Daily Archives: June 16, 2008

Ninglun and the mullahs

Not really, but spurred on by an excellent review article in the US magazine Nation I have thought about them. The Long Life of the Frontier Mullah by Basharat Peer [June 11, 2008] reviews Frontier of Faith: Islam in the Indo-Afghan Borderland by Sana Haroon.

…The “war on terror” has made the borderlands a newsworthy topic, yet accounts of the daily struggles, aspirations and challenges of the region’s population are rare. American coverage of the recent elections there spotlighted the ANP’s victory as a rejection of Islamist parties and marginalized the issues that dominated the campaign: reducing the presence of the Pakistani military, lowering civilian casualties in the counterinsurgency operations and pushing a development agenda in the tribal belt. What’s not in short supply are stories about the mullahs and warring tribes; their prominence is a testament to how the frontier region remains an unruly captive of the narrative that first defined it for the world beyond the Hindu Kush and the Khyber Pass: the imperial “Great Game” played by Britain and Russia in the region in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Great Game had its second inning in the early 1980s, when the United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan supported the Afghan resistance against Soviet forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

One of the first printed works to establish the reputation of the North-West Frontier tribes as bloodthirsty and acrimonious was written in 1897 by a second lieutenant of a British cavalry regiment. The young officer was Winston Churchill, who had ended up commanding a brigade tasked with subduing tribes in Malakand–in the frontier territory’s northern reaches–after refining his polo game during a posting with his regiment in British India. In The Story of the Malakand Field Force, which is peppered with racist and Islamophobic remarks, Churchill says of the frontier tribes, “Except at the times of sowing and of harvest, a continual state of feud and strife prevails throughout the land…. Every man’s hand is against the other, and all against the stranger…. To the ferocity of the Zulu are added the craft of the Redskin and the marksmanship of the Boer.” He goes on to write that the frontier people were exposed to the “rapacity and tyranny of a numerous priesthood…and a host of wandering Talib-ul-ilms, who correspond with the theological students in Turkey, and live free at the expense of the people. More than this, they enjoy a sort of ‘droit du seigneur,’ and no man’s wife or daughter is safe from them.” Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on June 16, 2008 in America, current affairs, South Asian, terrorism, USA