Know About Wazirstan?
Waziristan is a complex, little known part of the world. To truly appreciate the
British colonial experience in Waziristan, it is critical to first understand the
characteristics that make this area so unique. This chapter examines the geographic,
administration, meteorological and sociological factors as well as the tribes, transportation
network, and populace of this area. 4 Waziristan, located on Pakistan�s northwestern
border with Afghanistan, is part of the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA),
an area only nominally controlled by the Pakistani government. Waziristan is administratively
divided into two agencies and encompasses 11,326 square kilometers. North Waziristan
has a total of 4,707 square kilometers, while South Waziristan has a total area
of 6,619 square kilometers. Approximately ninety-six kilometers at its widest point,
Waziristan is a rough parallelogram, which extends 144 kilometers from the Gumal
and Sawa rivers in the south to the Kaitu (or Ketu) and Kurram rivers in the north.
Bordered by Afghanistan to the west and the Bannu basin and the Derajat on the east,
the terrain is mountainous in the south; the hills rise gradually from east to west,
reaching heights of more than 3,000 meters. Preghal is the highest mountain peak
at 3,513 meters.
The northern part of Waziristan is more open and contains valleys separated by high
hills. The rugged terrain not only made Waziristan difficult for outside armies
to occupy but it also inhibited economic development by the indigenous population.
Waziristan did not, however, contain the critical passes the British used to transit
to Afghanistan from India. The British primarily used the Bolan and Khojak Passes
near Quetta and the Khyber Pass near Peshawar. Despite its lack of strategic passes,
the British expended scare resources on Waziristan for its trading, revenue collection,
and missionary potential. As its presence along the border endured, the British
remained in the area to protect its territory from raiding by predatory tribes based
in Waziristan. Miranshah is the administrative center of North Waziristan and Wana
is the agency headquarters for South Waziristan in the summer. The city of Tank
(in the Tank district located directly east of Waziristan) serves as the winter
headquarters for South Waziristan. Each agency is further organized into sub-divisions
and tehsils or sub-units.
The Pakistani government oversees each agency through a political agent. An assistant
political officer/assistant political agent governs each sub-division and political
tehsildars oversee each tehsil. The malik system 5 provides another layer of traditional
governance between the central administration and the individual tribe member. A
malik is a hereditary intermediary between the tribe and the agency administration.
The Lungi system or Sufaid Resh is a lower form of malik.1 All criminal and civil
cases in Waziristan are guided by customary law called Rewaj, which is outlined
by the Frontier Criminal Rules in 1901. This code governs the procedures for both
criminal and civil cases. Political disputes are resolved by decisions derived by
jirgas or councils of local elders. Waziristan�s current political administration
is similar to the British system prior to 1947. The Pakistani government left the
traditional structure in place to help ensure the loyalty of the tribes. Pakistan
also adopted a �Close Border� policy and limited interference in tribal affairs.
The nascent Pakistani government used a political agent to maintain relations with
the tribes. North Waziristan is divided into three sub-divisions and a total of
nine tehsils. The Miranshah sub-division comprises the Miranshah, Ghulam Khan, and
Datta Khel tehsils. The Mirali sub-division contains the Mirali, Spinwam, and Shewa
The Razmak sub-division consists of the Razmak, Dossali, and Garyum tehsils. South
Waziristan has three sub-divisions (Sarwakai, Ladha, and Wana) and eight tehsils:
Sararogha, Makin, Ladha, Sarwekai, Tiarza, Birmal, Wana, and Toi Khullah. The political
agent of each agency has a security force consisting of Khassadara (local police)
and Scouts. Local tribes contribute men to the Khassadars who protect roads and
bridges, escort government officials, and help maliks carry out government orders.
Scouts provide general security for the entire agency. South Waziristan has 3,689
Khassadars and each tribe contributes 1 Government of Pakistan. 1998 Census Report
of North Waziristan Agency. (Islamabad: Population Census Organization, Statistics
Division, 2000), 8. 6 the following number of personnel: 2,495 (Mahsud), 1,014 (Wazir),
and 180 (Miscellaneous tribes). The number of Scouts who serve in South Waziristan
is unknown. North Waziristan has 3,269 Khassadars organized into forty-seven companies.
An unknown number of Scouts serve in North Waziristan in three formations: Tochi,
Shawal, and Thall. The Tochi Scouts are headquartered in Miranshah. The Shawal Scouts
are based in Razmak and the Thall Scouts are headquartered in Thall. Waziristan's
limited transportation network consists of 1699 kilometers of roads. It has approximately
812 kilometers of paved (metalled) roads and 897 kilometers of unpaved (shingled)
roads. Large sections of North Waziristan are inaccessible and must be covered by
foot. Most main roads in North Waziristan are well maintained, but the bridges (a
number of which were constructed prior to 1947) are in poor condition.2 The poor
transportation network limited British military options during the colonial period.
The lack of roads, however, did not impede the mobility or military effectiveness
of the tribes. These realities forced the British to operate in a deliberate, set-piece
manner to limit their vulnerability to the tribes. Waziristan has hot summers and
cold winters. The summer starts in May and ends by September. June is usually the
warmest month with temperatures rising over thirty degrees centigrade. The winter
starts in October and lasts until April. December, January, and February are the
coldest months with temperatures sometimes falling below zero centigrade. Most areas
in Waziristan average six inches of rainfall a year. Yet the temperature extremes
did not hinder the ability of the tribes to resist British military operations.
Inclement weather did not prevent the British from carrying out punitive expeditions
either, but it usually limited the length of operations. 2 Government of Pakistan.
1998 Census Report of North Waziristan Agency, 12. 7 According to the latest Census
(1998) taken by the Pakistani government, Waziristan has a total population of 791,267.
361,246 individuals live in North Waziristan and 429,841 persons inhabit South Waziristan.
The population in Waziristan has grown between 2 and 2.5 per cent since the last
Census in 1981. Over 97 per cent of the population speaks Pashto and more than ninety-nine
percent is Muslim. The remaining population is either Christian or Ahmadi and speaks
Punjabi, Urdu, or some other language.
Certainly, most of the population in Waziristan live in austere conditions. Approximately
83.8 per cent of households in North Waziristan are constructed from unbaked bricks
or earth and only 59.8 per cent of all homes have electricity. Over 79 per cent
of the homes in South Waziristan are made of unbaked bricks or earth and only 58.7
per cent of all households have electricity.4 Nearly 40 per cent of the population
in Waziristan use kerosene to light their homes and cook their food. These austere
conditions illustrate why South Waziristan is the most impoverished agency in the
FATA. The majority of the tribes in Waziristan are Pashtun. A small number of Hindus
(known as Urmars or Barakis) live in Kaniguram in South Waziristan. The most populous
tribe is the Darweh Khel Wazirs or Wazirs. The Mahsuds, Bhittanis, and Dawars constitute
the last three most important tribes. Pashtun tribes can generally be classified
into two categories: nang (honor) and qalang (rent, tax). Nang tribes ��live in
remote areas supporting only subsistence agriculture, [and] do not have strong leaders,�
while qalang tribes ��are found in areas which support irrigated agriculture and
produce substantial surpluses��5 Qalang tribes generally have centralized leaders
and are landlords of non-Pashtun tribes. These differences are so distinct that,
3 Government of Pakistan. 1998 Census Report of North Waziristan Agency, 17-8. Government
of Pakistan. 1998 Census Report of South Waziristan Agency, 17-8. 4 Government of
Pakistan. 1998 Census Report of South Waziristan Agency, 24-5. 5 Hugh Beattie. Imperial
Frontier: Tribe and State in Waziristan. (Richmond: Curzon Press, 2002), 4. 8 �When
individuals from qalang society confront nang tribesmen, they show unease and uncertainty,
which reflects the structural and fundamental differences in the two systems.� 6
The Pashtun tribes in Waziristan can be classified in the nang category and are
economically dependent on the outside world.
Before examining the specific characteristics of each tribe in Waziristan, it is
important to understand Pasthunwali, the distinctive moral code of the Pasthun tribe.
It governed the way tribes related to the British and it influences how these tribes
still behave. This code determines ways of treating guests and weaker parties, decision-making,
reacting to insults and injury (both real and imagined), and behaving toward first
paternal cousins. Overall, this code requires all Pashtuns to ��maintain honour
(nang or izzat) and avoid shame (sharm).�7 One of the main tenants of this code,
for example, is the autonomy of the adult male. The adult male is supposed to be
as independent as possible and not dominated by another person�s will. This is why
matters of common concern are decided at jirgas, because it provides a forum where
each individual elder�s voice can be heard and respected.
The political independence of the tribe is important.8 Tora (courage) is a critical
trait for a male in this tribal society as well. The tenant of hospitable behavior
(melmastia) is also an important concept. Melmastia requires the protection of any
guest or supplicant from harm. This tenent is closely related to nanawatai, which
is the act of an enemy suing for peace. This act demonstrates submission and was
intended to prompt generosity in return.9 Melmastia helps enable members of Al-Qaeda,
the Taliban, and other terrorist groups to find sanctuary in Waziristan. 6 Akbar
Ahmed. Religion and Politics in Muslim Society. (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1983), 27. 7 Beattie, 7. 8 Ibid., 6. 9 Beattie, 7. 9 Pahtunwali also requires
a violent redress from insult or injury (including insults against the sanctity
of a woman�s sexual purity). Badal is the term for revenge and it is ���the only
successful defence of honour�equal to or beyond the extent of the original insult,
so as to re-establish parity or gain an advantage vis-�-vis one�s rival���10 The
injury inflicted in revenge, therefore, should be greater than that suffered. Badal
has caused generations of infighting and destruction in the Pashtun tribal areas,
which has impeded economic development and social cohesion. Badal has also discouraged
Pakistani Army operations in Waziristan due to fears that any operation would incite
years of retaliatory attacks against Army personnel and installations. Additionally,
this code requires submission to Islam. There were two main types of religious leaders
The mullah operated local mosques, conducted rites of passage, but did not have
a very high status. Sayyids and Mians, on the other hand, enjoyed a higher status
because of their purported descent from the Prophet Muhammad. �In Waziristan both
mullahs and Sayyids wrote charms, read incantation, and enjoyed �alms, sacrifices,
and pilgrimages to shrines for the cure of disease.��11 Sayyids and Mians also acted
as mediators in disputes. Another important type of religious leader in Waziristan
during the British colonial period was the faqir, ��supposedly God-inspired holy
men who cared nothing for material possessions or power. Such men usually live off
alms and often stayed with the precinct of a holy man�s tomb.�12 During the 1930s
and 40s, the Faqir of Ipi, an anti-British militant, challenged British rule in
Waziristan and continually harassed British troops without ever being killed or
captured. Perhaps the most significant aspect of Pashtunwali was tarburwali. Tarbur
is the term for one�s first paternal cousin and ��had the connotation of rival or
enemy. Thus tarburwali denoted enmity in Pashtun custom and tradition, and referred
to the tension and rivalry between 10 Ibid., 8. 11 Beattie, 8. 12 Ibid., 9. 10 agnatic
collaterals [paternal relatives] which appears to have characterized Pasthun life
along the frontier.�13 Tarburwali particularly influences inter-tribal politics
among the Mahsuds. With a general understanding of Pashtunwali in mind, it is possible
to examine the tribes in more detail.
The Darweh Khel Wazirs (Wazirs) constituted the most populous tribe and perhaps
the most important tribe the British encountered on the northwestern frontier after
1849.14 The two main branches of the Wazirs are the Ahmedzais and Utmanzais. They
primarily live in northern Waziristan but a sub-section of the Ahmedzais live around
Wana to the southwest of Mahsud territory. This sub-section has been the focus of
Pakistani Army operations in 2004. Most Wazirs made their living by raising sheep
and goats and normally grazed their herds in higher pastures in the summer and lower
ones in the winter. Many Wazirs also served as traders in salt and as ironworkers.
The Mahsuds have a close genealogical link with the Wazirs and are made up of three
branches: Alizais, Bahlozais, and Shaman. They live in the central and southern
parts of Waziristan, west of the Bhittanis and generally south and east of the Wazirs.
In the late 19th century, the primary occupations of the Mahsuds were ��agriculture,
pastoralism, trade, forestry, mining, small-scale manufacturing, and raiding.�15
The Alizais were the principal traders during that time period and the Mahsuds as
a whole exported the following: ��iron and iron manufactures, timber (for roofing
and bedsteads), matting and other manufactured goods. Imports included cloth and
other manufactured goods.�16 In contrast with other tribes along the frontier, the
different branches and sections of the Mahsuds often lived together in the same
areas. The main centers of the population were near 13 Ibid., 8. 14 Ibid., 13. 15
Beattie, 6. 16 Ibid., 6. 11 Kaniguram and Makin. An egalitarian ethos among the
men and an absence of a centralized, hereditary leadership allowed the branches
and sections of the Mahsuds to settle together.
Other tribes along the frontier often designated chiefs and lower level leaders
but individual leaders within the Mahsuds only obtained the status of malik, which
��gave men some influence but not much power. Authority was fluid and had to be
continually created and recreated by negotiation and power-broking.�17 This fact
ensured years of conflict between the British and the Mahsuds because the British
found it difficult to negotiate and maintain an agreement with a tribe where maliks
could not enforce a decision on the entire tribe, branch, or section. The Mahsuds
also experienced constant internal strife because blood feuds between close relatives
were not as taboo as in other tribal groups along the frontier. Tarburwali among
the Mahsuds was a cause of violent conflict and political association because land
inheritance and the right to speak at jirgas were decided by patrilineal descent.
In the nineteenth century, ��alliances were formed between Mahsud household on the
basis of cognatic [paternal and maternal descent] as well as agnatic [paternal descent]
ties, and other types of relationships, particularly common enmity towards members
of other similar alliances�18 During the nineteenth century, the British believed
the Mahsuds were incessant raiders.
Poverty was the primary reason for some of this raiding. Attacking caravans in the
Gumal Pass (which became British territory after 1849) seemed to be a long-standing
Mahsud tradition. Raiding took place for political reasons as well. Despite their
notorious reputation, ��probably only a few Mahsuds were full-time outlaws, it would
appear, �[they] divided their time between farming and robbery, while others rarely
if ever took part in raids at all.�19 17 Ibid., 10. 18 Beattie, 11. 19 Ibid., 7.
12 The third most important tribe is the Bhittanis and this tribe consists of the
Dannas, Tattas, and Warshpun (Uraspun) branches. The Bhittanis lived in eastern
Waziristan from Marwat in the north to the Gumal Pass in the south. Generally speaking,
the Dannas lived in the northern section of their territory, the Uraspun in the
center, and the Tattas in the south. The Bhittanis lived principally by pastoralism
(sheep and cattle) and agriculture (wheat and other grain). Some of them traded
small, consumable goods (wood, goats� wool, ropes, mats, etc.) as well. The sections
of the Bhittanis lived in homogeneous territories in contrast to the Mahsuds and
their maliks also demonstrated more influence.
The Dawar is the last important Pashtun tribe in Waziristan and they live in the
Dawar Valley, located west of Bannu. The tribe has two branches: the Tappizad and
Malizad.21It is also made up of two parties or blocs: tor (black) and spin (white).
�By the 1870s, the valley supported many madrassehs or religious seminaries and
a considerable population of religious students (taliban, literally �seekers after
knowledge�).�22 One of the most important features of the relations between the
tribes is the nikkat (from the word nikka, meaning grandfather or ancestor) system;
this arrangement pervades every aspect of the modern governmental administration
in Waziristan. �In Waziristan, these figures provide a traditional basis for the
division of profits and sharing of loss, which is worked out with exact mathematical
precision between and within the tribes.�23 In South Waziristan, the nikkat is a
nonnegotiable law of tribal division, which is defined as three-fourths for the
Mahsuds branch and one-fourth for the Wazir branch. The nikkat, for example, currently
determines how many personnel each tribal branch is required to contribute to the
Khassadara. From 1849-1947, the 20 Beattie, 12. 21 Syed Mazhar Ali Shah.
Waziristan Tribes. (Peshawar: Provincial Services Academy, 1991), 298-9. 22 Beattie,
16. 23 Ahmed, 18. 13 nikkat decided the division of resources among the tribes but
also determined the share that each part of the tribe had to pay if fined by the
British. Waziristan is a complex part of the world. Its tribal character, which
is complicated by age-old traditions and nonnegotiable rules of behavior, makes
it an enigmatic place to nearly all outsiders, including most Pakistanis. Similarly,
its high population, complex terrain, poverty, and martial ethos of its inhabitants
make it easy to understand why Islamic militants find safe haven in this part of
the world and why many outside military forces find it so difficult to operate there.
To appreciate the British colonial experience in Waziristan, it is critical to understand
the realities that make it such a unique place in the world. With this basis in
mind, it is possible to recognize why the British faced such considerable challenges
in Waziristan from 1849-1947.
Mr. Matthew W. Williams, GG-13
Department of Defense