One Man Against an Empire - Faqir of Ipi :: Khyber.ORG

پښتو :: پښتانه :: پښتونخواه :: پښتونوالی

One Man against the Empire

The Faqir of Ipi and the British in Central Asia on the Eve of and during the Second World War

by Milan Hauner

This paper was first published in the Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 16, No. 1, The Second World War: Part 1 (Jan., 1981), 183-212. The paper is reproduced at Khyber.ORG with the kind permission of the author; Milan Hauner who is currently at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is the author of India in Axis Strategy, Germany, Japan, and Indian Nationalists in the Second World War (Stuttgart 1980).

Among the enemies of the British Empire on the eve of the Second World War the Faqir of Ipi was unique. He was the most determined, implacable single adversary the British Raj in India had to face amongst its own subjects, though he also utterly disregarded the logics of the international situation and unwittingly started a campaign when he had the least chance of attracting international sup-port against the British. As a guerrilla leader he was uncompromising, unyielding, obstinate and unscrupulous in the choice of combat methods against his opponents. These included traditional methods of tribal warfare such as ambush, kidnapping and mutilation. His hatred of the British bore no relation to raison d'état, though he was usually supported with money and military hardware by the Afghan authorities, especially so after the Partition, when he became the symbol of independent Pukhtunistan. The decision to attack was always his own; like the truces which he decided when his casualties had passed the accepted norm and it became necessary for him to retreat once again into the inaccessible hideouts of Waziristan. There he would wait for another opportunity to open hostilities, thus keeping the British army on the North-West Frontier fully mobilized. At one point nearly 40,000 British and Indian troops were reported to be in the field trying to capture him, while he remained elusive as ever, always succeeding in evading the tight net put around him. And yet, his own force of armed tribesmen probably never exceeded one thousand men, armed with rifles and a few machine-guns, and occasionally one or two pieces of antiquated cannon; he was always short of ammunition, had no radio communication, and relied for all his intelligence on the traditional network of informants and messengers. The British on the other hand had modern artillery, tanks and aircraft. 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.

Today, the name of Ipi is hardly remembered outside Muslim central Asia, and among the Europeans only by a handful of surviving administrators and soldiers who served on the Frontier. The Faqir of Ipi had of course a number of distinguished precursors in the region like the Hadda Mullah, a Mohmand leader in the 1890s, or the Powindah Mullah, whom Lord Curzon called a first-class scoundrel, because of the unprincipled methods of warfare he perfected amongst the Mahsuds.[1] Even the foremost authority on the region, Sir Olaf Caroe,[2] whose official correspondence in those days was, of course, full of the Faqir's name, does not mention him in his post-war historical study on the Pathans.[3]

The purpose of this article is not to pursue a tempting sentimental exercise in reviving the exploits of no doubt one of the most fascinating guerrilla leaders in a region which has today again become so topical since the recent Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, nor is it my intention to dwell on the parallel which the Faqir of Ipi might strike with an equally anachronistic religious fanatic, at the moment in control of Iran, namely Ayatollah Khomeini. However, the case of the Faqir of Ipi could be of great interest to historians since it opens the back door to an amazing story of guerrilla activities against a major power which were taking place in parallel to the main ideological conflict - at least as far as our Eurocentric approach still prefers to see those events - from which the Second World War emerged. From the Faqir's Islamic fundamentalist view of the world, terms like fascism and anti-fascism, must have been utterly irrelevant. The Pathan tribesmen were simply carrying on their centuries-old struggles for tribal independence, to keep their valleys free from foreign occupation, and accepted the Faqir as their supreme religious authority as one endowed with divine rights. Whether Hitler or Stalin were about to conquer the rest of the world, or the British about to quit India, did not concern them in the least, unless Nazi or Soviet troops entered their living space.

Whatever the struggle led by the Faqir of Ipi against the British might have looked like from the narrow perspective of the tribesmen, who had never accepted a state authority above them nor were they anxious to form a government of their own, their daring exploits were bound to attract the attention of the Great Powers interested in weakening or defeating the British Empire. Already during the First World War Imperial Germany had despatched Werner Otto von Hentig and Oskar von Niedermayer to Kabul with the purpose of winning over the Afghan government for a subversive scheme against British India, which was to be largely carried out by the Frontier tribes.[4] The mission failed but the idea persisted. The Axis powers, for instance, made several attempts to exploit the lonely "freedom hero of Waziristan" [5] 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.[6]

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 (priests), this brought no permanent solution. It had been one of Lord Curzon's great ambitions to bring the Frontier under full control gradually by means of his 'Close Border Policy', which consisted of replacing the permanent British military presence in the Tribal Territory by local militia, thereby leaving it as a sort of 'marshland' to go its own way.

However, this policy was no more successful than the previous 'Forward Policy' of conquest, as it did not prevent the tribesmen from raiding across the administered border. 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, the long dust-choked ride 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.[7]

The grievances of the border tribes were believed to be essentially economic - though from the tribesman's own point of view the motivation would be translated into their fundamental moral codes (Pukhtunwali), which imply retaliation and blood feud (Badal) in settling old disputes. And retaliate they did. The Pathan hill tribes rightly complained that the British, by pushing their control closer and closer to their areas, cut them off from their traditional recourse to raiding in the fertile valleys running down to the river Indus in the administered districts, which were populated mostly by the people who spoke the same language - Pashto (Pukhtu). Because the hills were too poor to maintain their inhabitants and, if there was no alternative source of income, their 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.[8] Theoretically, these were paid for services rendered, such as road and camp protection by the local tribal levies called khassadars. These 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. The khassadars, however, proved unreliable, 'more often than not keeping out of the way of the raiding gangs they are supposed to deal with', complained a British intelligence officer.[9] They were distrusted by the military who almost invariably insisted on the withdrawal of all khassadars from any area in which military operations took place. As a result of their dealings with the authorities on both sides of the Indo-Afghan border, the Wazirs and other Pathan 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 Pathan tribes as the largest known potential reservoir of guerrilla fighters in the world.[10] The British statistics of fighting strength and armament among the transborder tribes in the NWFP (meaning cis-Durand Line and excluding Chitral), corrected up to 1 April 1940, produced 414,000 fighting men armed with 233,562 breech-loading rifles or carbines; the corresponding figures for Baluchistan up to 1 April 1941, accounted for over 100,000 men and almost 18,000 rifles.[11] Thus, on paper 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.[12]

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.[13] It was the Frontier where the young Churchill had gained his first experience of direct fighting during the 1890s.[14] Sending troops on punitive expeditions against rebellious villages and bombing them from the air developed into something of a favourite sport, which received the full support of strong military commanders in India. 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.[15]

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. Here British imperial policy found itself between two extreme options: a more reasonable one which dictated a retreat to the Indus, and a more aggressive one which demanded the incorporation of all Pathans by pushing steadily forward to the Hindu Kush; but under the circumstances it chose the more difficult middle course.[16]

Throughout the 1930s public opinion in Britain and in the world became increasingly aware of the military escalation on the NWF of India - though public outrage was confined to intellectual circles and cannot be compared, for example, with the recent anti-Vietnam campaign in the United States. The British government were criticized at home and abroad for the 'uncivilized' pattern of warfare applied against civilian populations in the form of air bombing, in spite of the fact that this rarely happened without due warning in the form of leaflets dropped on the chosen target. 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."[17] 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. Needless to say, Soviet and Nazi propaganda relished exploiting the issue of British involvement against the tribes whenever it suited their aims.

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'. Thus, the military dispositions, involving the presence of large numbers of regular troops in advanced positions in the un-administered Tribal Territory, remained substantially unaltered when the war broke out.[18]

It is not easy to provide the basic biographical data on the Faqir of Ipi: his life has always been shrouded in mystery. He was born as Mirza Ali 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 first went to religious schools on the British side of the border, and, eventually, to a place near Jalalabad, where he became a murid (pupil) of the Naqib of Chaharbagh, at the time the most famous and influential religious leader in Afghanistan. In 1923 Mirza Ali Khan performed the Haj to Mecca 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.[19]

In March 1936, however, came the turning point in the Faqir's career. The incident was the trial case of the so-called 'Islam Bibi', which concerned an alleged abduction and forcible conversion to Islam of a Hindu girl, still a minor. The case aroused considerable local excitement in which the Daurs joined in at the Faqir's instigation. The British retaliated by sending two columns converging in the Khaisora river valley. They suppressed the agitation by imposing fines and by destroying the houses of the ringleaders, including that of the Faqir of Ipi. However, the triumph was not theirs. The subsequent planned 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 Islamic party, and he gradually added, measure by measure, a long catalogue of local Muslim grievances under the slogan 'Islam in Danger'.[20]

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. Since the early 1930s a radical Muslim movement in the NWFP, the Khudai Khidmatgaran (Servants of God), more popularly known as the 'Red Shirts', had made, rather unexpectedly since the NWFP was overwhelmingly a Muslim province, a common cause with Mahatma Gandhi's Congress Party. The Red Shirts, organized on a paramilitary basis under the charismatic leadership of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, called upon the tribesmen across the administered border to help the Congress to free the subcontinent from the British yoke.[21] During 1930-1931 the garrison of Peshawar had to quell an internal uprising in the city and to fight off an Afridi invasion, stirred up by the arrests of the Red Shirt leaders. Furthermore, the recent constitutional changes following the Government of India Act of 1935 which granted self-government to the eleven provinces of British India, indicated to the tribesmen that British authority over India was withering away in favour of a distant but still disquieting perspective of a possible Hindu take-over. Paradoxically, in September 1937 the NWFP became, thanks to the agitation of the Red Shirts, the only Muslim province with a Congress government.[22]

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, those columns sought him everywhere."[23] 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.[24] 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 in the field (a self-supporting tribal levy, capable of action without replenishments for about twenty days). 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:

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 a 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 (an opportunist miracle which must have appeared on the verge of fulfilment when aircraft were employed to drop leaflets...

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 Jehad against the British.[26] 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'.[27]

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,[28] 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.[29] 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 reprisals. 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.

Some voices 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.[30] 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 instructors." 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 unscrupulous methods to spread extremely bellicose anti-British propaganda among Indian visitors.[31]

But there was another unusual incident which occurred in 1938 on the Frontier, known as the Shami Pir affair, and in which the Axis powers were believed to be implicated. When by December 1937 nearly 40,000 British and Indian troops pulled back to their cantonments, the situation was no better than it had been at the beginning of the campaign twelve months earlier.[32] While the Faqir of Ipi was still left at large, a major threat of extraordinary dimension was developing in Southern Waziristan which might have brought down the ruling Afghan royal house of Yahya Khel. The story is worth telling, especially as it was connected with the appearance of Muhammad Saadi al Keilani, otherwise known as the Shami Pir - the holy man from Syria. His arrival was seen by many as playing the counterpoint to the actions of the Faqir of Ipi. The Keilani family claimed direct descent from the Prophet and spiritual leadership of one of the most important Islamic fraternities: the Quadiria. Muhammad Saadi, then a young man of thirty-seven years of age, had studied in Germany where he had married a daughter of a senior police officer from Potsdam. He was also, through his extended Afghan lineage, first cousin of ex-Queen Souriya, Amanullah's wife. During the latter's rule, he had visited India and Waziristan where he spent some time among his religious adherents. Thence he proceeded to Kabul where he stayed as a guest of the Foreign Minister and Amanullah's father-in-law, Mahmud Tarzi, whose sister had been the wife of Keilani's grandfather. Although King Amanullah had treated him in public with marked affection, there is little evidence - though Indian intelligence had a vested interest in proving the contrary - that Keilani maintained other than family contact with Amanullah's family in exile in Rome after the King's resignation in 1929.[33]

By the end of 1937 Keilani decided to visit India again, ostensibly for the purpose of collecting money (shukrana) from the Quadiris, which was customary among religious leaders. Since the British authorities saw nothing objectionable in these activities, he was granted a visa to India and arrived at Bombay on New Year's Day. Towards the end of January 1938 he entered NWFP and in March went further to Southern Waziristan. Until June he preached on religious matters, spent his time settling disputes amongst the tribes, and did his best to unite the Wazirs and Mahsuds. He gained a very large following and was deeply revered as a saintly person, the Shami Pir, like his counterpart the Faqir of Ipi in the northern half of Waziristan. Almost immediately upon his arrival on the Frontier, the Afghan government became deeply suspicious of his activities and alleged that he had come to stir up pro-Amanullah and anti-Yahya Khel propaganda, but Major Barnes, the Political Agent for Southern Waziristan, who had met Keilani several times, was not able to corroborate these suspicions.[34] However, on 13 June the Pir summoned against British wishes a jirga (tribal assembly) of some 3,000 tribesmen.

He openly denounced the ruling Afghan King Zahir Shah as a usurper and acclaimed Amanullah as the lawful king of Afghanistan.[35] This announcement, as Fraser-Tytler admitted in his annual report, unleashed a wave of fanatical enthusiasm which ran through south Waziristan with such electrifying effect that the tribesmen, predominantly Mahsuds, flocked in to join the Pir, who on the 23rd set out on his march to Kabul. It did not bother the Mahsuds in the slightest that less than ten years earlier they had played a leading role in installing Nadir Shah upon Amanullah's throne. They wanted to be kingmakers again. For four days the downfall of the Kabul government seemed very possible. The Pir's appeal, however, did not reach wider Amanist circles inside Afghanistan and his supporters failed to establish contact with the Ghilzai insurrection right across the Durand Line.[36]

"It was only with the most determined use of force combined with cajolery", writes Sir Olaf Caroe, a man with probably the best insight into the affair, "that the Government of India were able to secure the Pir's surrender and removal, and the break-up of lashkars already on their way to Kabul".[37] Fraser-Tytler, writing about the extraordinary incident long after the war, recalls that "it was a very narrow escape from a disaster of the first magnitude..."[38] 'The use of force' meant straightforward air bombing by the RAF of the Pir's lashkars before they could reach the Afghan border, and the word 'cajolery' - though Caroe does not elaborate further as if the details were too painful to reveal - suggests a handsome bribe of £25,000, offered to the Shami Pir on condition that he discontinue his activities and return to Syria at once. Hence, although the British authorities were rather slow in recognizing the threat, they were nevertheless extremely quick to meet it. Already on 25 June the Pir had agreed to the deal and was flown out of the country shortly thereafter.[39]

The Shami Pir affair left many people completely baffled as to the British scheme behind his activities. The German Minister in Kabul, Dr. Hans Pilger, admitted for instance to his British col-league, that he was totally at a loss to account for British policy on this occasion: was the Shami Pir a British agent introduced to Waziristan to raise the tribes against the Afghan government which, nevertheless, everyone assumed was pro-British, in the face of a potential Soviet aggression? Or was he somebody else's agent? Whose then?[40] As for Caroe, who was in charge of India's external relations during the war, he remained deeply convinced that the Shami Pir activities had been part of a more sinister Axis intrigue designed for the whole of the Middle East, of which the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem appeared to have been the chief exponent and which Indian intelligence failed to discover. It was not only the Shami Pir's family connection with Amanullah which worried Caroe so much. Another deeply intriguing pointer for him was the Keilani brotherhood in the Muslim world and he wondered whether there were not definite contacts between the Shami Pir and Rashid Ali al Gailani of Iraq, who, as Prime Minister, was to attempt in the spring of 1941 to ally his country with the Axis.[41]

Such conjectures were to be put forward frequently during the war, particularly after the British learned that the German Foreign Office and the Abwehr had contacted the Shami Pir. However, there is precious little evidence to show that he had been recruited by the Germans at any stage prior to or during the war to work for them for the restoration of Amanullah to power in a pro-Axis Afghanistan. Although the Shami Pir had visited Germany before the outbreak of the war in 1939, and took refuge there for the rest of the war after Syria had been recaptured by the Free French with British assistance, he denied to his British interrogators after the war that he had resumed contacts with Amanullah or had ever met Ghulam Siddiq Khan, the ex-King's most active supporter, in Berlin. Sometime in June 1939 for instance, British intelligence learnt that the Shami Pir had admitted in the course of a private conversation that the German authorities had expressed their displeasure at his failure to carry out the restoration of Amanullah to the Afghan throne.[42] Indeed, it is conceivable that the Pir might have been contacted during this time by von Hentig, who was the head of the Oriental Section in the Political Department of the Wilhelmstrasse 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.[43] But in 1939 Hentig certainly did not include Keilani in his secret plan for the restoration of Amanullah to power, which the Wilhelmstrasse and the Abwehr had hoped to put into effect with Moscow's help, following the conclusion of the Nazi-Soviet Pact.[44] By the end of 1940 the Pir was again contacted by the Germans at his home in Syria. There were rumours that he had been promised the Afghan throne if he would be prepared to go to India at once and to conduct his mission sucessfully. In January 1941 he was again visited by the Abwehr agent in Syria, Rudolf Roser, in the company of von Hentig, who was said to have been putting pressure on the Pir to go to Afghanistan to help to stir up a pro-Amanullah rebellion. Again the Pir refused.[45]

With the failure of the Shami Pir incident of 1938, the Axis missed its last chance on the eve of the Second World War to exploit the tribes against either government. Further, during the war, even in the early stages when the Axis held the military initiative and had sympathies among the Muslims, such unique opportunities as the rising in Waziristan under the Faqir of Ipi in 1936-7, and the Shami Pir incident in the following year, never presented themselves again.

Let us now return to the Faqir of Ipi - still the main protagonist on the Frontier - who remained rather inactive during the Shami Pir agitation. There are some striking points of similarity and dissimilarity between these two men. First of all, it remains but a speculation that the two religious leaders could have combined their powerful charisma and organizational talents in raising both parts of Waziristan for a common purpose. While the Faqir needed Afghan assistance, or at least friendly neutrality, for his activities against the British who were, after all, his chief enemy, the Pir ventured in an opposite direction: he agitated for the overthrow of the existing Afghan government in favour of Amanullah's restoration. This he did, it appears, without the ex-King's explicit instructions, let alone direct involvement. For this he required at least some British connivance, if open support was ruled out. Although the Pir was later to claim that he had gained the Faqir's active support for his venture, Indian intelligence denied this resolutely.[46]

Thus, given the specific conditions prevailing on the Frontier, it could not be argued that the Syrian adventurer prevailed against the local religious fanatic. During the war however, the Faqir, though quick to explore unscrupulously any opportunity which could guarantee him Axis supplies of money and arms, proved extremely furtive whenever Axis agents tried to establish a direct communication with him via their diplomatic missions in Kabul. He did not want to be harnessed into any anti-British scheme which would not be of his own doing. As far as the reports of the Faqir's alleged support for Amanullah during the war are concerned, these must be taken with a pinch of salt.[47] Although one can never be certain whether his loyalty to the Yahya Khel in Kabul would have resisted the temptation to join the pro-Amanullah forces had they been present in sufficient strength and had they been supported by the majority of the Waziri tribes, as long as Amanullah was physically absent and the German intrigues insignificant, there was no reason to expect the Faqir to change sides too hastily.[48] Moreover, had the 'godless' Soviets been a party, alongside the Germans, in a pro-Amanullah coup, one cannot imagine the Faqir working hand in glove with them and the ex-King, whose radical reforms of the 1920s he must have loathed. In any case, the last chance for the Axis to gain the Faqir's collaboration expired in the summer of 1941, at the height of German influence in Afghanistan and prior to the formation of the Anglo-Soviet alliance.[49]

Things might have looked different had that great intriguer, Hentig, replaced Pilger as the head of the German Legation at Kabul. Immediately after Barbarossa commenced, the Nazi Foreign Minister Ribbentrop issued instructions to Hentig to go to Kabul. His task was not only to observe and report on, but to support actively 'the national independence movements in Iran and Afghanistan, particularly in so far as these are connected and cooperate with one another'.[50] Hentig was further instructed to ascertain British strength and position both in India and Afghanistan, 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, which also brought about, later in November following the events in Iran, the expulsion of Axis nationals from Afghanistan.[51]

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.'[52] 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.[53] But how the Axis would have used Amanullah and the Faqir of Ipi at the same time has never been explained in detail. On the other hand, Quaroni played a crucial role in helping Subhash 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.[54] 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 India, 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.[55]

Bose indeed assigned the Tribal Territory an important role to play in his comprehensive 'Plan for Cooperation Between the Axis Powers and India', 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 obsession with ousting the British from India, Bose was convinced that the 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.[56] 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.[57] 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.[58] 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,[59] 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, which the Axis did not find difficult as long as the Soviet territory remained open for traffic to and from Afghanistan, but that of converting pounds sterling and US dollars into a convenient currency like Afghanis or Indian Rupees which the Faqir's men could use.

Indian intelligence, suspecting that links between the Axis and the Faqir had existed for some time, first received concrete evidence in June 1941, after the arrest of the interpreter to the Italian Legation in Kabul while he was visiting his relatives in Baluchistan. According to his statement, 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.[60] He also supplied the British with the names of Afghan officials and army officers collaborating with the Italians and with the Faqir, which were then used by the British and Indian governments to bring more pressure to bear upon the Kabul authorities.[61] When Quaroni was confronted with this statement, it infuriated him that the British 'could have swallowed the most palpable rubbish' and made themselves 'ridiculous in Afghan eyes by using it as evidence'.[62] 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. Anzilotti reported that the Faqir was in principle ready to start action against the British on the Frontier, but 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.[63]

The Germans, too, wanted to establish their own link with the Faqir. But unlike the Italian improvisation theirs had to be on a truly grandiose 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 when Barbarossa was expected to be completed. The plan had been hatched by Abwehr II, responsible for sabotage and subversion, whose commander stipulated Tiger's task as follows:

  1. to incite the Frontier tribes, mainly the Mohmands, Afridis and Wazirs;
  2. to damage important military installations in North-West India; and
  3. to supply weapons to the tribes so as to enable them to attack field fortifications prepared by the British in the Frontier passes.[64]

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.[65] Meanwhile, in Kabul, preparations for the full-scale uprising on the Frontier (Grossaufstand) were in full swing. The chief Abwehr agent there, Lieutenant Witzel, 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;[66] 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.[67]

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 Oberdörffer 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.[68] To save face in the eyes of ever watchful British and Soviet diplomats, and in order to preserve the policy of strict neutrality during the war, the Afghan government ostensibly 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.[69]

In spite of the fact that the Logar incident amply 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. Besides, their staff had to be engaged, in the eyes of Berlin and Rome, in some meaningful activities to justify their presence in Kabul. In view of the pending Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran and, possibly, of Afghanistan, Ribbentrop in Berlin readily agreed to spend as quickly as possible the balance left over from the original sum of one million Reichsmarks in hard currency and gold, which had been earmarked for subversive activities in Afghanistan and India. 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 whereas their poor Italian partners could afford nothing of this sort.[70] However, despite receiving Axis money, the Faqir still failed to launch a 'large-scale' operation against the British which he had been promising for some time. Since 1941 Indian intelligence had been haunted by repeated rumours - which were also partly self-generated as it later transpired - 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.[71] By February 1943 Indian intelligence estimated that the Faqir must so far have accrued about half-a-million Afghanis paid to him through the Axis legations.[72] 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 no wireless transmitter nor any receiver, but only a simple radio set. Nor were any Europeans in Gorwekht, nor had there been any let alone those mysterious Germans.[73] As for the notorious Faqir of Ipi, during the dramatic months of 1941 he 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.[74]

But in the following spring, symptoms of growing tribal unrest became clearly discernible in Waziristan as 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.[75] 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.[76] 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 nationals had already been expelled from Afghanistan, leaving behind only a skeleton staff at both legations.[77]

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.'[78] 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'.[79] Since I have treated the complex reasons for German indecision elsewhere,[80] I shall confine myself to dealing with events directly relevant to our main theme.

During the August Rebellion in India the only noticeable increase in Axis activities was through their radio propaganda. But apart from broadcasting, no concrete assistance was forthcoming from the Axis. Was it conceivable at all to despatch for instance to the North-West Frontier a mixed unit of German and Italian paratroopers, supplemented with a limited number of ex-Indian prisoners-of-war who were willing to fight for the Axis? The Abwehr II had already discussed such plans in August 1941 but decided to postpone action till German troops advanced nearer to India.[81] But in the spring of 1942 there was already some uncoordinated fighting going on in western India, which had tied up British and Indian troops and thus given the Axis planners ample time to initiate some kind of direct military assistance before the August riots. As mentioned earlier, in Northern Waziristan, the Faqir of Ipi besieged Datta Khel and was appealing to the Axis for financial assistance and ammunition which could have been dropped by airplanes.[82] Further south, a fanatical sect of Hurs, dacoits from Sind, stepped up terrorist actions against railway lines, frequently interrupting traffic between Karachi, Hyderabad and Lahore, and in June martial law had to be proclaimed over the area. The atrocities committed by the Hurs during the train-wrecking continued well into the spring of 1943, when their savage leader Pir Pagaro was then finally caught and sentenced to death.[83] 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, the main American base in India at the time, with the approaches to Afghanistan and the NWFP.[84] 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.[85]

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'.[86] 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 Asian 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 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.[87] 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 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 Pathan 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 Wilhelmstrasse that the moment was not propitious enough to antagonize the existing Afghan government in favour of Amanullah.[88]

It was not earlier than December 1942, when the main thrust of the Congress Rebellion had already been suppressed, that the chief Abwehr agent in Kabul, Lieutenant Witzel, produced his most comprehensive scheme yet for an all-round military action to be staged on the Frontier.[89] 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 naive, for 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. Witzel'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 the cargo would have amounted to 5,000 tons and this would have to be transported over a distance of 4,000 kilometres. This the 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. Yet, with whatever scepticism we may approach late German schemes for an Axis-instigated major tribal uprising, whose most striking feature was its overestimation of inter-tribal cohesion - not to mention a remarkable disregard of such broader military factors as logistics - one wonders even today what might have happened in central Asia during the second half of 1942, if at the height of the German military triumph even a few Axis planes had landed or paratroopers been dropped on the Frontier.

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 the Volga at a terrific pace. If Pilger and Quaroni were really dangerous men 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 formations of British-Indian troops were they likely to get or at what more suitable juncture?...The Axis Legations

  1. undoubtedly had some money though probably not enough to foment large trouble either in internal India or on the Frontier;
  2. that whatever they had in the way of resources they had so far succeeded in giving us very little trouble - after more than three years of war - 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.[90]

A 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 the Faqir of Ipi were a sheer waste of time and money. The most propitious time, he maintained, to start action against the British on the Frontier would have been in the autumn of 1940. But the Germans 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:

  1. The Faqir's authority was too circumscribed;
  2. even with unlimited supplies of arms the Faqir could not gather more than 10,000 adherents;
  3. he and his men would be useless outside their mountain fastness;
  4. 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 sending 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 unmercifully to bomb the Faqir's headquarters and all surrounding villages.[91]

During 1944 the Frontier remained unusually quiet, the peace being occasionally disrupted by the customary raiding and by British retaliation in the form of air bombing. Although German intrigues with the Faqir continued, they were entirely harmless. Nevertheless, one might still ask why the Germans continued to pursue those futile activities when the prospects of a decisive military breakthrough in favour of the Axis powers had vanished by the end of 1942? The answer lies partly in a strong tendency to survival which is characteristic of all bureaucratic institutions, even if these activities are no longer useful. In order to justify their presence in neutral Afghanistan, Axis diplomats and agents displayed feverish bogus activity which, of course, nobody in Berlin could verify. Although it was clear to all participants in the game at both ends that a second major upheaval in India was no longer possible, that there was not the slightest chance of inciting the Frontier tribes through direct Axis assistance, they carried on their activities, be it in Kabul or at the receiving end in Berlin, as if such an opportunity was ever very close. On the British side we can observe a similar bureaucratic phenomenon in the desire to show off in 'successfully tracking down German agents', particularly among members of Indian intelligence, civilian or military, watching the Frontier from Peshawar or Quetta. They would have been even more frustrated had they known about the true 'Great Game', which was the double-crossing of Axis plans through the exploits of the multiple agent 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.[92]

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 to make yet another attempt to unite the Mahsuds and the Wazirs.[93] 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 Adbul Ghaffar Khan for an independent Pukhtunistan, thus transferring his old hatred of the British to the new Pakistani authorities - 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.[94] The Faqir is known to have made a series of overtures to Pandit Nehru, whom he allegedly addressed as 'King of India'[95] - but to no avail. Apart from receiving constant encouragement and material help from the Kabul government, who referred to the Faqir of Ipi as the 'President of the National Assembly for Pukhtunistan',[96] he increasingly became suspected of being in receipt of Soviet assistance - though this allegation still needs to be substantiated by hard evidence. However, in 1955, that is when the Faqir was still alive and fighting, the Afghan Prime Minister Prince Daud, who 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'.[97]

Although it may appear that particularly since the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, Russia has been nearer to the 'just settlement' of the Frontier problem than at any time in her history, one should not forget Lord Curzon's dictum: 'I do not prophesy about the future. No man who has read a page of Indian history will ever prophesy about the Frontier.'[98]


Library Sources & abbreviations used in references

I wish to thank Prof. R. E. Frykenberg, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, for his valuable comments.


  1. MAJOR GENERAL J.G. ELLIOTT., The Frontier 1939-1947. The Story of the North-West Frontier of India (London 1968), 165-174, 228-331.
  2. Entered the India Civil Service in 1919. Political Officer in the NWFP since 1923 and from 1933-4 Chief Secretary to its Governor. From 1934-7 Deputy Secretary in the Foreign and Political Department of the Government of India. Between 1937-8 British Resident in Waziristan and Agent to the Governor General in Baluchistan. From 1938-9 Revenue Commissioner in Baluchistan. From 1939-45 Secretary of the External Affairs Department, Government of India. From 1946-7 Governor of the NWFP.
  3. SIR OLAF CAROE, The Pathans, 550 B.C.-A.D. 1957 (London 1958).
  4. War Office London, VON HENTIG, Mein Leben eine Dienstreise (Gottingen 1962), 91-199;
    O. VON NIEDERMAYER, Im Weltkrieg vor Indiens Toren (Hamburg 1942);
    see also the recent critical investigation by R. VOGEL, Die Persien und Afghanistan expedition, Oskar Ritter v. Niedermayers 1915/16 (Osnabrück 1976).
  5. This is an allusion to a title of a pamphlet published in Nazi Germany by E. TEWES, Der Freiheitsheld von Waziristan (Aalen 1940).
  6. There is some scanty evidence that in 1937 the Soviets through their Naval Attaché offered advice and assistance to Afghan military cadets in Turkey who had requested it for the Faqir of Ipi (N 3943/14/97, FO 371/21065).
  7. W. K. FRASER-TYTLER, Afghanistan (London 1967), 190-191.
  8. War Office 208/773: Tribal allowances in the NWFP.
  9. Ibid. Tribal cooperation in the NWF.
  10. This has been surprisingly ignored in the recent literature on the guerrillas. The recent massive and authoritative book by ROBERT B. ASPREY, War in the Shadows. The Guerrilla in History is a telling illustration of this negligence. Even recent publications by authors in India and Pakistan on this subject are no exception, e.g. B. N. MAJUMDAR, The Little War (New Delhi 1967); M. AKBAR KHAN, Guerrilla Warfare. Its Past, Present and Future (Karachi w.d.).
  11. War Office 208/773 & 774.
  12. Compiled from: The Royal Institute of International Affairs, Political and Strategic Interests of the United Kingdom (London 1939), 284-285;
    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), 35-37, 118-120;
    Cabinet Papers 68: W.P.(R)(39)5.
  13. See reminiscences of Field-Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, who served as a brigade commander on the Frontier during the 1930s, in C. ALLEN (ed.), Plain Tales from the Raj (London 1977), 197.
  14. W. S. CHURCHILL, My Early Life 1874-1908 (London 1969), 107-167.
  15. FRASER-TYTLER, op. cit., 269.
  16. Ibid., 270.
  17. C. F. ANDREWS, The Challenge of the North-West Frontier. A Contribution to World Peace (London 1937), 10.
  18. Memorandum by the Viceroy on Frontier Policy, 22 July 1939, Indian Office Records L/P&S/ 12/3265.
  19. Note on the Faqir of Ipi, 24 June 1937, War Office 208/773.
  20. Ibid.; Activities in Khaisora Valley. Foreign Office 371/20313-20314;
    Activities of the Faqir of Ipi: Indian Office Records L/P&S/12/3236-3237, 3192-3193, 3249, 3217-3219;
    Waziristan 1933-1938: War Office 106/5446, Foreign Office 371/24766;
    see also ELLIOTT, op. cit., 271-289;
    A. SWINSON, North-West Frontier. People and Events 1839-1947 (London 1967), 327-332;
    G. N. MOLESWORTH, Curfew on Olympus (London 1965), 115-120.
  21. R. COUPLAND, The Indian Problem 1933-1935 (Oxford 1943), 127;
    id., Indian Politics 1936-1942 (Oxford 1943), 121-123;
    SWINSON, op. cit., 305-320;
    J. W. SPAIN, The Pathan Borderland (The Hague 1963), 165-173;
    CAROE, op. cit., 431-434.
  22. Ibid.; cf. also the unpublished PhD thesis by S. RITTENBERG, The Independence Movement in India's North-West Frontier Province, 1901-1947 (Columbia Univ. 1977).
  23. See the News Review of 8 June 1939, which estimated that the cost of the thirty months effort to capture the Faqir must have been in the region of £10 million. Cf. also ELLIOTT, op. cit., 273.
  24. N 4935/14/97, FO 371/21065.
  25. Intelligence Report on NWF, 24 June 1937, WO 208/773.
  26. N 5642/14/97, FO 371/21065.
  27. J. NEHRU, A Bunch of Old Letters (Bombay 1960), 251-252.
  28. N 5820/14/97, FO 371/21065.
  29. Foreign Office 371/22234-22238. The Afghan Prime Minister Muhammad Hashim Khan admitted to the British Minister in Kabul that it was quite impossible for the Afghan government, for usual reasons of religion and loss of face with their own people, to cooperate with the British in armed operations against the Faqir of Ipi (Indian Office Records L/P&S/ 12/3236).
  30. Indian Office Records L/P&S/I2/3249;
    see also N 3281/14/97, Foreign Office 371/21065;
    and the Daily Express of 17 May 1937.
  31. Foreign Office 371/23630 and Indian Office Records L/P&S/12/3249.
  32. Thirty-six battalions of infantry, almost the entire air force, and substantial artillery and auxiliary units were deployed in Waziristan. Cf. Operations in Waziristan, December 1937-December 1938, by Gen. R. A. Cassels, C-in-C India, 13 April 1939, War Office 106/365;
    see also SPAIN, op. cit., 185;
    SWINSON, op. cit., 328-331;
    ELLIOTT, op. cit., 278-281.
  33. Caroe's letter No. 7989 of 25 August 1945 to 10 with enclosure, IOR L/P&S/I2/3258; Afghanistan-Annual Report 1938, FO 371/23630;
    Diary of Mil. Attaché-Kabul, FO 371/22248; IOR L/P&S/12/3255-3258; CAB 24/278: C.P. 188.
  34. Ibid.; Interrogation of Shami Pir in October 1945 by Lt.-Col. H. 0. de Gale, FO 371/45216;
    Comments by Dep. Director Intelligence, Peshawar, NWFP, February 1946, IOR L/P&S/I2/3258.
  35. Ibid.; Report from Brit. Consulate-Damascus, 26 August 1939, IOR L/P&S/ 12/ 1656.
  36. Afghanistan-Annual Report 1938; Kabul to FO, 27 February 1941, IOR L/P&S/ 12/ 1778.
  37. CAROE, op. cit., 407-409.
  38. FRASER-TYTLER, op. cit., 266-267.
  39. Cf. IOR L/P&S/12/3255-3258. Sir George Cunningham, Governor of NWFP, reveals in his diary (entry 29 June 1938) that he himself had to draw a cheque for the Shami Pir from his own bank (cf. IOR MSS.Eur. D.670).
  40. Kabul to FO, 16 March 1939, IOR L/P&S/12/1758.
  41. See footnote 33 above.
  42. Ibid.; and further FO 371/23614-23619; IOR L/P&S/12/3257.
  43. See footnote 4 above.
  44. IOR L/P&S/12/1656. The German-sponsored Amanullah Plan of 1939/40 is discussed in detail in chapter 11-4 of my forthcoming book India in Axis Strategy. Germany, Japan, and Indian Nationalists in the Second World War (Stuttgart 1980).
  45. See Hentig's manuscript 'Aufzeichnungen 1934-1969' vol. 2, chapter 'Reise nach Syrien', 9, Institut für Zeitgeschichte, Munich. Hentig does not disclose the true nature of his political mission to the Shami Pir and reveals no more than trivialities. For the British view: IOR L/P&S/12/256, 3257-3258.
  46. Note on the case of the Shami Pir, prepared by the Intelligence Bureau, GOI, in IOR L/P&S/I2/3258.
  47. E.g. GOI to 10, No. 2704 of 25 July 1940, WO 106/3651.
  48. Peshawar Weekly Intelligence Summary, No. 41 of 9 October 1939.
  49. Ibid., No. 39 of 25 September 1939.
  50. GFO 329/195546-8; see also Hentig, Aufzeichnungen, 1957, vol. 2, 41-42.
  51. See chapter 111-3 in HAUNER, India in Axis Strategy (under footnote 44 above).
  52. See footnote 31 above.
  53. Report by Dr. Georg Ripken, head of the German trade delegation in Kabul, 7 November 1939, GFO 617/249899-910.
  54. See chapter 11-8 in Hauner, India in Axis Strategy.
  55. Extracts from Quaroni's report of 2 April 1941, as reported in S. C. BOSE, The Indian Struggle 1920-1942 (Calcutta 1964), 415-418.
  56. GFO 195/139137-43.
  57. As compiled from IOR R/12/1/131, L/P&S/ 12/1805; F0371/34931,34932, 39936; WO 208/30.
  58. GFO 617/249975, 195/139145-9.
  59. GFO 617/249926, 249956-7, 249958. After the war Hentig claimed that the money had never reached the Faqir (cf. Hentig, Aufzeichnungen, vol. 2, 36).
  60. IOR L/P&S/12/3249, R/12/1/131.
  61. IOR L/P&S/12/1778.
  62. E 8036/1757/97, FO 371/34932.
  63. GFO 617/249975. It was only symptomatic of Italo-German relations that the Abwehr denied the claim of their more successful partners that Anzilotti had visited the Faqir of Ipi. The Germans accused Quaroni of keeping the money for himself (cf. R. SCHNABEL [ed.], Tiger und Schakal. Deutsche Indienpolitik 1941-1943. Ein Dokumentarbericht, Vienna 1968, 198-199).
  64. BA-MA/RW 5, OKW/Ausland/Abwehr, Lahousen Tagebuch, 118, 138.
  65. Ibid., 138-139.
  66. GFO 617/249956-7.
  67. The agent's name was Rahmat Khan. He was a member of the Kirti Kisan Party in the Punjab which was known as crypto-communist. In January 1941, he escorted S. C. Bose from Peshawar to Kabul. For more details about this extraordinary double-agent of the Second World War, see M. Hauner, India in Axis Strategy.
  68. Lahousen, op. cit., 118, 138; GFO 329/195561-3, 4748H/E233441-9; IOR L/P&S/12/1572 & 1778.
  69. GFO 617/249988-90; cf. also GFO 329/195554-63.
  70. GFO 617/250004, 329/195539.
  71. Army & Air Headquarters Intelligence Weekly Summary of NWF & Afghanistan, No. 30 of 29 July 1941, No. 37 of 19 September 1941, and No. 45 of 14 November 1941.
  72. Ibid., No. 2 of 15 January 1942, No. 11 of 20 March 1942, No. 13 of 4 April 1942; Kabul Weekly Intelligence Summary, No. 2 of 16 January 1943, No. 5 of 5 February 1943, and No. 7 of 19 February 1943.
  73. IOR R/12/1/122.
  74. GOI to 10, No. 5889 of 27 October 1941, WO 208/26; cf. also 'Indien Nachrichten', No. 1 of 5 November 1941, GFO 41/28568.
  75. General Headquarters India Weekly Intelligence Summary of NWF & Afghanistan, Nos. 18-24 from 8 May to 19 June 1942.
  76. CAB 68/9:W.P.(R)(42) 29, 33, 38, 43; FO 371/34928.
  77. Kabul to GOI, No. 221 of 19 June 1942, F0 371/31324; GFO 195/139669-71. On the expulsion of Axis nationals from Afghanistan, see M. HAUNER, India in Axis Strategy, chapter 111-3.
  78. N. MANSERGH and E. W. R. LUMBY (eds.), The Transfer of Power 1942-1947. Constitutional Relations between Britain and India (london 1971), vol. 2, No. 662.
  79. Two memoranda by F. J. Furwangler, member of the 'Sonderreferat Indien' at the GFO Berlin, dated 26 September and 9 October 1942, GFO 1313/350076-80, 350069-73.
  80. In this article I have concentrated on the German side only; the Japanese factor has been analyzed in my forthcoming book.
  81. LAHOUSEN, op. cit., 175-176, 190;
    SCHNABEL, op. cit., 98-99, 142;
    GFO 195/139273;
    cf. GFO document of August 1941 entitled 'Die indische Nord-westgrenzprovinz', GFO 1314/350132-204.
  82. GFO 1065/312851, 312904, 312966; 195/139919-21, 140043-5; cf. also The Times (London) of 10 July and 13 August 1942.
  83. WO 208/786 & 795, 106/3712; CAB 68/9:W.P.(R)(42) 29.
  84. Ibid.; MOLESWORTH, op. cit., 237-243; the Manchester Guardian of 20 March 1943.
  85. LAHOUSEN, op. cit., 226.
  86. G. E. CROMBIE, Principal in 10 Pol. Dept., to R. T. Peel, Head of 10 Pol. Dept., 22-24 December 1941, IOR L/P&S/12/1789.
  87. GFO 617/250184-8, 329/195476-7.
  88. GFO 86/62917-63.
  89. GFO 195/140047-64.
  90. Comments on Peshawar Intelligence Summaries on Events in Afghanistan by F. WYLIE to D. Pilditch, Director of Intelligence Bureau, Delhi, 21 October 1942, IOR L/P&S/12/1928.
  91. E 8036/1757/97, FO 371/34932; see footnote 57 above.
  92. See footnote 67 above.
  93. FO 371/52290; India Command Fortnightly Intelligence Summary, No. 12 of 7 June 1946, in WO 208/761A.
  94. IOR L/P&S/12/3241.
  95. The Dawn (Karachi) of 28 June 1948.
  96. SPAIN, op. cit., 237-243.
  97. The Dawn (Karachi) of 18 December 1955;
    R. T. AKHRAMOVICH, Afganistan posle vtoroi mirovoi voiny (Moscow 1961), 146, 171;
    M. R. ARUNOVA, Afganistan - spravochnik (Moscow 1964), 215;
    see also R. D. HICKS, An Analysis of Afghanistan-Pakistan Tensions 1947-57 (M.A. Thesis Stanford 1958), 93-95.
  98. Lord Curzon of Kedleston, Speeches as Viceroy and Governor-Genera/ of India 1898-1905 (London 1906), 43.