Mohiudin Mahsud - Powenda Mullah

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Mohiudin Mahsud - Powenda Mullah, Muhammad Shafi Sabir
Published in Khyber.ORG on Friday, September 16 2005 (

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Mohiudin Mahsud - Powenda Mullah

Muhammad Shafi Sabir

Tazkara Sarfaroshan e Sarhad

Publishing Date: Friday, September 16 2005

Mahsud tribe is that tribe who can never even think of submitting to a foreign power that stepped on their land. These are the words of Sir Olaf Caroe who acted as the former governor general of the Frontier. From 1860 to 1937, the English forces constantly attacked Mahsood positions in order to subdue them but never got a foothold in the area. It was 1860 when 3000 Mahsud tribesmen attacked the British regiment base in Tank (Present South Waziristan). The British had a tough time handling them.

After the end of the 1st world war in 1919, the British again headed towards Waziristan. This time, they built roads and forts throughout the land. It was during this time that the name of Powenda Mullah emerged. He would later on bask in fame and glory the likes of which no other tribesman of the area will experience.

Powenda means nomad in Pashto. Powenda Mullah used to visit the Tochi valley and incite people to Jihad. He started getting known as the Selani Mullah or later on the Powenda Mullah. Not many people know that his real name was Mohiudin. He was not such a big scholar in real terms but was familiar with the main tenets of Islam. And due to his closeness with the clergy came to be known as a Mullah. He was a revolutionary National leader and even the staunchest and most unwilling Wazir and Mahsud tribesmen supported him and united on his call.

Powenda Mullah did Baiyah from Mullah Muhammad Anwar of Tirah under the Qadriyah Tarikat. His teacher was Maulana Hamzullah Wazir who also was a prominent mujahed of his time. Along with religious teachings, Powenda Mullah also received military training from Maulana Hamzullah Wazir.

His increasing popularity could not be bore by the British. They were already aware of the resistance from the Wazirs. In 1894, their sufferings at the hand of the Mujahideen in Wana were still fresh in their minds. This was the instance in which 2000 Wazir and Mahsud youth wreaked havoc on the British Cantonment. After this incident, Baros was named the political agent to the agency. He had already played a major role in the success of the Sandeman policy in Balochistan.

However, Baros knew it would be difficult to handle the tribes. Unlike Balochistan; where sardars wield the power, these tribes had power in the Jirga; where every single youth is an important member of it.

As soon as Baros was appointed, a group of 5 Wazirs assassinated the English officer in charge of the constructions and communications department.

He then pressurized the Maliks to bring forward the accused in a Jirga and punish them. The Mahsud tribe wielded under pressure and brought forward the 5 accused. They were given 7 years imprisonment each.

When Mullah Powenda came to know about this, he was very heart broken and understood that this was an act of subjugation to the British.

He announced that no one is to carry out this punishment. At this, the public surrounded the abodes of each of the Maliks who had announced this punishment. 3 of the Maliks were executed for treason whereas 2 vanished fearing their lives.

Along with this, Powenda Mullah also sent a letter to the political agent Mr. Baros through his trusted nephew Mullah Abdul Hakeem. In the letter he told the PA to release the five tribesmen. At the time of receiving the letter. Mr. Baros was again planning to recapture areas outside Wana. Mullah Powenda also told him to stay clear of Wana in the same letter.

As expected, the PA did not pay much attention to the warnings and sent an abuse riddled reply to Mullah Powenda. After the failure of these peace talks, Mullah Powenda decided to teach the English Political Agent a lesson.

The Mahsuds and Wazirs were also very cunning and crafty with the English. In peace talks, whenever the English would give demands, they would always accept it; but later on, they would fulfill nothing

2 November 1894 AD, It was early morning. The English officers were still enjoying their sleep in the Wana cantonment. All of a sudden, a Lashkar of Mujahideen made a surprise attack. Such was the ferocity and quickness of the strike that the English forces lost moral and couldn't make proper decisions on how to regroup.

According to the pioneer (published from Allahabad India), the number of Mujahideen was around 1 thousand. And it described the event in quite detail of how the drumming, shouting and firing Mujahideen caught the world super power in surprise. They were unstoppable and anybody coming in their paths was sent to death

The article reported the deaths of at least 100 English officers and common soldiers and at least twice that amount injured. And as soon as they attacked, the Mujahideen retreated back to their mountain strongholds with the same swiftness; jubilating all the way. General Turner and Major O Neil sent soldiers in pursuit of the retreating party but they came back empty handed.

The ranks of the British officers throughout the sub continent started mourning this great loss as soon as news of this was published in the nation's newspapers the next day. The corridors of London's palaces shook at the sale of the losses.

Almost immediately, another army was assembled and its reigns were handed to Sir William Lockhart and sent to Waziristan. By November, cantonments in Waziristan were full to the brink with armies under the British.

General Lockhart gave Mullah and other leaders a time frame of one month in which to submit an apology. But throughout the time nobody said anything or did anything.

On 14 December of the same year, the army spread out hoping to face resistance and teaching the Mujahideen a lesson. They proceeded from Wana to Kaniguram, Jandola to Makeen and from Bannu to Razmak. Winters had started. Snowfalls started and ice cold winds started to blow. The soldiers who had come from hot areas of India to these highlands were not used to the cold.

The Mahsud and Wazirs played a very patient waiting game. They did not stand up against the armies flowing in. This has been the strategy of almost all Pashtoon tribes; inviting their enemy and then unleashing hell upon them. Facing no resistance on 9th January the English forces retreated back to the same positions from where they had started.

The Mahsuds and Wazirs were also very cunning and crafty with the English. In peace talks, whenever the English would give demands, they would always accept it; but later on, they would fulfill nothing.

Then, on 21 January the English approached the tribesmen for peace talks and proposed the following demands:

  • The Tribesmen return all the loot and war booty
  • Mullah Powenda not be allowed to enter any area of Waziristan
  • 50 Rifles, 200 Guns, 2 Swords and 1200 Rupees be given to the British as a fine for the crimes they have committed

The tribesmen again agreed to the demands. However this time, they did not even get a chance to fulfill the demands (which they never intended to do in the first place).

Soon in 1897 AD Mujahed tribesmen again stood up against the British all the way from Chitral to Quetta and the British were again given a serious head ache of dealing with them.

Day after day, Mullah Powenda became even more popular and famous. He had attained a legendary figure status among the people from far and wide. There even was a time when he was considered as the sole leader of all the Waziristan country by the British.

His followers would kill an English officer sometimes here sometimes there. And the British would not be able to nab them because the attackers would swoop back to their mountain hideouts like eagles. Many things were tried to stop such acts but to no avail.

In 1907 AD, the Wazir and Mahsud tribesmen were blocked from entry into any government controlled territory. Economic sanctions were placed on them so that even basic amenities of life like food and medicine could be blocked from going into their hands.

The English commander of that time, Timothy Blockaded the areas of Makin and Kaniguram. Various areas were searched to arrest Powenda Mullah But to no avail.

The English thought that the tribesmen were receiving weapons from the Indian ocean at the south by the Balochistan lands. For this, they affixed check posts far and wide but again, no benefit was obtained.

When the First World War started in 1919 AD, the English were concerned that they would be engaged in battle on more than one fronts which was not a good omen for their safety and their economy; hence they decided to close those fronts of less significance. For this, they abandoned their Forward Policy for the time being and sent a message of friendship and peace to the tribes. The Tribes did not trust the British and that was the reason that they rejected any such peace proposals. Instead, the Mahsuds put in place a Lashkar to attack the British. By this time, the British had established an Air Force in the sub continent. Their Air force would bombard the whole countryside of Waziristan thus killing and maiming thousands of Tribesmen. All this was an open message of hatred on behalf of the British to the Tribes. The tribes got this message and their hatred for the British grew as well. Due to their sufferings, they were bent upon taking revenge and hence their moral increased. A series of attacks were made by the Mahsuds inflicting heavy losses on the enemy. One attack was that on the Marhatta Regiment in which hundreds of sepoys and 5 British Officers were killed. Another was that on the Punjab regiment in which the Ghazis slaughtered everyone. The aerial bombardments had inflicted staggering losses on the tribesmen but they were content that they were also doing well and had killed around 250 of the enemy forces.

The sophistication acquired by the British (air force) helped create a secure atmosphere for the ground troops because they would constantly patrol the sky's. With this sense of security, the British Army constructed a metalled road from Jandola to Ladha. At Razmak, they constructed a cantonment for their army officers and soldiers.

By 1922-23, all the British Army had moved from Wana to Razmak. They had also constructed an airport in Razmak. Instead of flying all the way from India, their aircraft would fly from Razmak Airport and bombard the countryside. Because of this, the countryside of Makin was totally devastated. The Mahsuds deemed it appropriate at this time to agree to a ceasefire because this new tactic adopted by the British was inflicting wide scale losses on their side. The ceasefire would also enable them to devise a strategy of how to counter the latest British advances.

Mulla Powenda died in 1913 AD. It can be said without doubt that he was the crown-less emperor of one of the most fierce some of Pashtoon Tribes; the Mahsuds. Upon his death, his son Shah Fazal Din was given leadership whereas his Son in Law Mulla Abdul Hakeem was appointed adviser.


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Mohiudin Mahsud - Powenda Mullah, Muhammad Shafi Sabir
Published in Khyber.ORG on Friday, September 16 2005 (