North Waziristan is in the media focus these days. Everyone is guessing as to when the much-awaited operation is going to be launched against militants in the said agency. In 1936, the British launched an operation against a lone tribal, but could neither apprehend him nor kill him. The tribal was the Faqir of Ipi. His real name was Mirza Ali Khan, a Tori Khel Wazir, born in 1897, near Khajuri in North Waziristan. In March 1936, in Jhandi Khel in Bannu, a young Hindu girl by the name of Ram Kori and a Syed Pashtun, Amir Noor Ali, fell in love and eloped. The girl converted to Islam and changed her name to Islam Bibi. The girl’s mother approached the court and pled that her daughter was a minor and had been abducted. As a result, Noor Ali was arrested and given two years imprisonment.
The tribes protested against the handing over of a converted Muslim girl to a Hindu family. On April 14, 1936, a jirga held near Mir Ali declared jihad against the British. It decided to raise a tribal lashkar, with the Faqir of Ipi as its chief. He travelled to South Waziristan to gain support of the Mehsud tribe. In November 1936, the British sent two brigades to carry out an operation at Khasura in the Dawar area. The British suffered heavy casualties due to tribal raids and the operation was abandoned after four days. The British persisted with operations in different areas. In April 1937, a British convoy was ambushed at Shaur Tangi, South Waziristan, in which 53 soldiers lost their lives, including seven officers.
The Faqir of Ipi laid down three conditions for calling off the jihad: that Islam Bibi should be handed over to the Muslims, that the British should leave Waziristan and that all arrested tribesmen be released. However, the British did not agree and continued with their campaign. In 1938, the Faqir of Ipi shifted to an isolated place in Gurwek. At the start of World War II, both the Germans and the Italians contacted him and provided him and his men weapons and funding. The main purpose of the Axis powers was to engage the British Indian Army in the tribal belt to prevent the Indian armed forces from being sent to the main war zone. In Gurwek, the Faqir created an independent state and continued with his raids against the British Army. After 1947, he did not recognise Pakistan and continued his war against the new nation’s army. He announced the creation of Pashtunistan and a tribal jirga, held in Razmak, appointed him as the first president of Pashtunistan. He never surrendered but his following progressively declined over the years and he died eventually in April 1960.
The Times of April 20,1960, in an obituary described him, as “a doughty and honourable opponent… a man of principle and saintliness… a redoubtable organiser of tribal warfare, many retired army officers and political agents, who served in the area, will hear the news with the tribute of wistful regret.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 15th, 2010.