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From Faqir of Ipi to Taliban – by Raja Anwar


In this article (published in daily Dunya), veteran progressive writer Raja Anwar says that Pakistan and Afghanistan must develop a joint strategy to deal with the radical Deobandi and Salafi extremists hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas and adjoining areas in Afghanistan. Raja Anwar notes that the Deoabndi or/and Salafi fanatics and terrorists (currently operating as TTP, ASWJ, LeJ etc) have been, for the last two hundred years, using violence to blackmail governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan (previously India), and hold a sectarian and bigoted worldview. Raja Anwar says that from the Faqir of Ipi to the current Taliban, the violent tactics of Deobandi and Salafi terrorists have a historical pattern, and these terrorists need to be curbed, with full might of the State.

The column suggests that from the Faqir of Ipi to the Afghan Mujahideen to the Taliban, there is a historical pattern of how semi-Salafi and Deobandi hate ideologies have increasingly adversely affected tribal areas and local Pashtun population. Unless such hate ideologies are boldly identified and eradicated or reformed, there is little hope of overcoming terrorism and violence.

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  • An interesting chapter in the period immediately before the partition of India is of the association of Khan brothers with the insurgency mounted by Faqir of Ipi. The history of NWFP’s tribal areas is replete with a charismatic Pushtun horseman with Quran in one hand and sword in the other. The valiant Pushtuns had been fighting against the British for more than half a century and Faqir of Ipi was the latest of these great Jihadist Deobandi/Salafi/Wahabi warriors to raise the banner of Pushtun nationalism with its dangerous blend of Islamic Puritanism. The Frontier Congress had – perhaps without any knowledge of Nehru who would have shot down an idea of this kind- long backed Faqir of Ipi. Col. Shah Pasand Khan, former ADC to Amir Amanullah Khan of Afghanistan and a member of the Muslim League national guards, wrote to Jinnah on 8th July stating “firstly a few days ago I heard of Abdul Ghani, son of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who came to see the Faqir of Ipi in connection with the resolution passed at Bannu by the Congress in support of Pathanistan. Mr. Abdul Ghani crossed the border of British territory to meet Faqir of Ipi. Government authorities supported this move… I myself investigated the matter and found out that Faqir of Ipi was given 7 lakhs of rupees by Mr. Ghani to propagate for the Pathanistan… (Document 68 Jinnah Papers Volume III Pages 164-165).

    In July Faqir of Ipi made his pronouncement. This announcement was reported by S M Rashid, a young Muslim Leaguer, in his letter dated 17th July as “Nobody is to participate in either Congress or Muslim League. Nobody is to violate the peace of the Hindus because have consented to pay the poll tax to me. Muslim Leaguers in this area (according to Shariat of Waziristan) are to be devoured by ..wolves. A reward of Rs. 4000 (Kabulis) for killing Habibullah Khan (a Leaguer) and special protection for the family of his killer”. Rashid went onto talk of about the Mullahs from Deoband on a special mission : “All these Mullahs are the true disciples of Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madani Deobandi… the second selves of Abul Kalam Azad and Hussain Ahmed Madani. The majority amongst them are the originators of the crusade of Waziristan… Khalifa-tul-Muslimeen Mir Hazar Deobandi… Maulvi Khanmir Khan Deobandi, Maulvi Qameruzzaman Deobandi, Maulvi Sardar, Maulvi Mohd Zaman, Maulvi Mohd Rahim, Maulvi Mohd Din, Maulvi Abdul Razzaq Maulvi Raz Mohammad, Maulvi Mohd Din Shah, Maulvi Khawaja Mir and Maulvi Fazl Din.” (Enclosure No.1 to No. 181, Jinnah Papers Volume III, Pages 465-467). These Ulema were reinforcements from the Jamiat-Ulema Hind and Darul-uloom- Deoband to create insidious propaganda against Pakistan and the Muslim League.

    Maulvi Abu Sulaiman, an 80 year old veteran spiritual leader from Waziristan wrote to Zafar Ahmad Ansari “While I was in Delhi, I received a call from the Frontier that Congress agents were touring Waziristan, doing propaganda against the Muslim League, had succeeded in converting the Faqir of Ipi to their point of view … I learnt that a deputation of the Frontier Jamiyaat-e-Ulama had already met the Faqir who thereupon became a staunch enemy of Pakistan taking the Muslim League to be the agents of the British, he now considers war against Pakistan as the greatest service of Islam. The government of Afghanistan is also a party to this conspiracy. Its Minister of Interior, Sardar Muhammad Farooq, called a special meeting of tribal representatives and persuaded them to support Pathanistan in combination with Afghanistan, Khan Brothers and the Faqir of Ipi. He even directed them to kill any opponent of Pathanistan. It was after the meeting of the Deobandi Jamiyyat-e-Ulama deputation with Ipi that the latter ordered his general, Abdul Latif Khan, to attack Miran Shah.” ( No. 183, Jinnah Papers, Volume III, Page 471).
    Reinforcing what he had written earlier, Sulaiman wrote again a week later informing Ansari of the activities of Faqir of Ipi and the Congress Party “On the night of 29th of Shabaan, the Faqir Sahib of Ipi without informing anyone left for Mount Shawal so as to pass the month of Ramadan in some secret place. It is his habit to remain hidden from his people for several months in a year. This creates an impression of piety… After Id, he intends to call a meeting of tribal representatives at Makin, a central town in the territory of the Mahsud tribe (centre of Deobandi ideology). His object at the meeting would be to convert Prince Fazluddin and his party to his own point of view- either by persuasion or by force… Prince Fazluddin is an old sympathizer of our party- Jamiat-e-Mujahidin Hind. He has great influence over the Mehsuds. But a large part of Mehsud tribes still belongs to Faqir of Ipi… The Agents of Afghanistan and the Congress are very busy here propagating the idea of Pathanistan… to fight Pathanistan we must take some precaution. We must not appoint to the Governorship of the Frontier any person belonging to this province. Some such person should be appointed Governor who can successfully fight the propaganda that the League is un-Islamic, agents of the English and centre of Qadianis, and that to fight it is the greatest service of Islam… to fight the propaganda of the Congress and its agents, a declaration of Islamic government is not so essential as the proclamation for the suppression of prostitution, gambling, and use of wine and other corrupt activities”. ( Note 229, Jinnah Papers Volume III Page 670-671).
    There are several things to be noted here. One – Faqir of Ipi’s insurgency sounds remarkably similar to the insurgency mounted today by Baitullah Mehsud Deobandi, Hakimullah Mahsud Deobandi and Fazlullah Panjpiri Deobandi etc. Bach Khan family allied themselves with the Ipi insurgency because to them the cause of Pushtun nationalism was supreme and it did not matter to them that the mix of Pashtun nationalism with Deobandi semi-Salafi firebrand Islamic Puritanism was a dangerous mix (and a mix that even Pakistan’s military employed to its advantage in the first Kashmir war in 1948, the Afghan War and the Kashmir insurgency in the 1990s). Pakistani state’s diversion (partially supported by the US and the CIA) of the Islamically charged Deobandi Pushtun tribal nationalism to Godless Soviets and Hindu India is now drying out.

    Taliban roots in political and religious movements on Pashtun lands can be traced to the Salafi/Wahhabi-influenced movement of Syed Ahmed of Bareli (not to be confused with Barelvi/Sufi sect, but a father figure of Deobandis), who sought political control by declaring himself the vanguard of Islam, imposed centralised Sharia Laws, changing Pashtun traditions and norms with their version of Islam and challenging the traditional authority of Pashtun elders as well as the religious clergy by assigning themselves the authorities to arbitrate disputes and collect religious tax, as Zakat and Ushr. These steps by Syed Ahmed and his disciples from across India and among Pashtuns were rejected by the traditional Pashtun leadership as well as clergy. The alien movement ensued in an utter failure. However, thanks to Bach Khan and traditional Deobandi clerics investment in spread of Deobandi ideology, today KP and FATA is dominated by Deobandi and semi-Salafi ideology and madrassas.

    – See more at:

  • Efforts at crafting narratives of foreign involvement as sole problem afflicting Afghanistan and the region (Soviets attacked, USA attacked, Punjabi establishment, Saudi Salafis etc) cannot hide the historical and ideological undercurrent of the Pashtun areas.

    Faqir of Ipi had close relationship with Bacha Khan and it was Bacha Khan who kind of convinced him to stop his jihad against Pakistan. He died in 1960 and by the time he was not an active warrior. I don’t have the source now but I believe Bacha Khan also helped him get medical attention in Peshawar too.

    Is Non-violence Bacha Khan’s legacy? While he took to non-violence as a creed, Zalmai Pakhtoon – a militant organization and wing of Red Shirts- was a decidedly violent organization founded by Ghani Khan, Bacha Khan’s son and which continued to operate way into the 1970s – with some blaming it for the famous assassination of Hayat Khan Sherpao. That Bacha Khan encouraged Fakir of Ipi’s militancy against Pakistan is a well known fact.
    He stood for the continuation of the tribal traditions and way of life which accorded him and his family their sardari status. His philosophy was essentially a sort of tolerant Islamic Puritanism blended with Pushtun Nationalism, another not so tolerant variant of which was his friend Faqir of Ipi’s Islamically charged Pushtun Nationalism and that strain is still represented by Behtullah Mehsud and the like.

    Faqir of Ipi (the forerunner of Behtullah Masood) was a staunch ally of Bacha Khan… Bacha Khan was releasing funds to Faqir of Ipi and his terrorist movement
    On the reality of Bacha Khan’s non-violence and “tolerant” version of Islam please note that somehow Faqir of Ipi’s jehad against British, Hindus, Muslim League (which he called the bastion of Qadianism) doesn’t strike me as “non-violent” or “tolerant”. Bacha Khan was his biggest backer in NWFP.

    Bacha Khan supported the Kashmir freedom struggle and supported the export of Waziri Mahsud and other tribal lashkars for freedom of Azad Kashmir.

    – See more at:

  • Deobandi Taliban are a logical sequel to the Faqir of Ipi.

    In 1936, a man named Mirza Ali Khan aka Faqir of Ipi launched an armed anti-colonial rebellion in British India in the tribal areas of the N.W.F.P. 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 an alleged love affair. Since the girl, who had the moniker Islam Bibi bestowed on her was a minor, her mothers approached the British for help and she was returned to her family. Khan (the Faqi of Ipi), who was from Waziristan, took this as an incitement against Islam and the Pakhtun tribes and launched a revolt that was able to withstand British military expeditions thanks to unorthodox guerrilla tactics. 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. Not unlike Deobandi Mujahideen or Taliban supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the Faqir of Ipi too received support from both the Germans and the Italians providing him with weapons and funding during the WWII.
    At the time, Khan was a legend for his military exploits; now he barely exists in the general consciousness. 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 Deobandi Taliban-ian and had no hesitations in allying with the Afghan government or the Axis powers during the Second World War. Not unlike a few Deobandis (now becoming extinct) who revere Pirs, he too followed a Pir but was very puritanical in his approach to Islam, just like modern day takfiri Deobandis. Faqir of Ipi Khan is said to be the grandfather of senior Deobandi Taliban cleric Jalaluddin Haqqani known for terrorism operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Hafiz Gul Bahadur is also a descendent of Faqir of Ipi. 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 Deobandi militant factions fighting under the Taliban rubric (TTP, LeJ, ASWJ, JeM etc). 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, the Faqir of Ipi. 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 Faqir of Ipi and Taliban’s violent movements.
    It is, therefore, important to dispel the ahistorical impression that the Taliban are an unprecedented evil, an externally crafted phenomenon with no basis and space in local history and Deobandi ideology. 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. Unles the Deobandi and Salafi roots of the violent ideology are cut down, it will not be possible to tackle the menace of terrorism from FATA, KP and other areas of Pakistan.

    As written elsewhere, Taliban are historical heirs to Mullah Pawindah and Faqir of Ipi. The Deobandi Pashtun flirtation with puritanical Deobandi and Salafi/Wahabi Islam and violent resistance itself is historically linked to the Syed Ahmed’s Salafist “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 amalgamates with Deobandi or Salafi ideology. And finally – the current leader of TTP – Gul Bahadur- is Faqir of Ipi’s grandson.

    – See more at:

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