The legendary guerilla Faqir of Ipi unremembered on his 115th anniversary

Published: April 18, 2016
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Mirza Ali Khan became elusive resistance leader, master of guerrilla warfare over matter of forced conversion . PHOTO COURTESY: ICONICPHOTOS.WORDPRESS

Mirza Ali Khan became elusive resistance leader, master of guerrilla warfare over matter of forced conversion . PHOTO COURTESY: ICONICPHOTOS.WORDPRESS

DI KHAN: Mirza Ali Khan better known as Faqir of Ipi is the man who did not recognise Pakistan. He is the man who caused the Royal Air Force to launch costly operations against him, ranging from “air bombing and sending in troops” to sending spies in an unsuccessful bid to end his resistance movement.

The Faqir resisted many things; from the British Raj to the creation of Pakistan. He demanded and then announced the creation of a Pukhtunistan of which he was appointed the president by a jirga held in North Waziristan Agency. Gurweek was the setting for Pukthunistan.

Yet he who prompted the British in 1936 to launch strikes targeting one man—only paralleled by the search for Osama bin Laden—in a treacherous rugged land, was quietly forgotten on his death anniversary on April 16. Even by his native tribespeople.

He died a natural death in 1960, after years of being pursued by the British – the unpredictable omnipresent tribal dissident with many a follower.

According to a paper published in Journal of Contemporary History in 1981, The Faqir of Ipi and the British in Central Asia on the Eve of and during the Second World War, by Milan Hauner, the Faqir was a “vehement tribal opponent to the Pakistan takeover of the British heritage. He allied himself with the Red Shirt leader Abdul 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.” Hauner adds, “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 […] 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’, he increasingly became suspected of being in receipt of Soviet assistance – though this allegation still needs to be substantiated by hard evidence.”

An article published in The Telegraph in November 2001 said, “More than 40,000 troops and £1.5 million in one year were expended on tracking the religious zealot who had called for a jihad against ‘a war on Islam’.” The article based this on a book written in 1950 by Frank Leeson who according to  The Telegraph commanded the khasadar after the 1939-45 war and before independence.

Point of transformation

How did Mirza Ali Khan turn into the vaunted Faqir who commanded lashkars? The pivotal point was also a turning point for Ram Kori, who converted and became Islam Bibi, in 1936.

Born Hindu, Ram Kori eloped with Amir Noor Ali and converted to Islam. A case was lodged against the marriage, based on her being underage and taken from her parents’ care. Ali was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison and the girl was sent to her parents till she became an adult.

That a “Muslim” girl was sent to live with Hindus sparked protests by tribespeople and soon Mirza Ali was appointed the chief of a lashkar to resist the British – a war that lasted for over a decade.

It could be said the Faqir did not lose against the British by spectacularly avoiding death at their hands, but the Faqir also never won as Pukhtunistan was never born. Some of the reasons which can be attributed to his failure were using religion and an armed struggle that was not sustainable; it was always suspected he had foreign benefactors, including Germany.

Faqir of Ipi was a Tori Khel-Wazir, born in 1891 in North Waziristan Agency.  He received religious education in Bannu during his childhood.

His sons, Gulzar Ali and Mir Zaman, were killed fighting British forces.

He survived in the shelter of caves where he developed asthma, which ultimately caused his death.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th,  2016.

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