1936 Tundan Photos – WAZIRISTAN CAMPAIGN – RAZMAK to KOHAT – Northwest Frontier

Waziristan Campaign 1936-1939
Primary Source Photographs
By Tundan of Kabul
King’s Royal Rifle Corps
Marching Through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Waziristan, 1936-1939. Two albums of photographs taken by professional Afghani photographer known simply as Tundan, while accompanying the King’s Royal Rifle Corps through the passes and plains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Norther Waziristan Agency) during the Waziristan Campaign of 1936-1939. Contains 44 gelatin silver print photographs, most with embedded inscribed numbers and photographer’s name, some with further caption, mounted onto black cardstock leaves, not necessarily in sequential order. Photographs measure approximately 20 x 15 cm. Contained in two oblong 8vo. string-tied albums with black cardstock boards, each measuring approximately 25 x 20 x 2 cm. Chips to album covers, varying degrees of fading and mirroring to some images, otherwise in Very Good Condition, a remarkable photographic chronicle providing detailed insight into the vast terrain that some 60,000 soldiers marched and defended.B. Tundan, a professional photographer from Kabul, is best remembered for his work performed directly alongside the British troops during the Waziristan Campaign of 1936-1939, photographing not only the soldiers and convoys, but capturing recognizable scenes, structures such as forts and bridges, as well as villages along the way. Tundan and his associates, along with occasional photographic rivals, produced several pictures showing the King’s Royal Rifle Corps regiment running its paces in 1936, during the Waziristan Revolt. Tundan is credited for capturing the vast majority of photographs of the Northamptonshire’s 76-mile march from Razmak to Bannu in late October to early November 1936, a historic event which is well represented in the present albums. At the time, his photographs served as a guide to troops travelling through and patrolling the area, as the soldiers carried them around in their own personal albums for reference. Approaching a century later, today the photographs serve as a superb primary source visual chronicle of the historic campaign in a region which was so rarely seen in pictures in any event. The photographer most often identified himself only by his name ‘Tundan’ on the photograph, however in one instance herein, he inscribes ‘Tundan Razani’, suggesting that Razani was the location of his workshop.From the earliest stages of the demonstrative military march in October-November 1936, to the expansion of base camps for the numerous reinforcement troops and more elaborate operations in 1937, the images demonstrate the sheer magnitude of maintaining a presence and protecting British interests in the Northwest Frontier during heightened opposition.
The Waziristan Campaign (1936-1939) was a series of operations by a combined British and Indian force intended to restore Imperial hegemony in the Waziristan region of the Northwest Frontier of British India. The campaign began in response to a revolt incited by the Waziri leader Ghazi Mirzali Khan Wazir, nicknamed the Fakir of Ipi by the British, who had launched a jihad against British rule for their intervention in a religious conversion and planned marriage of a young Indian girl.A British Indian court ruling in March 1936 was the catalyst to the uprising, when the judge stood against the marriage of Islam Bibi, née Ram Kori, at Jandikhel, Bannu. The Hindu girl had converted to Islam but was handed back to the Hindu community after the girl’s family filed case of abduction and forced conversion. The ruling was based on the fact that the girl was a minor. She was therefore asked to make her decision of conversion and marriage after she reached the age of majority. Until then, she was asked to live with a third party. The verdict enraged the Pashtuns, and further mobilized the Faqir of Ipi for a guerrilla campaign against the British Empire.A month after the incident, the Faqir of Ipi called a tribal jirga (Pashtun council) in the village of Ipi near Mirali to declare war against the British Empire. The Dawar Maliks and mullahs left the Tochi for the Khaisor Valley to the south to rouse the Torikhel Wazirs. Indeed, the Tori Khel tribesmen of North Waziristan also rose in revolt. The Fakir of Ipi’s activities quickly threatened communications with Razmak garrison.In late October, the British decided to send an expedition into the Khaisora Valley to reassert control. But columns from Razmak and Mir Ali soon met fierce opposition and were compelled to withdraw to Mir Ali. These early reverses of the British, caused by attacks of the tribal Lashkars, led to widespread insurrection among Wazirs, Mahsuds, Bhittanis, and Afghans – all under the leadership of the mysterious Fakir of Ipi. As early as December 1936, reports of assaults on the troops were being reported and published in Great Britain and her colonies.The British had to reinforce their garrisons throughout Waziristan. Over 30,000 troops, together with armoured cars and aircraft, were then deployed against his followers. The Fakir’s men, however, were skilled at guerrilla warfare and knew the region intimately. Aware that the British would not cross an international boundary, they frequently took refuge behind the Durand Line which divided British tribal territory from Afghanistan. During an April 1937 attack, for example, a British convoy of vehicles, escorted by six armoured cars, was ambushed in a narrow defile at Shahpur Tangi. Seven officers and 45 men were killed, while another 47 were wounded.At the height of the campaign, 60,000 imperial troops were garrisoned on the frontier in towns such as Razmak, Bannu and Wana. Support for the Fakir began to wane and most, of the additional forces were withdrawn towards the end of 1937. As such, the decision was made to withdraw most of the additional brigades that had been brought up to bolster the garrisons at Razmak, Bannu and Wanna as it was decided that their presence would only serve to inflame the situation. Trouble flared again in 1938 when a lashkar attacked Bannu, and the campaign would continue into 1939.Largely centered in the present-day North Waziristan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and somewhat also in the present-day Federally Administered Tribal Areas, 33 photographs follow the marching troops throughout the hills, valleys and mountain passes of the “North West Frontier”. Some now historic bridges, a charming village, one immense fort, and 9 views of various British military camps, further provide a primary source account of the campaign and the vast terrain covered.

The albums contain several scenes photographed by Tundan during the Razmak Column’s initial 76-mile march, proceeding north through mountains and valleys, from Razmak to Bannu in October/November 1936, in a demonstration of power and resolve of the British Raj.In late October 1936, in order to re-assert the perception of control over the region, the government of India decided to move troops through the Khaisora Valley, by marching a column from the garrison at Razmak to the east, to join up at the village of Bichhe Kashkai with a column from the Bannu Brigade, which would advance from the south from Mirali. By this stage of British rule in India, there were strict rules governing such expeditions on the North West Frontier. As the purpose of the expedition was only as a demonstration of resolve and power, the decision was made that no offensive action would be taken against the tribesmen, unless troops were fired upon first. After only three days, the Razmak column, known as Razcol, came under fire, while traversing a narrow valley about 10 miles (16 km) short of Bichhe Kashkai. Intense fighting ensued as the column had to fight its way through to the village, while the two Indian battalions that made up Tocol from Mirali ran into even tougher opposition and were delayed until the following day. The supply situation was desperate and casualties numbered around 100, so it was decided to withdraw both columns back to Mirali. This was achieved, but the picquets and rearguard were heavily engaged on numerous occasions before they arrived.The southernmost marching scenes were actually taken near Razani, some of which were taken in the Razani valleys, and one of which is captioned “Razani corner” in reference to a hairpin turn on the long road. [A military camp was established in this area.] From there, the troops would have quickly reached Razmak, where they are seen marching in formation.The troops were large in numbers. Tundan’s photographs, which are indeed enlightening and a superb guide to the region, seem to suggest that from Razmak to Idak, they may have been split into two marches. In order for Tundan to photograph both, they would have been at least a few days apart. The principal route would have been Razmak – Asad Khel (Damdil Camp) – Kurram Pass – Idak. A secondary route further into the hills and closer to the frontier, would have been Razmak – Tut Narai – Boya Kalay – Miran Shan – Idak.According to a caption, the secondary route troops and photographer also went to Saidgi, which may be referring to the Zoi Saidgi village, which is situated in the Shawal valley, some 40-50 miles west of Razmak, and just northwest of Razin.A military camp was established at Duncans [Duncan’s Piquet], where a photograph captures military officers standing around a table for tiffin, possibly also engaged in strategic discussion. Situated just 10 km north of Razmak, at an elevation of 2,179 metres, the piquet sits on the high point at the north of the Razmak Plateau, a strategically important feature. Razmak became the most important garrison in Waziristan. [The piquet remains in use today as a police post.]Further north, a photograph shows the expanse of the K.R.R.C. [King’s Royal Rifle Corps] camp at Damdil, sometimes seen as Damodil, sprawling the base of a hill, and both sides of the road. Very near to Damdil, another image shows the marching men near Asadkhel [Asad Khel].The long march continued through the Kurram valleys, across Kurram pass, the high elevation roads having stout stone barriers and retaining walls where necessary to prevent slipping down the steep ridges. The valley, then part of the Peshawar Division of the North-West Frontier Province, comprised most or all of the Kurram Agency which was declared as such in 1892 under British rule. It is a naturally well irrigated and fertile region.A marching regiment crosses Tal [Thal] bridge over the Kurram river; the four men leading the parade carry a large banner. The river’s water level being very low and the dust filling the air indicate a dry season. Other scenes in the same region are simply captioned “Tal Valley”. [There was is fort at Thal, guarding the strategically vital Kurram valley, which at the outbreak of the 3rd Afghan War in 1919, came under siege but was quickly relieved.]“At Totnarai” is the caption on a scene where the men are marching an ascent through a beautiful hilly region without any indication of roadways. [Tut Narai is a pass in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.]Armies of men and horses passing the charming village of Boya, which is partly fortified against the elements with a stone wall to one side. The town is a maze of inter-connected mud walled dwellings, built in two sections with a mound at its center where sits a mud dome, possibly a shrine. On the outskirts there are agricultural fields and a cemetery. Close-up images capture a cavalry convoy of both British and Indian regiments crossing Boya River together, as well as one lorrie. Boya [Boya kalay] is approximately 30 km north of Razmak, southeast of Miran Shan, and east of Bannu.The “column camp at Idak” is a large settlement with innumerable soldiers and their horses, being supplied by motor transport vehicles. This camp appears to have been setup directly beside a natural coal deposit.The column travelling east to Bannu after departing from Idak, are shown in a stellar picturesque photograph on the Shinki Bridge (image shown above), crossing the Tochi River (a.k.a. Gambila River). The bridge is situated east of Mir Ali on the road connecting Miranshah and Bannu.Finally, an excellent photograph shows the troops arriving at Bannu, present-day capital of the Bannu Division, located on the Kurram River in southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Bannu was used as the base of operations for all punitive expeditions undertaken by detachments of the British Indian Army to the Tochi Valley and the Waziristan frontier. A military road led from the town of Bannu toward Dera Ismail Khan; this road was built by military engineers under the supervision of a Bannu engineer, Ram N. Mullick.
Arrival at Saidgi:
Caption from above image: K.R.R.C. [King’s Royal Rifle Corps]:
Arrival at Bannu:

Again, the photographs indicate that two separate columns marched north to reach Kohat. Those who had gone east from Idak to Bannu, would travel further east to Latambar Pass before going north to Kohat. The others would go directly from Idak to Datta Khel, Thal, then Kohat.
Of the column heading directly north from Idak directly to Thal, at least two scenes are captured in the Spinchilla Valley [Spinchilla Pass] which lies between Datta Khel and Miranshah, where only fifteen years earlier in 1921 a fierce battle had taken place. There are several views of Datakhel Valley, southwest of Thal, including a spectacular view of the fort, a solid and imposing edifice with the Imperial British flag flying from its integrated lookout tower. Datakhel Fort [Datta Khel] was the nearest post to the Faqir of Ipi’s headquarters at Gorwekht. It sustained many sieges in the course of its history. Two supply trucks are present and a couple dozen men are roaming outside. Notice a courtyard with what appears to be soccer net for some leisure time. A long-range photograph also shows the Razmak Column camp situated a few hundred yards from the fort. Some areas of the valley appear arid while others lush and fertile, where agriculture was prominent. [The town of Datta Khel is located around 41 km south west of Miran Shan and 21 km of Boya.]Photographing the troops who went to Bannu, captures them in the Latamber Pass. Another striking image shows them exiting a mountain tunnel, possibly in this region. [Latambar is an important town in the district of Karak, located 29 kilometres to the east of Bannu.] A camp image is captioned as “K.R.R. Camp at Banda” [King’s Royal Rifle], which is Banda Daud Shash, the headquarter of the tehsil by the same name, located in Karak District, immediately north of Latambar. Slightly farther north, in the vast and desolate Lachi Pass [Lachi Kandoa], hundreds of men look like ants marching along in perfect symmetry on a winding road, as the photographer gets a birds-eye view from a hilltop. One captain leads the formation, and a few horses carrying supplies take up the rear. [There is a locality/town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, situated nearby to Hindki Banda in the Kohat District, comprising some 24,000 residents today.]
A large number of troops from one of the aforementioned columns are photographed entering a rest camp at Kohat, which incidentally, is gated. This fascinating image inadvertently also provides a glimpse into civilian life. Men in traditional costume employ horse-drawn carriages and heavily laden mules for conveyance of goods and passengers. Irrigation ditches flank the dirt road, which bears a white mile marker. [Kohat in present-day is the capital of the Kohat District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and regarded as a centre of the Bangash tribe of Pashtuns, who have lived in the region since the late 15th century.]
Latambar Pass:
Crossing Tunnel:
Arriving at Kohat:

As the political and social unrest increased with intensity, and revolts increased in frequency in 1937, more troops were brought in for enforcement and defence. The album’s images reveal the growth of the camps, the need for supply caravans, and the disbursement of troops beyond principal routes and into mountainous tribal regions of the Northwest Frontier.The Razmak column, known as Razcol, had begun the march without incident, but after three days came under fire while traversing a narrow valley about 10 miles (16 km) short of Bichhe Kashkai. Intense fighting ensued as the column had to fight its way through to the village, while the two Indian battalions that made up Tocol from Mirali ran into even tougher opposition and were delayed until the following day. The supply situation was desperate and casualties numbered around 100, so it was decided to withdraw both columns back to Mirali. This was achieved, but the picquets and rearguard were heavily engaged on numerous occasions before they arrived.The outcome of the expedition was the reverse of the desired outcome, as, instead of demonstrating government resolve and strength, it had in fact highlighted their weakness, and Mirzali Khan’s support rose dramatically. For the next year, trouble and insurrection spread throughout Waziristan, as Wazirs, Dawars, Mahsuds, Bettanis, and even Afghans from across the border rallied to support the Mirzali Khan’s cause.By April 1937, four extra brigades had been brought in to reinforce the garrisons at Razmak, Bannu and Wanna, and at the height of the campaign in 1937, some 60,000 regular and irregular troops were employed by the British in an effort to bring to battle an estimated 4,000 hostile tribesmen.While the British attempted to stamp out the insurrection by drawing the tribesmen into decisive engagement, Mirzali Khan remained at large (and indeed was never caught), and the tribesmen generally managed to avoid being drawn into battle using guerrilla tactics of ambush in order to keep the initiative. In doing so, they inflicted considerable casualties upon the British and Indian troops. An example of this occurred in April 1937, when a convoy from Wanna was ambushed in the Shahur Tangi defile. Using captured mountain guns and modern rifles, the vehicles were destroyed and the exits blocked, and in the ensuing battle seven officers and 45 men were killed, while another 47 were wounded. The tribesmen did not have everything their way, however, as the British began quartering the troubled areas and destroying hostile villages with both air and ground forces.By December 1937, the Mirzali Khan’s support began to wane and following this, the decision was made to withdraw most of the additional brigades that had been brought up to bolster the garrisons at Razmak, Bannu and Wanna, as it was decided that their presence would only serve to inflame the situation. Trouble flared up again in 1938-39, although to a much lesser extent. On 23 July 1938, a tribal force launched an attack on the town of Bannu, killing up to 200 civilians and damaging a considerable amount of property. As a result of this, British prestige was again weakened and support for Mirzali Khan grew once again. After 1939, the North West Frontier quieted down, and remained reasonably peaceful. Apart from the occasional raid on a village or attack on a garrison, things would remain this way until the end of British rule in 1947.
In the present albums, Tundan’s photographs show a sizeable camp at Muhammad Khel, roughly 40 km west of Idak, and situated on the Tochi river. Here, the formation of tents creates a perimeter to deter invaders. Inside the compound, we see 15 large military supply trucks which would travel throughout the frontier regions in convoys. Large canvas barriers are perched on a hillside, for practice, lookout operations, or both.Khushalgarh camp, also photographed, spans an open plain with perfectly aligned white dwelling tents as well as larger tents typically for mess, medical and the like. Two large permanent buildings are seen in the distance. One of the albums begins with a lovely image of the Khushalgarh Bridge [Khushal Garh Bridge], which crosses the Indus river near the small village of Khushalgarh, just southeast of Kohat. It is a broad gauge bridge and was completed in 1907 as part of the Khushalgarh-Kohat-Thal Railway. Other views show the troops crossing Khushalgarh Bridge, and marching beyond, up an incline. [Kushalgarh is a village in the Kohat District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is the point at which the Indus River was bridged to permit the extension of the railway from Rawalpindi to the Miranzai and Kurram valleys.]One particularly fascinating, and indeed very scarce photograph is a scene of a horse caravan which demonstrates the monumental task of transporting supplies for the sixty-thousand soldiers dispersed throughout the land. Each hard-working beast is paired with another and harnessed to pull a carriage heavily laden with tents and everything needed for the men to do their jobs. Guided by a scant few men, one having a motorcycle, onward and very much upward they trod through the winding hill roads.

The “Razman Column” was a remarkable sight to behold, and very well captured in photographs by Tundan, as the thousands upon thousands of British and Indian troops marched through the passes and valleys, crossed bridges, and erected encampments in the Waziristan.“Razmak Camp” in Waziristan became famously known as “Chota London” during the pre-independence period. The British Army transformed Razmak into a beautiful hamlet with houses resembling those in the countryside of England, Razmak being considered a ‘heaven on earth’.

North West Frontier Revolt of 1936-37In 1936, a revolt broke out in Waziristan, a mountainous region inhabited by warlike tribes, an area that is today part of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province. A Muslim holy man, Mirza Ali Khan – the Faqir of Ipi [Faqeer of Ipi], led the Wazirs against the occupying British-Indian regime for many years, and the revolt remains one of the greatest twentieth-century South Asian insurgencies.After the demise of Haji Saheb Taurangzai and Mullah Powinds, the lone un-purchaseable mujahid left in the field was Faqir Ipi. Ipi, the village of the legendary freedom fighter Faqir of Ipi, is sited between Mir Ali and Thall in North Waziristan.A fakir (fäker`, fa`k?r), [Arab.,=poverty], in Islam, is usually an initiate in a Sufi order. The title fakir is borne with the understanding that poverty is the need to be in relation to God. This term, along with its Persian equivalent, dervish, was extended in Western usage to Indian ascetics and yogis, and incorrectly used generally for itinerant magicians and wonder-workers. The term has come to be specially applied to the Hindu devotees and ascetics of India. There were two classes of these Indian Fakirs, the religious orders, and the nomad rogues who infest the country. The ascetic orders resemble the Franciscans of Christianity. The bulk lead really excellent lives in monasteries, which are centres of education and poor-relief; while others go out to visit the poor as Gurus or teachers. The second class of Fakirs are simply disreputable beggars who wander round extorting, under the guise of religion, alms from the charitable and practising on the superstitions of the villagers.In 1936, a Tori Khel Wazir named Mira Ali Khan began an anti-government campaign in Waziristan that continually menaced the British until their departure from India in 1947. More commonly known as the Faqir of Ipi, he first gained British attention when he tried to disrupt a trial in Bannu. The British had little success in capturing or killing important fugitives in Waziristan. The Mullah Powindah and the Faqir of Ipi eluded British pursuit for decades. The Pashtun tenant of melmastia, the complex terrain of Waziristan, and their religious status helped ensured Powindah and the Faqir never were killed or captured by the British.The Faqir of Ipi’s anti-government rhetoric prompted a two column British show of force through northern Waziristan. In contrast to other punitive expeditions, the British operated under restrictive rules of engagement which forbade troops to shoot until shot at. Every military rule for effective Frontier warfare was in conflict with political rules – all of which the tribesmen knew very well and took every advantage.During the 1933-37 operations by the British against the Fakir of Ipi in North Waziristan, the Mahsuds from South Waziristan, Ahmed Wazirs from Bannu, Bhittanis and Bakka Khels from Bannu FR, operated under Ipi’s flag. The show of force, intended to demonstrate British strength, ended in disaster as tribesmen continually attacked the columns and inflicted heavy casualties. The failure of the columns elevated the Faqir of Ipi’s prestige and incited the Wazirs, Mahsuds, Bhittanis, and even Afghans across the border to rally to his cause. The British responded by sending four more brigades to Razmak in 1937. Though the British hoped to catch the Faqir of Ipi in a fixed engagement, he never made a stand and eluded capture. In April 1937, tribesmen ambushed a British convoy traveling to Wana and killed or wounded 92 officers and soldiers.The challenges of the elusive enemy and broken terrain in Waziristan forced the British to operate in a very deliberate and set piece manner that ultimately inhibited flexibility and initiative. The British responded to their failure to subdue the Faqir of Ipi by destroying villages but achieved nothing conclusive. By late 1937, the heavy destruction eventually dampened support for the Faqir. The British consequently decided that a large presence inside Waziristan was counterproductive and reduced troop levels to pre-crisis levels. Fighting flared up again in 1938-9, albeit on a smaller scale. The Faqir managed to raid Bannu, at further expense to British prestige.

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