The Faqir of Ipi and the Taliban

Published: April 18, 2012

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad. He has previously worked at The Express Tribune and Newsline

In 1936, a man named Mirza Ali Khan launched what may have been the most successful armed anti-colonial rebellion in British India. Khan, better known as the Faqir of Ipi, had a reputation for saintliness but that was soon overshadowed by his exploits as an insurgent. That year, a 15-year-old Hindu girl married a considerably older Pakhtun man in a tempestuous love affair. Since the girl, who had the moniker Islam Bibi bestowed on her was a minor, her wishes bore little truck with the British and she was returned to her family. Khan, who was from Waziristan, took this as an incitement against the Pakhtun tribes and launched a revolt that was able to withstand British military expeditions thanks to unorthodox guerrilla tactics.

At the time, Khan was a legend for his military exploits; now he barely exists in the general consciousness. This may be because, unlike the radical Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his Khudai Khidmatgar, Khan is a figure less attuned to modern sensibilities. Sure, he was an anti-colonial figure on a par with any other, but his movement was spurred by a marriage that would now be seen as illegitimate. He preached a version of Islam that would be disdained as distinctly Taliban-ian and had no compunctions in allying with the Afghan government or the Axis powers during the Second World War. Khan never reconciled himself to the idea of Pakistan and even declared himself president of the territory he inhabited after Partition. Simply put, being right on the central question of his time — the presence of the colonial British in the subcontinent — was not enough to make him an undisputed hero.

This brings us to the various militant factions fighting under the Taliban rubric. Stipulating from the start that the inhuman tactics of the Taliban are not to be condoned, it is instructive to compare it with the Faqir of Ipi for the way it fuses anti-imperial ideology with its depiction of itself as a religious vanguard.

Our need to instantly label the Taliban as a uniquely reactionary force that has no roots in history is undercut by the existence of past Pakhtun movements, like that of Mirza Ali Khan. Just as the Taliban use suicide bombings as a weapon, Khan’s men were accused of castrating those they fought; both saw themselves as the last, best hope of saving Islam; and the British colonisers have been replaced by the imperialistic Americans and their predator drones.

We need to acknowledge the strain of religious nationalism that exists in both and realise that while we may look upon that of Khan’s with detached understanding, we would never extend the same courtesy to the Taliban.

But to do so is important — remembering once again that this in no way implies support for the Taliban’s tactics — to dispel the ahistorical impression that the Taliban are an unprecedented evil. The natural human tendency to egotistically believe that what is happening right now is so very unique as to render history as a mere prologue leads to support measures, like military operations and US drone strikes that we would not consider otherwise.

As for the Faqir of Ipi, after Partition, he gradually faded into irrelevance although not before the Pakistan Army fought his men in Razmak (in one of those ironies history loves so much, the army brigade was led by one Ayub Khan). His pose as the saviour of Islam lost its sheen once Pakistan actually came into existence. Such is history. When a group — no matter how menacing it seems — loses its reason for existence, it tends to slowly disappear.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (24)

  • Anonymous
    Apr 19, 2012 - 12:52AM

    What is your point? I couldn’t figure it out!

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  • BlackJack
    Apr 19, 2012 - 12:56AM

    In 1936, a man named Mirza Ali Khan launched what may have been the most successful armed anti-colonial rebellion in British India. You have got to be joking. In order to write this cloyingly sympathetic article about the Taliban, you have raised up some forgotten vigilante cradle-robber from the dead and made him a hero to boot. At least the British returned the young girl to her parents – these days in Pakistan even kidnap victims aren’t accorded this courtesy.

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  • faraz
    Apr 19, 2012 - 2:57AM

    But faqir didnt kill 1000 pushtoon maliks

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  • Khan
    Apr 19, 2012 - 3:45AM

    Nadir, there is an ideological difference between faqir ipi and these savages of today .. In those times religion was not forcefully imposed on others and Faqir ipi’s only aim was to keep their land free from outsiders thus once the English left, their struggle was almost over.
    While on the other hand TTP etc’s aim is to implement their twisted views on the majority via force even once US & Nato leaves the area.

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  • Syed
    Apr 19, 2012 - 4:23AM

    Faqir of Ipi was also the grandfather of Jalaluddin Haqqani and who declared war against the state of Pakistan back then. See the 70 year connection…

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  • Jawad
    Apr 19, 2012 - 4:48AM

    It was more like a jumbled up article and in the end I could only conclude that the writer stressed that Nobleness lies in one group while the Problem makers are another conspirators. But in my view In fact The race supremacy and nobleness is a big problem in Pakistan..

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  • Goraya Sb
    Apr 19, 2012 - 9:17AM

    Metro Islamabad is situtated on the road named Faqir Ippi Road….

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  • Apr 19, 2012 - 9:20AM

    An extremely well written article. I had written a blog-zine series around the same topic called NWFP History on Pakteahouse. Taliban are historical heirs to Mullah Pawindah and Faqir of Ipi. The Pushtun flirtation with puritan Islam and violent resistance itself is historically linked to the Syed Ahmed’s “jihad” against Ranjit Singh’s Government in Lahore. Pawindah extended it against British Raj and Faqir of Ipi also attacked Pakistan as “unIslamic bastion of qadianism”. Bacha Khan supported the Faqir wholeheartedly which is where Pushtun nationalism comes into the mix. And finally – the current leader of TTP – Gul Bahadur- is Faqir of Ipi’s grandson. Well done Mr. Hassan for speaking out though now be prepared for blowback by Pushtun Nationalists.

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  • Apr 19, 2012 - 9:27AM

    a version of Islam that would be disdained as distinctly Taliban-ian

    That is not exactly true, Faqir of Ipi was a murid of the Pir Naqib of Charbagh, which makes him a barelvi, it also makes his version in line with the local interpretation of Islam.

    Furthermore he built consensus and leveraged jirgas whereas the Taliban are decimating jirgas and imposing themselves on the local population.

    Where Faqir’s movement died with his death, the Taliban change a figure head every few years; Naik Muhammad Wazir, Baitullah Mehsud etc.

    The appeal of Faqir’s message mostly remained confined to the people of Waziristan. Where as the Taliban get fighters from across the planet.

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  • Mirza
    Apr 19, 2012 - 9:42AM

    This low level article is a whole lot of nothing but hogwash. It is a crude attempt to portray the religious extremists as the freedom fighters.

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  • observer
    Apr 19, 2012 - 10:28AM

    @Nadir Hassan

    When a group — no matter how menacing it seems — loses its reason for existence, it tends to slowly disappear.

    Are you , by any chance. advocating establishment of a Talibani Caliphate, in the hope that then it will ‘lose its reason for existence’?

    God Forbid.

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  • Dawar
    Apr 19, 2012 - 11:56AM

    @Syed: Haqqni is Afghani and Ipi Faqeer was Waziristani… Tori Khel Tribe.. Haqani is Zadran Tribe…

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  • Ali
    Apr 19, 2012 - 1:25PM

    People fail to see the point in the argument. Please focus on the following line:

    “When a group — no matter how menacing it seems — loses its reason for existence, it tends to slowly disappear”

    Until TTP enjoys local reactionary support due to our participation in war on terror they will be strong in tribal areas. As soon as we tell the world that they have to continue their war without us and we cannot partake in it any more, TTP will lose its reason for existence, thus we will be able to overcome it with tribal co-operation.

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  • vasan
    Apr 19, 2012 - 3:12PM

    “his movement was spurred by a marriage that would now be seen as illegitimate”
    After Rinkle kumari’s alleged marriage, things have not changed in this part of the country.

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  • lol
    Apr 19, 2012 - 5:16PM

    Ah, new addition to Pakistan tribal experts. ;)

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  • Dr V. C. Bhutani
    Apr 19, 2012 - 5:36PM

    This is a welcome throw back to the events of 1936-37 which saw the rise of Mirza Ali Khan (1897–1960), who became better known as the Faqir of Ipi. I happened to read some of the newspapers of Punjab when I was researching a subject which I may call rather ungrandly “Punjab 1937”. I managed to read some English and Punjabi (Gurmukhi) newspapers. I am sure Mr Nadir Hassan can have access to newspapers like The Tribune and The Civil and Military Gazette, both of which used to publish from Lahore in those days. There must be libraries in Pakistan, as there are in India, which still maintain old files of these newspapers.
    The Faqir of Ipi could hardly be called even a precursor of the latter day Taliban. The British Indian government of those days used to call anyone who picked up arms against the British government as a terrorist, although perhaps that appellation had no relation to an extreme form of Islamism – the Taliban today claim to work for the glory of Allah, Islam, Quran, and Muhammad. Even non-Muslims who picked up arms against the British government were called terrorists. The National Archives of India in New Delhi is full of files on the subject.
    The Faqir of Ipi never formed a group or led a movement for any objective. He was spoken of more often as an outlandish person who was disturbing the public peace, although it is refreshing to be reminded, as Mr Nadir Hassan does, that the Faqir of Ipi was working for nothing less than the restoration of a marriage which was probably based on a forced conversion. The Faqir of Ipi had hardly anything more than a certain nuisance value in the view of the British administrators.
    V. C. Bhutani, Delhi, India, 19 Apr 2012, 1805 ISTRecommend

  • Zalmai
    Apr 19, 2012 - 5:42PM

    @Dawar
    Waziris are Pashtuns just like the Zadrans and that is the common denominator.

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  • Apr 19, 2012 - 6:12PM

    @Anonymous: Dear Sir, What the writer is saying is that what Talibans are doing is correct. He is justifying killings of thousands of innocents. He is quoting great men like Faquir of Ipi, And khan Abdul Gaffar Khan to justify talibans. What a blatant insult to great men.

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  • DB
    Apr 19, 2012 - 7:48PM

    Hafiz Gul Bahadur is also a descendent of Faqir of Ipi. Great article and facts that are indisputable. Tribal areas have a history of rebellions and using force to stop it has never worked.

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  • Hafeez
    Apr 19, 2012 - 9:12PM

    I do not understand how come you make a connection between that great warrior Faqir of Api and today’s Taliban. Faqir of Api had not been instituted by some state it was a home grown movement for independence. It ofcourse used the incident of Islam Bibi as the starting point but the whole struggle was not about it. You are also implying that Taliban are nothing but pukhtoon nationalists. That is a dangerous argument to make without any roots whatsoever. By the way in times of Faqir Api there was no ban on music (drum beats) and attan (a pushtoon dance) and jirgas were frequently held. Today Taliban have banned all this : no attan, no music and no jirgas. Please try to refrain from twisting historical events just to get your opinion published. And if someone was against the creation of Pakistan at that time, it is not a sin.

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  • Dilawar Wazir
    Apr 19, 2012 - 10:37PM
  • Naheed Ateed
    Apr 19, 2012 - 11:59PM

    Think before you ink!

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  • binyamin
    Apr 20, 2012 - 10:11AM

    Mr.nadir… what do you know about Faqir of ipi..??? you are calling him as ‘khan’ but he is well known as ‘Haji Sahib’ among the local community. bro there is lot of difference b/w Haji sahib ideology and now called Talibans. You are trying to make people reluctant.

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  • zubair wazir
    Apr 27, 2012 - 3:39PM

    Faqir ippi is man from wazir tribe named “thori khell”.He is one of the freedom figheters against the british raje.I will Only say that there is a big difference between him and the taliban.Dont make fun of these Great Personalities.

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