After 60 years of peace, Waziristan is again seething in unrest. The British spent decades in developing a system to deal with the extremely truculent and xenophobic Wazir and Mahsud tribesmen, to keep them in check and state of good order. They were not entirely successful in their pacification ventures, but despite the many psychological and physical impediments they had to face they still had a modicum of success. The political and military bureaucracy involved in maintaining some semblance of peace in Wazirstan were experts in managing the tribal people: first the politicals would try to reason and indulge in an exercise of gentle persuasion, which included imposition of fines when that failed; then there was the military waiting in the wings to wield the baton. The political authorities also had their own civil armed forces: the Scouts and the tribal police (Khassadars). The Scouts and Militia came under the generic of Frontier Corps, administered by an Inspector General. It was after the aftermath of the Third Afghan War 1919, that the Khassadars came into existence. When matters slipped out of hand the regular military would step in. Modern weapons technology made things difficult for the tribesmen but they were resourceful and managed to maintain their integrity even against tanks, artillery and airpower.
The US military’s war against terror in Afghanistan drove Afghan insurgents and their foreign sponsors to seek sanctuaries among the Waziristan tribes. As a consequence Pakistan was accused of harbouring these defiant groups, and came under American pressure to take action.
Unfortunately Pakistan acted precipitately with very negative results. Past experiences were overlooked, because after the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, priority for western border security had been regulated to a tertiary level. Gone were those political officers who enjoyed the respect and trust of the tribes. The Frontier Corps had also deteriorated: once it was considered a privilege for an Army Officer to be seconded to the Scouts, but of late standards had fallen. The situation in Waziristan has been amply highlighted in the media; it is a replay of the past with sub-standard actors on the stage.
The US Government has put Pakistan into a impossible bind for which the latter’s own political establishment is equally to be blamed. They took action in Waziristan without preparation of any kind, with the result they have triggered a crisis which has engulfed the entire Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). A US scholar recently has bemoaned:-
Most of us who look at Pakistan believe at this point in time that Pakistan has in the north west frontier area lost the battle against extremism and terrorism. And the consequences.., are quite considerable for the United States, for our success in dealing with the insurgency in Afghanistan, stabilising the country, and of course uprooting the A1-Qaeda network and the spread of Islamic extremism in Pakistan... And ... the consequences ... for Pakistan, its stability, its integrity are really tied up with what happens in that tribal region.”1

At the heart of the issue lies the conflict in Wazirstan. As an after thought Western observers criticise Pakistan’s policy in the FATA:­
‘“They are definitely reactive, not pro-active,”... according to... the New York Times on Wednesday...
The Pakistan Army still has a long way to go in training and adopting a new counter-insurgency doctrine..”’

This is a very sad state of affairs. The Indian Army of the imperial era had mastered the art of unconventional warfare in the mountains of the north west. The British had left a wealth of operational records of the various campaigns, experience gained after shedding blood and sweat had been analysed, and the lessons learnt were highlighted in these official reports. The doctrine was already there, only over the years it has been forgotten.
In 2001 in the Area Study Centre (Russia, China & Central Univ. Asia), University of Peshawar during launch of a set of books published by the Centre in collaboration with the Hans Seidal foundation, with 9/11 still months ahead in the future, a participant made a statement:-
We Pakistanis have a tendency of being complacent about our North Western Frontier because our energies are entirely focused eastwards. History warns us never to take things for granted in the west, because there the storm bursts without warning.”3

The threat from India from 1947 onwards has preoccupied the minds of Pakistan’s politicians and armed forces. The Pakistan military is geared to fight a conventional war with India on the eastern plains. In Kashmir there is no scope for unconventional warfare as the two adversaries are locked in an eye-ball to eye-ball confrontation. In 1947 when Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah withdrew troops from Waziristan, leaving only the Frontier Corps to guard the border area, he won the gratitude of the Wazir and Mahsud tribes, who soon started to integrate themselves into Pakistan’s economy. But all that has now become an old story. Our overall policy towards Afghanistan and our support for dubious elements in the Afghan resistance became the matrix of the present situation. Both the Americans and the European are apprehensive of terrorist training camps in Waziristan being run by Arabs and militants from Central Asia under the patronage of Al-Qaeda. These alien elements found sanctuary in Waziristan, for which we can hold our various governments responsible for their prevarication and lack of will to stop the infiltration of the foreigners into Pakistan territory. Whatever the logic behind their inaction, today the situation has b1own out of proportion, it is a terrible penalty for Pakistan to pay for its involvement with the Afghan resistance. But what should be of special interest would be to study the British system and their pacification policy in Waziristan. We should keep one fact in mind, the British could have committed genocide in the FATA, but they did not do so, not out of goodness of their hearts, but to maintain the Indian Army in a fighting trim, because of the Russian threat which loomed large over the minds of the British Government. Therefore it will be appropriate to study the British pacification campaigns and restrict it to Waziristan, where their military involvement was the maximum throughout their stay in the subcontinent.
The first time the British came into contact with the Wazirs was in the 1850s’ when John Nicholson, the Deputy Commissioner, Bannu, was trying to establish law and order in an unsettled district. In 1852, he assembled a force secretly in Bannu and Latammar, which was divided into there columns. The objective was the villages of Sapari and Garang, who had been causing trouble. On night of 20/21 December, the first column marched directly on Garang through the Gumatti Pass, a second column from Latammar went for Sapari through the Bargannata Pass, while the third column took a circuitous route from Bannu and advanced up the Kurrum Vally, and joined he two columns through the Gumatti Pass. Surprise was total. Both villages were destroyed, and livestock confiscated. Nicholson returned to Bannu on 22 December. However, one of the infantry units, 4th Punjab Infantry, lost 23 men during the withdrawal. Like angry hornets the Wazirs swarmed around the rearguard. The grouping of the force is of interest, it set the pattern for all future punitive operations:­

1st Column

2nd Column

3rd Column

2nd Punjab Infantry

1st Punjab Infantry

2nd Punjab Cavalry


(2 x companies)

Mounted Police (60 men)


4th Punjab Infantry

6th Punjab Police




Nicholson’s force comprised of both regular and para­military. The first two columns were ‘regular’ infantry, while the third column was a mixed force of cavalry, mounted police and armed police unit, acting as a floating reserve which eventually reinforced 2nd Punjab Infantry at Garang. Nicholson established a pattern. In 1860 a large Mahsud lashkar, 3000 strong, marched out of their hills to raid Tank in the Derajat. At Tank there was a squadron of 5th Punjab Cavalry commanded by Risaldar Sadat Khan. On receiving news of the approaching raiders he collected some levies, mounted and foot, and set out to intercept the lashkar. Sadat Khan deployed his footmen to engage the lashkar frontally, while he took all of his horsemen to get into the rear of the Mahsuds. The squadron and the mounted levies charged the lashkar from the rear and sabred 300 Mahsuds; and six of their prominent maliks, including one Jangi Khan, lay dead on the field, while the rest fled homewards. The terrain was flat and the Mahsuds were caught outside their environment. Sadat Khan’s losses were trivial, one levy Jemadar killed and sixteen sowars (levies included) wounded.
In 1859, Brigadier General N. B. Chamberlain commanded a force against the Kabul Khel Wazirs who were involved in the murder of a British officer on the Bannu — Kohat road. On 15 December a force, totalling 5,373, advanced on Maidan where the Wazirs had concentrated. The troops advanced through the Gandiob Tangi. One column managed to secure the right hand shoulder, but the left column ran into stiff resistance. However the official account of the fighting illustrates the Wazir character: -
The charge by a small body of Wazir footmen, with some ten or twelve horsemen, upon the skirmishers of the Guides Infantry, whilst ascending to the attack of the first breastwork, was most gallant, and elicited the admiration of our officers and men. It was wonderful how the horsemen, mounted on small but wiry mares, managed to charge down over the rocks and declivities... Another party of dozen footmen, behind a low breast-work on the summit of a hill, endeavoured to keep their ground against a company of rifles. Having exhausted their ammunition, they took to stones, which, in Waziri hands, are formidable missiles, and, coming out in front, kept up an incessant discharge, wounding several sepoys. At last finding that their foes were closing in upon them, several came down, sword in hand, to die.”4

These were among a number of punitive expeditions against the Wazir and Mahsud tribes. General Chamberlain also led a punitive expedition against the Mahsuds tribe after their abortive raid on Tank. All that he managed was to destroy villages and crops creating more misery for a very impoverished people. But he could hardly inflict casualties on the elusive tribesmen, who took to the heights and incessantly sniped at the British supply columns. They invariably targeted the animal transport. At any given opportunity small parties would rush against isolated out­posts, or rearguards, inflicting casualties and seizing weapons. During this period the parameters for fighting in Waziristan was established. The lessons were crystalline for all subsequent incursions:­-

  • The Waziristan tribes were indomitable in their own mountains.
  • Reliable Intelligence was of paramount importance.
  • In open ground even a small cavalry detachment could drive off large bodies of tribesmen.
  • Conventional tactics were irrelevant against the tribesmen in their hills.
  • All movements in any direction, for any purpose, tactical or logistic, had to be always secured by effective measures.
  • Signaling had to be of the highest standard.
  • The tribesmen were very patient and calculating enemies, they would study their adversaries meticulously, even the most trivial routine would be noted. Apathy and negligence by troops would be punished mercilessly by the tribal enemy.

These hard earned lessons were drummed into the heads of every British officer assigned to frontier duty.
After 1860 we see a rapid advance in military technology. Muzzle loaders were replaced by breech-loading rifles. The Martini-Henry single shot rifle fired a .450 calibre cartridge and it changed certain parameters of frontier warfare. It was not long before breech-loaders fell into tribal hands. The advent of the Lee Metford .303 calibre magazine rifles, not only increased engagement ranges but also the firepower. Armourers in the tribal area soon came up with their copies of the Martini-Henrys. A new era in weaponry dawned on the frontier. Sniping entered a new dimension, it would be conducted at extreme ranges, and smokeless power made it difficult for the sniper to be detected. The tribesmen raided and stole arms and ammunition form government armouries.
The last great upheaval of the 19th century took place in 1900. For ten years there was peace along the frontier except in Waziristan. The Mahsuds were the only tribe “who disturbed the tranquillity of the Derajat border of India”; in this decade long period of peace they not only “tendered life and property insecure”, but also resorted to blatant terrorism. They would threaten officials and the Border Military Police (fore-runners of the Frontier Constabulary) to the extent that “the Border Military Police were useless from fear ... It was well-known that no Border Military Police would ever shoot a Mahsud. He would fire, but be careful to miss...”
On 18 June 1901, the Mahsuds raided a police post at Baran, where the raiders had discovered negligence at its peak, without a shot the post was occupied. They made off with 15 rifles and 548 rounds of ammunition. Fearlessly the Mahsuds continued in doing great mischief, and finally the Government patience ran out. The Mahsud territory was blockaded on 1 December 1900, by means of police posts and mobile columns and even then an incident such as the one at Baran took place. Mobile columns were concentrated at Datta Khel, Jandola, Sarwakai and Wana. Major General C.C. Egerton an officer of the 3rd Punjab Cavalry was given overall command of the force. He had the following troops allocated to him:-

  • 1st and 5th Punjab Cavalry (“Piffer” Cavalry units).
  • 1 x Mountain Battery.
  • 13 x Infantry Battalions.
  • 2 x Pioneer Battalions (secondary role: infantry).
  • North Waziristan Militia.
  • South Waziristan Militia.

He launched a series of raids into Mahsud territory, each after a few weeks’ interval. As a result the tribe suffered heavy casualties and large numbers were taken captive and their livestock confiscated. On 10 March 1902 the Mahsuds made heir submission and the blockade was lifted. Despite the hammering administered to them the Mahsuds remained incorrigible.
According to General Sir Andrew Skeen in his little classic on frontier warfare: - late as 1915 frontier fighting remained for us a pleasant enough way of applying peace training with enough danger in it to making it exciting, unpleasantly so when the principles of war and the special methods demanded by tribal tactics were ignored.”6

The Great War (1914-1918) gave impetus to gun-running and there was an increase in modern firearms all along the frontier. In 1919 Afghanistan declared war, and suffered reverses on all fronts except Waziristan, where the Afghan general, Sardar Muhammad Nadir Khan, managed to win over the Wazir and Mahsud tribes to the Afghan cause. As a result both the North and South Waziristan Militia mutinied. Even after the armistice with Afghanistan, Waziristan had become a ‘no go’ area for the British.
The Mahsud were singularly the most formidable:
­“In the 1919 affair, so fully were the Mahsuds alive to the value of their improved armament that no black powder weapons were allowed into the fight by day and their application of fire was carefully organised. Long range sniping, and covering fire from all ranges to let the swordsmen close.”7

Between 9 August and 18 November, 1919, Mahsud and Wazir raiders committed 182 outrages in adjacent areas of Zhob, Derajat and the Punjab in which they killed 225 inhabitants of the settled area, wounding and kidnapping 400 more, and in their depredations carrying off large numbers of animals and a wealth of movable property into their area. The Government of India had to take action, but it faced a great-dilemma. The Indian Army was in no position to conduct a campaign in Waziristan, there was shortage of transport, the weather was inclement, and above all the available troops had been fatigued by the war and lacked the experience for frontier warfare. Finally 29,256 combatants with 33,987 non-combatants in support took the field, organised as under:­

  • 6 x Infantry Brigades.
  • 4 x Infantry Battalions.
  • 4 x Cavalry Regiments.
  • 2 x Mountain Batteries.
  • Sappers and Miners.
  • Aircraft: bombers and fighters based at Tank.

The force had adequate logistic and administrative support in the field to sustain it (for a campaign) indefinitely.
The force commander, Major General Skipton Climo, requested for some Machine Gun Corps units which was denied to him, because “acclimatised British units were unavailable.”1 However, on 18 November Tochi Valley was reoccupied without resistance by two Brigades. At the same time the main villages in Mahsud territory were subjected to aerial bombardment, after the tribe refused to comply with the government demands. On a daily average 10,000 pounds of bombs were dropped between 13 and 21 November. The British had hoped that air power alone would induce the Mahsuds to submit, but the tribe remained adamant, it only further hardened their resolve to resist. Thus ground operations against them became imperative. To save on fighting units, administrative echelons and supplies, a one column strike force was organized to operate on a single line of communication which would cause the Mahsuds to concentrate against it, and (that) would provide the British the opportunity to inflict a decisive blow in a hopefully short campaign. This was the specious logic behind the pacification operation. The strike force, named the Derajat column, “Deracol” in short, was placed under command of Major General Sir Andrew Skeen, who advanced into the Tank Zam Valley on 18 December. It halted at Palosina, to establish a strongly defended perimeter base camp and picquets for the security of the line of communication. The first attempt to establish a picquet on the dominating Mandanna Hill on 19 December turned into a disaster when two battalions, the 1/55 Rifles and 1/103 Mahratta Light Infantry were mauled by a Mahsud lashkar who killed 95 and wounded 140 men, and in the process carried off 131 rifles and 10 Lewis guns from the panic stricken sepoys. The two battalions stampeded down hill back to the camp and the irreverent watchers in the security of the camp called 19 December 1919 the “Derby Day”. However, the next lay a full brigade attack captured the hill supported by air and artillery. A 110 strong garrison from 2/19 Punjab occupied the hill top, but while they were consolidating their position, a small party of Mahsuds chased them off, more rifles, grenades and Lewis guns, along with other equipment fell into Mahsud hands, who pursued the sepoys right up to the camp. “Deracol” was forced onto the defensive. On 21 December one of the brigades tried to build a picquet north of the camp, the pioneers under the cover of a covering force of infantry were working when intense fire was opened on them from a range of 1500 yards. Then all of a sudden a force of Mahsuds estimated to be 800-1000 strong, who approached unnoticed under the covering fire, attacked the picquet. Intense close quarter battle ensued, but the Sikh pioneers fought back, a counter-attack failed, eventually artillery fire broke up the Mahsud assault inflicting heavy casualties on them — 250 dead and 300 wounded. While the pioneers and covering troops suffered 66 killed and 250 wounded during the fight. This bloody affair only highlighted the inevitable:-
The heavy casualties inflicted on the Derajat column between 19th and 21st December 1919 indicated that the majority of its infantry battalions were incapable of carrying out comparatively simple tactical operations against the tribesmen. A combination of poor leadership, lack of basic individual training and almost complete ignorance of the specialised principles and minor tactics of hill warfare had played directly into Mahsud and Wazir hands. Mahsud lashkars had demonstrated a degree of military skill and tactical effectiveness never before encountered. Their carefully organised attacks were unprecedented; with well concealed marksmen providing sufficient covering fire... enabling swordsmen to close and engage in hand to hand combat.”8

An immediate probe revealed that the bulk of the lashkar had been composed of trained men, deserters and pensioners from the army and the militias. These ex-servicemen provided the leadership, tactical skills and discipline to the tribal force. They had almost inflicted a decisive defeat on the Indian Army. The British commanders, Climo and Skeen, were so upset by the set-backs that they requested the Northern Command to employ poison gas - mercifully the request was denied. Eventually, Climo ordered Skeen to launch all future offensives with a full brigade and to ensure the proper fortification of picquets, before the start of any offensive operation. On 21 December the Mah­suds dispersed to replenish, regroup and bury their dead. They also had suffered, indicated by the fact of having left behind 50 dead and a large number of rifles - some thing uncharacteristic of the Mahsuds and Wazirs.
The primary lesson learnt during the 1919 fighting was in the words of the Waziristan Force Commander:-
­“Marksmanship and fire discipline are two of the first essentials in frontier fighting... the men have no faith in their rifles… and look to auxiliaries, such as artillery, aeroplanes and Lewis guns for their protection...”9

The tribesmen had realised indiscriminate unaimed firing was wasting precious ammunition, with the result they indulged in day light sniping from extreme ranges which was responsible for many casualties”. According to a report by General Climo it was difficult in competing with Mahsuds “in broken and hilly country such as the column... operating in at present.”10 Operations in the Mahsud country had become extremely hazardous:-
“…The strength of Mahsud resistance and their modern rifles meant carefully organized deliberate attacks….requiring close cooperation between mountain artillery, machine guns and the RAF... The range of the .303 rifles meant attempts to outflank Mahsud positions were more tiring and time consuming, often ineffective...Indeed the distinction between a deliberate attack and the seizure of picquet position became blurred, as the advance resolved itself into a constant series of engagement to force the tribesmen back frontally and on both flanks with continuous fighting to secure picquets and cover the movement of transport column.”11

This pattern of fighting involved heavy casualties for the British. Tactically and (in logistic terms the difficulties multiplied for “Deracol”):-
This heavy fighting and number of troops deployed meant the Derajat column was also completely dependent on a permanent fixed line of communication to service its logistical requirements. It was simply impossible for columns to operate further than three days radius of action from its supply line without reducing medical services, ammunition and defence stores below an acceptable level. The vastly increased scale of supporting arms, equipment and medical services…. compounded the transport problem, earning a further decline in mobility and speed of movement.

The supply line needed intensive protective arrangements: permanent fortified picquets had to be established to protect convoys of thousands of animals carrying replenishments. This reduced the speed of advance to a crawl: a few miles per day. The forcing of Ahnai Tangi gorge, which was only 80 yards long became a nightmare. The first attempt to secure the heights on both shoulders of the gorge cost Skeen 170 casualties. The eastern height remained in tribal possession. Finally Skeen in desperation took a risk; he launched a two brigade strong night attack on 11 January 1920. The night operation was successful with few casualties. The mouth of the Tangi was finally secured, but the battle was not over. Securing the Ahnai Tangi in the Tank Zam Valley was unquestionably the most stubbornly contested action of the entire campaign. The British lost 15 officers and 450 all ranks. The Mahsuds and Wazirs also suffered heavy casualties but their defensive action was exemplary:
The Mahsuds had not only fought with reckless courage, but had also taken full advantage of the difficult, broken country whence accurate fire was skillfully employed to cover the assaults delivered by special parties of swordsmen. The tribesmen again showed appreciable tactical ability in combining fire and shock action. Nevertheless, in hand-to-hand fighting the Indian troops, particularly the Gurkhas…had shown a gratifying increasing superiority.”13

By 15 January 1920 Ahnai Tangi had been secured. The main lesson of the 1919-1920 campaign can be summed up as follows:-
In mountain warfare, as it still remains in spite of all progress achieved in modern military equipment, numbers will rarely be present, while the enemy is particularly expert in the use of ground... Those who attack such a formidable fighting man over terrain of his choosing, must he able to compete with him individually or more or less equal terms. Otherwise the handicap becomes too great. So it comes about that in operations of this nature the bludgeon methods applicable to mass fighting must yield to the finer art of individual combat. But even a high pitch of training adequate for warfare on the plain is hardly sufficient for this class of fighting. The soldier required for frontier warfare must be trained for the end in view”14

Between 29 December 1919 and 20 January 1920 the British “fought over twenty engagements involving the commitment of more than a brigade.” After Skeen forced through Ahnai Tangi, night operations became more or less a routine to seize picquets, assembly areas and important positions. The formidable Barari Tangi gorge was captured after a successful night attack. After the Ahnai Tangi affair “Surprise” became the catchword for all subsequent “Deracol” operations. The lessons learnt from the “Deracol” experience was eventually absorbed by the Indian Army. In 1922 Razmak was permanently garrisoned. A motorable road was built through the Tank Zam Valley linking Tank via Razmak with the Tochi Valley and Bannu. The 1923 Razmak campaign was conducted by experienced troops who systematically reduced all the points of Mahsud resistance in and around Makin. British soldiers as compared to the Indian rank and file were largely a failure in frontier warfare:­
While some became highly proficient during their tour of service, in general British units were seldom as effective as Indian in terms of cross-country mobility or familiarity with local tactical requirements...”15

It all depended as to how willing were the officers and men to learn the art of frontier warfare, where individual skills, initiative and stamina were the hallmarks of efficiency and effectiveness.
The Mahsuds continued making trouble up to 1925, but these were minor incidents. They had been made to pay a high price, both in lives and material. In 1923 military operations came to an end in Waziristan, and the regular troops were withdrawn into the cantonments, a mixed brigade garrisoned the fortified cantonment of Razmak. A loose political administration took over.
By 1924, the political authorities were supported by a newly raised para-military force. The disbanded militias were replaced by the scouts:-
Tochi Scouts replaced the North Waziristan Militia. South Waziristan Scouts substituted the South Waziristan Militia.

After the debacle of 1919, the new units were raised on the basis of a revised organisational rationale. The manpower for the core elements were provided by the loyal elements of the two defunct militias. The Tochi and South Waziristan Scouts were “based on a more realistic appreciation,” and were organised as under:-

Tochi Scouts

South Waziristan Scouts


Headquarter Company
(Consisting of Specialist elements)


Headquarter Company (same as Tochi Scouts)

2 x Troops Mounted Infantry, each troop 59 strong

2 x Troops Mounted Infantry (Same as Tochi Scouts)

 2 x Infantry Wings (each wing equivalent of a regular infantry battalion)

3 x Infantry wings (each equivalent of an infantry battalion)

Total strength: 12 x officers and 2,278 Pathan

Total Strength: l4 x Officers and 2,774 Pathan

The Scout Corps were commanded by a Major, the wings by Captains and the companies by Subedars and troops by Jemadars. All these appointments carried far more responsibility than in the regular army units of the Indian Army. The officers were seconded from the Indian Army and for that matter everyone could not find their way into the Scouts, a stringent, procedure was put into place and it is best described by Chevenix — Trench:­
..... It was rather like joining a very small, very exclusive club. Not only did a candidate have to have a first class report from his regiment, and some command of Pushto….but he had to stay a couple of weeks with a corps, at headquarters, and in outposts to be ‘vetted’. A man might be a very good regular soldier, but still be unsuitable for Scouts…If a man was idle, or too earnest, cantankerous, a bore, physically soft, could not hold his drink, or had the wrong approach to Pathans, he was out. A veto from a single officer, a hint from the Subedar Major that he would not quite do, and that was that. No officer on his first tour with Scouts could be married. Not only were officers’ wives not allowed in Waziristan, but the treasury had strong objection to paying a widow’s pension for forty or fifty years.”16

It was not long before the Scouts in their new revitalised configuration would be rated as world class light infantry. The British had a genius for creating such elite institutions, with its own unique organisational ethos and esperit de corps. In all the subsequent Waziristan operations both corps exhibited valour, commitment and discipline of a very high order. Most of the Scout officers were colourful eccentrics, such free spirits and individualists in their frontier milieu invariably bonded well with the troops and enjoyed the respect of their adversaries.
In June 1920 troops permanently stationed in the Frontier and Baluchistan were designated as ‘covering troops’ with the following strength: -
•     43 Infantry battalions.
•     6 Indian Cavalry regiments.
•     4 Field regiments Artillery.
•     12 and 1/2 Mountain batteries.
•     3 Pioneer battalions.
•     2 and 1/2 Armoured Car companies.

These units were organised into twelve brigades. Training of these formations had begun in real earnest. The Northern Command opened the Mountain Warfare School in Abbottabad on 1 February 1920, with sufficient staff, with frontier experience, to impart realistic training. The institution made valuable contribution in unconventional warfare, as the commandant of the school claims in his dairy: ­“We were able to revolutionise the methods of building ‘Sangars’; show how very effective smoke candles can be when carried by riflemen and used sensibly; we taught a really sound method of attacking and destroying villages and retiring from them; the use of ambuscades; and a thousand matters of attack, defence, camp procedure, removal of wounded and much more which, though vaguely known and practised in the old Piffer regiments, had never been codified as standard practice.”17
In a period of a decade the Indian Army was better trained, organised and equipped for frontier warfare as it had never been before. Weapons technology had also improved the combat capability of the forces both on the ground and air. Air power was extensively employed in the ground support role during the 1919-1923 troubles and valuable experience was acquired. Combined services exercises had become the norm in the “covering troops” training cycles. A very notable Northern Command level exercise in 1936 was held at Khanpur, Hazara/Haripur Distt, where close support tactics were developed and tested for operations in the frontier hills; it was to pay dividends later.
The test came in 1936, an incident in Bannu involving a Muslim boy and a Hindu girl, Ram Kori, who had eloped and converted to Islam, assuming the name Islam Bibi developed into a nasty communal situation. In Waziristan, a Tori Khel Wazir cleric, Mirza Ali Khan decided to take serious notice of the issue. It was in the month of November 1936 the political authorities urged the military to conduct flag marches in the Khaisora Valley. This was a fatally flawed assumption by the Resident, Sir James Acheson, who assumed if pressure was gently applied on the Tori Khel Wazirs, they would either hand-over, or drive out the irritating cleric, who had by now come to be known as the Faqir of Ipi. Mirza Ali Khan’s demands were very simple: restore Islam Bibi to her husband, and the British should desist interfering in Muslim affairs. At first he was disregarded as a petty upstart of a Mullah bent on mischief, but his agitation had a snow-balling effect, so Acheson had decided on brow-beating his clan, the Tori Khels. The flag march into the Khaisora Valley was a near disaster, all the hard earned lessons of 1919-1923 went by the board, the demonstration of force was a shoddy affair; and the British had to face “a new challenge to the government” which “emerged in the form of a radical religious leader”, all because “a series of poor decisions by both civil and military officials contributed materially to the ensuing chaos.”18 The Wazir resistance was fierce, the columns advancing towards Bische Kashkai in the Khaisora Valley from both Razmak and Mir Ali had to face severe resistance. On the night of 27 April 1937 the Tori Khels attacked the perimeter camp at Bishe Kashkai. In the words of a British participant in the action:-
Thus ended an experience which in all recent history of frontier warfare is probably unique. Picquets and isolated detachments had often been attacked at night, and will continue to be on future occasions.., but never before has an attack in so large a scale been made on a strongly defended camp bristling with automatic weapons and manned by some 3000 men. One cannot believe that is ever likely again.”19

The lashkar was driven off with heavy casualties, two days later the British managed to decoy them out of the cover of the rocks and bushes and subjected them to 3.7 inch howitzer shelling and automatic weapons fire inflicting further death and destruction. But it did not bring the Wazirs to heel. The Faqir of Ipi continued operating in the area. This was a war which kept six brigades of regular infantry and two brigades of Scouts busy for almost nine years. The most important operation with far reaching consequences, in fact the turning point in the campaign, was on the night 11/12 May 1937.
“The Faqir of Ipi was the key to the whole situation,” with his capture or death the war would end. He was reported to be in his strong-hold at Arsal Kot, with its fortified towers and caves. It was decided to run him down in his lair. The only possible approach to Arsal Kot in the Shaktu Valley was over the Sham plain. But to get there one had to pass through the steep and narrow Sre Mela Valley, and with the Wazirs and their Afghan allies swarming all over it would involve creeping forward through layers of strong opposition. Major General A. F. Hartley, (Hartley was Probyn’s Horse) the force commander decided to adopt an unexpected route and move at night. His plan was considered hair-brained by the older “Waziristan hands”. Hartley persisted and he chose the razor back Iblanke ridge which runs parallel to the Sre Mela Valley. The essence of the plan was surprise, the advancing column shed all of its non-essentials, except for the mountain battery, ammunition, entrenching tools and signalling and medical stores, even in this pared form 725 mules was required. Eight platoons of Tochi Scouts would lead the advance. Hartley managed to conceal his route till the last minute, he had told all and sundry in the camp that he was about to force through the Sre Mela Valley. At 2100 hours the Scouts began the advance, and on the way ran into Wazir outposts, they exchanged their usual banter and were ignored, unknown to them a full brigade was following. It was a harrowing night march for men and beasts. In the morning the Wazirs were surprised and easily brushed aside by the combined strength of the Scouts and the advance guard of the brigade. The British had debouched onto the Sham Plain with hardly any resistance. The advance to Arsal Kot was almost unopposed. Mirza Ali Khan avoided capture, but Arsal Kot was destroyed. Faqir Sahib had no dearth of secure hide-outs as he enjoyed the support of large sections of the tribes.
During the campaign of 1936-37, troops were supplied by air whenever the routes were interdicted by the Lashkars. However despite all his efforts the Faqir of lpi could not rouse the Mahsuds to join his movement. His own Tori Khels were divided on the issue of supporting him, this can be attributed to the adroitness of the British political officers. The bulk of his support came from the Afghan tribes from across the Durand Line. They came in alarming numbers and flocked to the Faqir Sahib’s banner. The only parliamentary paper on the fighting in Waziristan gave the government’s casualties from 25 November 1936 to 9 June 1937 as under:-













British ORs




Indian ORs








It was estimated the lashkars suffered over 650 killed and a similar number wounded. As far as heavy Afghan presence from the adjacent areas of Khost and Katawaz were concerned, the matter was brushed under the carpet; along with Acheson’ s blunder in starting it all:­-
No mention was made of Afghan participation in the Waziristan revolt. According to External Affairs Department ‘it is undesirable to give publicity to this.’ Nor was there any admission that the political authorities had helped to provoke a crisis by moving troops through the Khaisora Valley... finally, the parliamentary paper repeated the false story that the Tori Khel Maliks had requested government intervention, when some of them had actually advised the opposite.”20

Deliberate falsifying of facts has been the unfortunate trait of all government’s throughout history.
It would be worthwhile to mention the performance of the Scouts during the Waziristan operations (1936-1940):-
The 5000-strong British officered Tochi and South Waziristan Scouts…had proved a valuable adjunct to the Army...carrying out operations independently and in cooperation with regulars throughout Waziristan both with columns and on lines of communication. Their speed, mobility, light equipment and local knowledge enabled them to carry out advance guard duties, protect the flanks of columns, threaten the flanks and rear of the enemy, and conduct raids with far greater ease than heavily encumbered regulars who were more tied to the roads. However their organisation and light scale of equipment meant they were unable to overcome serious opposition without regular troops.”21

Serious campaigning came to an end in mid-summer of 1936, but troubles continued sporadically. The Faqir of Ipi’s lashkar had broken up into small gangs causing considerable annoyance in the administered districts of Bannu and Derajat. They even would cross the Indus to pick-up hostages in the Mianwali District of Western Punjab. This however continued up to 1947. Miranshah, Mir Ali, Razmak, Wana, and a large number of other nodal points were heavily garrisoned. Royal Indian Air Force had their bases dotted all over Waziristan. The Faqir of Ipi was finally neutralised and bottled up in Gurweikht on the Afghan border. He passed away in 1960, a bitter and disappointed man.
Today once again Waziristan is in a state of turmoil. The cavalier manner the situation was handled has put an end to 60 years of peace and tranquility in the area. The recent involvement has shown that nothing has changed there the tribes can be as ferocious as their predecessors. Pakistan was pressured by the Americans to send troops into Waziristan to flush out the Al-Qaeda and Taliban from the sanctuaries the local tribes had provided them. The Americans were already blundering about across the border in Khost and Katawaz, unable to control the situation there they found it expedient to drag Pakistan in, and unfortunately the Pakistan military followed the US pattern of incursion in the tribal area. After involvement in Afghanistan, the Americans are having second thoughts about their sophisticated tactical doctrines. Their troops are oriented to fight a conventional enemy, their approach to the unorthodox is also formalised. But when confronted by an unconventional enemy in a cruel and impoverished land, they found their training left much to be desired, and their vaunted air power only helped in increasing the ranks of the enemy by those who were fired by vengeance: to avenge the deaths of their loved ones due to careless targeting. An American army officer, a specialist in unconventional warfare has bluntly criticised the US counter-insurgency tactics in Afghanistan:-
The current “American way of War” is inadequate to combat an elusive, determined, and deadly enemy that operates outside the framework of the nation-state and in the unconventional milieu.”22

In his analysis of the American failure in tackling, Afghan insurgents, he reveals the cardinal weakness in the US concept of unconventional warfare. Because their prime focus is on attrition of enemy force, and this inhibits counter-insurgency operations in three ways:-

  • Successful use of force has been constrained by lack of intelligence.
  • Reactive tactics with its minor success has prevented focus on the conduct of proper counter-insurgency operations with its social, political and humanitarian aspects in winning the hearts and minds of the people.
  • “…Attrition, lack of security and over-riding force protection concerns” broke the links with the locals, who are the only source of operational intelligence. It is an interlinked chain: the people of the area can provide intelligence and they will not cooperate unless they feel safe, and it will only be safe when the insurgents cannot coerce them.23

Procuring intelligence was never a problem for the British, their political officers invariably would develop an elaborate network of informers - they (British political officers) were so subtle that the “informer” would not know that he was providing valuable information. The doors of the political officers would be open to anyone who wanted to see the “Sahib.” And there was not one source for intelligence only: there were the paid agents, the tribal maliks who received allowances, the military and police informers, the Scouts and after 1919 the Khassadars.24
Complacency and arrogance of civilian bureaucracy and the military was always responsible for misfortune in the trans­-border regions. And there are endless number of instances caused by the mishandling that set the frontier on fire. The British despite their wisdom and tact also had individuals, both military and civil, whose bad judgment or recklessness led to disasters. One should never underrate the tribal Pushtuns, they are capable of much more then they tend to reveal.
Britain’s philosophy for the internal security and control of the tribal area was very comprehensive. They restricted the strategic space of the tribes by constraining them in their own areas and preventing any spill over of the revolt into the adjoining districts; but at the same time permitted them the tactical latitude to release their surplus reserves of energy and burn themselves out in a controlled environment. The primary objective being that the recalcitrant themselves should request for cessation of hostilities and negotiate, but on British terms. This they managed despite the blunders that were committed, because they remained faithful to the cardinal principles they had laid down for the administration of the North West Frontier of India. Even today the British indisputably understand the finer aspects of unconventional warfare:-
What tends to happen is that for various reasons - such as lack of political will and domestic support, or lack of forces, or lack of clear idea of the outcome, or all of these - we settle on the military achieving amelioration or containment: we deploy force. Then, when other civilian measures and agencies - political, diplomatic, legal, economic - fail to resolve the matter as we wish we seek to use military force or its threat to achieve the result we want by deterrence or coercion: we employ force. There is nothing wrong in this gradual response provided one knows the desired outcome by the time deterrence measures are taken; for it such knowledge is absent then, as already described, one will achieve no more then containment. The reason for this is that the opponent, who is amongst the people, is also using military force to deter or coerce - but he does so knowing his desired outcome.”25

If we critically analyse our drift into the confrontation in Waziristan, General Smith’s criterion fits Pakistan’s dilemma to a T.
The insurgency Pakistan Army is facing in Waziristan at this point in time is far more complex than what the British had to face. Although in the past the factor of Islamic motivation prevailed, in the shape of towering religious leaders like Mullah Powindah and the Faqir of Ipi, inducing the Wazirs and Mahsuds to fight with conviction; but today there is a new entrant in the motivational school - the foreign extremist militant, with his own interpretation of the concept of “Jihad.” This alien element has introduced a very sinister technology into Waziristan and the rest of FATA, the improvised explosive device (IED). These foreign activists are technically proficient. The phenomenon of these foreigners is complicating the issue for the locals as they mostly come from solid middle - class backgrounds, well educated and widely travelled, consequently they brow-beat our Pushtun clerical leadership on the intellectual level. Dr. Abdullah Azam a Palestinian academic and religious activist based in Peshawar in the 1980s was responsible for sowing the seeds of radical Islam in Pakistan. It is the Palestinians who introduced the suicide bomber into our milieu, and it is the “fatwa” from Arab clerics, which has made suicide permissible in the context of the “Jihad”. A participant on a TV show recently boasted that Baitullah Mahsud has a technology which neither the west nor any country in the world possesses and that is the suicide bomber, who is a walking and thinking missile virtually unstoppable. Sniping has been replaced by the IED, which is both destructive and terrorising, while the suicide bomber is the perfect instrument of surprise and destruction with a devastating power, combined with the element of deception; one could imagine an innoccous individual, conventional in appearance moving towards his target, and when in range destroys both himself and his target - at the same time killing and maiming many innocent bystanders. As Abdul Ban Atwan has aptly concluded:-
There is little anyone can do in the face of an assailant who is not only willing to die but is actively seeking death. It is a frighteningly unreasonable behaviour that no form of threatened punishment can deter and few interventions can thwart.”26

The Pakistan Army over the years has been trained to fight conventionally against India, and it is clueless about unconventional frontier warfare. The lessons learnt from the British in Waziristan, and elsewhere in the FATA, have been erased from institutional memory. Historical records of operations in the North West Frontier are considered as redundant. So now the entire cycle of learning will have to be repeated, with the new features introduced by the alien militants into frontier warfare and Waziristan perforce will serve as the new instructional campus for the Pakistan Army.
The British pacification of Waziristan invariably met with tactical successes, but each expedition ended in a strategic retreat. After every campaign the military had to pull out and return to their bases within and outside the tribal belt. The British in their extensive experience of conquests had learnt that territorial annexations was not as difficult as subjugating a people who valued their freedom above anything else. Therefore, while a military strategy for chastisement was an imperative, a parallel policy of compromise and gentle coercion was also essential, to mollify a recalcitrant population. The British policy for negotiations with the tribals always had a veneer of hawkishness. It was conducted with finesse and dignity which gave them the semblance of retaining a moral upper-hand. This praxis unfortunately has lapsed over the past sixty years. Pakistan’s post 9/11 frontier policy was formulated under US constraints for the war against terror, and as a result the outcome has been one continuous series of mishaps. Another quandary for Pakistan is that the bold Wazir and Mahsud maliks, who were true to their warrior traditions, and had the sagacity to know when to resist and when to compromise are now no more. They have been replaced by lesser men, who in the past sixty years of peace have revised their value system and have become ease loving and money grubbing. The clerics have put on the mantle of leadership, and they unfortunately are inflexible in their attitude and are narrow-minded to the nth degree; they lack the education and foresight required of them. The answer to Pakistan’s problems in Waziristan and FATA as a whole lies in an objective study of the history of the region, and the British experience in dealing with them: it is all about unconventional warfare with its own specifications which are unvarying.


1. “Battle against terrorism in FATA is lost, US Congress told,” Dawn, 11 Oct. 2007.
2.“Pakistan Army Reactive, not proactive in FATA,” Daily Times, 11 Oct. 2007.
3.   Effendi, M.Y., Col (Retd), “Central Asia,” ASC (Peshawar) No.49, 2001.
4.   Neville, Capt H.L., “Campaigns on the North-West Frontier – Sang-e-Meel, reprint, Lahore, 2003, P.44.
5.   Ibid, P-326.
6.   Skeen, General Sir Andrew, “Passing It On” The English Book Store, reprint, Delhi, 1965 P.15.
7.   Ibid P.15.
8.         Moreman, T.R. “The Army in India and the Development of Frontier Warfare, 1849-1947,” Macmillan Press Ltd. UK, 1998, P.111.
9.   Ibid, P-112.
10.  Ibid. p.113.
11. Ibid p. 114.
12. Ibid p. 114-115.
13.  Watville, H. de, “Waziristan, 1919-1920,” Constable & Co Ltd, London, 1925, P.130.
14.  Ibid, P.209.
15.  Moreman, opcit, P-147.
16.  Chevenix — French, Charles, “The Frontier Scouts,” Jonathan Cape, London, 1985, P.52.
17.  Moreman, opcit, P. 147.
18.  Warren, Alan, “Waziristan: The Faqir of Ipi, and the Indian Army,” Oxford, Karachi, 2000, P. 80.
19.  Moreman, opcit, P.159.
20.  Warren opcit P.P. 190-191.
21.  Moreman, opcit, P.165.
22.  Rothstein, H.S., “Afghanistan and the Troubled Future of Unconventional Warfare,” Manas Publication, Delhi, 2006, P. 171.
23.  Ibid, PP. 97-98.
24.  Effendi, M.Y., Col, Retd., “Watch and Ward on the Frontier, 1849-1947,” Seminar 7-8 December, 2004, in “Federally Administrative Tribal Area of Pakistan”, ASC, Peshawar:­- “Tribal volunteers who policed their respective political agencies. They carried their own weapons and ammunition. The Government paid them well as they had no logistic back-up of any kind except for their pay. They were responsible to the political agent. The Khassadar first came into existence during the Waziristan campaign (1919-1923). Their tasks included:-

  • Picketing of roads.
  • Patrolling the lines of communications: telephone/telegraph.
  • Providing escorts.
  • Prevent raiders from raiding administered territory... Khassadars were the screen in the new system of security”. P.50.

25.  Smith, General Sir Rupert, “Utility of Force,” Allen Lane, UK, 2005, PP.376-377.
26.  Atwan, Abdul Bari, “The Secret History of Al-Qaeda,” Abacus, UK 2006, P.84.

1 Indian Army did not have machine gun units.