah and Mir Ali forts, threatening the very presence of the British in the NWFP. The army was brought to a regular war footing and 2 RAF squadrons from Risalpur and Kohat were ordered to bomb and strafe the lashkars in order to break the siege of these forts. The lashkars next turned their fury upon the Bannu brigade and again the RAF squadrons went into action to relive the British forces. The hit-and-run tactics of the lashkars proved very successful and the RAF's air action against them became increasingly frustrated as the rebels learned to take shelter behind huge boulders and in deep ravines. These tactics soon became standard procedure and formed the basis of a long drawn battle of wits between the adversaries which would stretch over two decades.

At this time the A and B Flights of the only RIAF squadron based at Drigh Road were moved to Kohat to help maintain law and order. The RIAF soon decided to take flight to the enemy's doorstep and the first villages selected for attention were Arsol Kot, the Faqir's hometown and neighboring Gulzamir Kot. Such attacks were always preceded with a twenty-four hour ultimatum through leaflet dropping. The aircraft used were Wapitis carrying a mixture of 250, 112 and 12 pound bombs. These bombs had little effect on the empty mud houses as the splinters would easily pas through the soft wails and roofs, which could be quickly patched up. This led to combined air force-army operations, in which the aerial attacks were immediately followed up with army action to raze the structures down to the ground.

The Rebellion Spreads

By June 37 the rebellion had spread to the whole of Waziristan and the combined operations had become proportionately large. Two Indian infantry brigades under Brigadier Claude Auchinleck had moved into Waziristan and Nos 5 and 20 Squadrons of the RAF were brought in to operate from Miranshah. In that same month a British convoy of 200 heavy vehicles, escorted by 6 armoured cars, had been ambushed and wiped our in a narrow defile at Shahpur Tangi. The tribal forces avoided pitched battle and would quickly disperse into the mountain shelters after an attack. Squadrons of the two air forces (RAF and RIAF) tried many tactics in retaliation including the burning of standing crops with jerry can petrol bombs and the killing of cattle with strafing attacks. However, neither side was able to evolve a decisive strategy and the volatile situation lingered year after year till, in 1947, it was handed down to the nascent RPAF.

When on 15 August 47 the RPAF assumed of the so-called 'watch and ward' duties in Waziristan, it had 2 half squadrons of Tempest fighter-bombers which were its only type of aircraft suited to the established pattern of operations. Both squadrons were based at Peshawar and it was a simple matter to rotate small detachments of either 5 or 9 Squadron through Miranshah a hundred miles away. The detachments, averaging about three months in duration, were not too popular with married personnel as Miranshah was a non-family station. They were, however, keenly sought after by many batchelors because, other than family life, Peshawar itself offered no social or recreational attraction worth the name. Miranshah on the other hand, was a dream-base in many respects.

The Battle Rages

The next major operations were triggered in May 48 when the Tochi Scouts parade ground just outside Miranshah fort was machine gunned. A few days later the scouts engaged a lashkar some 200 strong which was trying to block a main road. With RPAF help the scouts forced the lashkar to withdraw only to return with over 400 three days later. The ensuing battle lasted some eleven hours resulting in the defeat of the hostiles with the RPAF contributing 9 sorties. However, a post at Datta Khel, manned by Khassadars, fell without a shot being fired, and emboldened by this victory Ipi's forces surrounded the Thal fort which held an important strategic position. On 15 June, late in the evening, the RPAF went into action again and forced the hostiles to withdraw from Thal. Next, on the 21st, the Ipi forces attacked Fort Boya, which fell despite air action. The fall of Boya provoked the government into taking exemplary punitive action against those villages known to be harbouring the hostiles. This action lasted from 22 June to 8 July and included air attacks on hostile positions, particularly on Ipi's great 'mountain gun', a 3.7-inch howitzer. This round of operations seemed to give Ipi food for thought and he ceased hostilities for some time.

The RPAF participation was controlled by Group Captain Haider Raza and involved 139 sorties in which 72 bombs, 108 rockets and 4,600 rounds of 20mm ammo were expended. The 500 lb high explosive bombs proved very useful against mountain hideouts and mud houses while rockets were more effective against dug outs and caves when fired from lower heights.

The Faqir Recedes

It was not until a year later that, on 12 June 49 an unarmed Fury, while engaged in leaflet dropping over a hostile area, was fired upon with an LMG. The aircraft sustained some damage but the pilot landed safely in Miranshah where he quickly took another Fury, this one bristling with weapons, and went back to even the score. Such minor tit for tat exchanges in fact formed the staple diet of the RPAF and Ipi alike, punctuated only occasionally by a nasty flare up which could lead to serious loss of life or property. On 20 January 1950, the RPAF was summoned to aid the Tochi Scouts against a large lashkar in Tara Gharai area near Spinwam scouts post, and again on 17 March but this time at the Tarakai feature near Khajuri post. In these operations Flight Lieutenants Bokhari and F S Hussain made repeated low flying rocket and cannon attacks on the hostile hordes who were retaliating with accurate small arms fire. Again in December 1950, 5 Squadron took part in 'Gadun Operations' in Amb State in support of the regular troops and in December 1952 they participated in 'Operation Kohat Pass' when some 25 sorties were flown with rocket and cannon attacks against the hostiles, and the stronghold of their leader Wali Khan was destroyed.

The Faqir of Ipi never surrendered but his following progressively declined over the years. On 4 November 1954 his C-in-C, a notorious outlaw named Mehar Dil, surrendered himself personally to the Deputy Commissioner Bannu, and this, in effect, brought the Waziristan insurrection to an end; the Faqir himself died on 16 April 1960.

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Faqir of Ipi,
Published in Khyber.ORG on Friday, September 16 2005 (http://www.khyber.org)