Called Yaghis, the highland Pakhtuns were fiercely independent: “[Yaghistan] was a forbidden land,” wrote Colonel Brazier Creagh of the Indian Army, who visited the area in 1893-4. “It was impossible to go [inside] and if you did your bones would be left there.”
When the NWFP was constituted the tribal areas of Kurram, Khyber, Malakand, North and South Waziristan were treated as “independent territories.” The British extended civil administration to the “settled areas,” such as Peshawar, Kohat, D.I. Khan, etcetera, but “the highlands were never occupied.” Instead Pakhtun tribal communities “were paid allowances to protect the roads and ensure the security of the inner border with administered areas.” The colonial administration did not get involved in their affairs. Maliks exercised temporal influence on the clans and tribes, while a network of clerics dominated religious organisation through the piri-muridi set-up. From the time of Emperor Jahangir, pirs received state patronage. In the absence of any functioning machinery of state, they became the “means of asserting state control”.
Frontier of Faith offers an in-depth study of the network and activities of the clerics’ transition from Sufi silsilas to the Deobanidi/ Wahabi school of thought. A list of the mullahs of the 20th century, along with the districts where they preached and the names of their pirs and “spiritual genealogy” provides a fascinating picture of the extent of their power and
influence. Notable among the functions they performed were making decisions on matters of law and inheritance, awarding and executing punishments under shariah law, acting as arbitrators in settling disputes and establishing truce between feuding tribes. They would travel to scenes of disputes and offer binding solutions to the disputants. They used lashkars to enforce truce or their political directives, exact fines and punish moral transgression, such as breach of an oath, under amr bil maroof.
To oppose British intervention in the tribal areas, the clerics often targeted the local allies of the British, such as “government institutions, check posts, communication lines and garrisons.” Religious militancy received its strength from arms seized in such raids and the growth of arms manufacturing industry.
During Syed Ahmad Barelvi’s jihad against the British, Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi chose the Tribal Areas as his base because of its state of non-administration, and revived its old name of Yaghistan. This further consolidated the “geography, substance and concerns of the piri-muridi network in the region” and made clerics much wealthier in the process.
The Afghan jihad and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has led to a “new articulation of the Tribal Areas’ independence from the government” and revived “the culture of autonomous activity.” In the meantime, Al Qaeda’s rise has injected the Wahhabi school of thought in religion and society which has resulted in a surge in extremism and militancy.
The book should be compulsory reading for all those who are in any capacity involved with the affairs of the Tribal Areas, whether as policymakers, role players or commentators. The importance of independence and autonomy, the core of the entire discourse in Frontier of Faith, should be understood, and the author’s warning in her concluding remarks — “The terrain of the Tribal Areas remains outside the systems of national participation” and that in the prevalent situation “power still accrues to the religious leaders as moderators of the north-west frontier area’s tribalism” — be given serious thought.
"Frontier of Faith: A History of Religious Mobilisation in the Pakhtun Tribal Areas c. 1890–1950" By Sana Haroon Oxford University Press, Karachi, ISBN 9780199060252
Book Reviewed By S.G. Jilanee: http://www.dawn.com/2011/11/13/non-fiction-religion-in-the-frontier.html