A Faqir's War: Propaganda, Intelligence, and Religious Leadership on the North-West Frontier, 1936–47

Monday, January 5, 2009: 11:20 AM
Lenox Ballroom (Sheraton New York)
Brandon Marsh , University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
In May 1936 the Waziristan region of India's North-West Frontier erupted in revolt against the British Raj. Over the next year and half over 61,000 British and Indian troops were dispatched to quell the revolt. Led by a local mullah known as the Faqir of Ipi and predicated on the nullification of an Islamic conversion in a local court case, the Waziristan revolt constituted the Raj's largest armed conflict in the interwar era. Despite this show of force, the revolt was never truly broken and British authorities remained obsessed with the possibility of another conflagration led by the Faqir or other religious leaders. The unsettled situation in the region coincided with the onset of the Second World War and the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, which further heightened British fears about what they still saw as the most important land frontier in the British Empire.  

This paper examines the British administration's successful attempts to rally local religious leaders in support of the Raj from the period of the Waziristan revolt to the early years of the Second World War. Local holy men often had an immense influence among the democratic tribes of the North-West Frontier. Realizing this, the British sought to counter the influence of the Faqir and his allies through a concerted campaign of propaganda emphasizing Britain’s sympathies with the Islamic world. Using private and official papers collected in London and Delhi, I argue that the character of this campaign, along with the intelligence collected to measure its success, offers an important  window into British perceptions about the nature of Frontier Islam and its relationship to local society. Further, this paper reveals the methods deemed appropriate to gain Muslim acquiescence and the ways in which the authorities sought to manipulate religious leadership in the final decades of British rule in India.