Religious Autonomy of the Tribal Belt
Title: Frontier of Faith Author: Sana Haroon Publisher: Oxford University Press, Pakistan (January 2011) Pages: 258, Paperback Price: PKR 595 ISBN: 9780199060252
It is a commonly held misconception that the area between Central Asia and South Asia is in perpetual friction. First, “the Great Game” gripped the region into its tentacles and now it is “the New Great Game” that continues to wreak havoc. The result of these bloody games is constant instability and warfare in an otherwise restive region. This turbulent land encompasses Afghanistan, KhyberPakhtunkhawa and the Tribal areas of Pakistan. The whole region has traditionally been marked by tribal, ethnic and religious affiliations and a conservative mindset, making it a hotbed of military and political machinations. The other remarkable feature of this region is the existence of localism. This trend prevents the development of any legal-institutional authority system. The absence of a legal-institutional system has contributed to its alienation from the modern concepts like nation-state, written legislation system, global trade re- gime and central authority.
‘Frontier of Faith’ consists of an introduction, six chapters and an epilogue. It is supplemented with maps, bibliography, glossary and an index. The premise of this book explores how the religious elite has maintained the essential autonomy of this region. Haroon attempts to also shed light on the contemporary terrorist upheaval.
The book attempts to explore the function of the mullah in Pakhtun hinterlands and traces his journey from a syncretism of Sufi creed to the orthodoxy of hard-line Deobandi belief. Turangzai, a mul- lah, embodies this metamorphosis from mysticism to orthodoxy. Having fought against the British Raj, he has become a paragon of fight against foreign occupiers. Numerous Afghan fighters draw their imaginative strength from Turangzai’s fight more than a century ago.
Mullahs are vital social actors in the tribal areas. Historically, the Pakhtun of the Tribal Areas were ruled by their tribal code Pakhtunwali that remains intertwined with faith through the agency of the mullahs. The mullahs were mostly a part of a chain of mystics — mostly Qadiriya — who decided the matters of Sharia law in the light of their jurisprudence and in deference to the tribal code. Gradually the mullahs all changed to the Mujaddadiya chain of mysticism, which meant they became militant rather than quiescent in the Qadiri tradition.
Mullahs were by and large involved in agrarian-based mundane activities: financial transactions, marrying within an endogamous clan system and social interaction. In all these cases, mullahs were mainly Pakhtun in heritage and clan centered in outlook. These mullahs derived their energy from their knowledge of Shariah in the tribal jirgas. Therefore in social and legislative matters, the mullah’s influence overlapped with each
Ahmed Shah Abdali rendered many changes in the religio-political landscape of this land. He allured the descendants of Mujaddid Alf Sani to move to Kabul after his raid of Delhi in 1748. On their arrival and with patronage from the court of Ahmed Shah, they gained pre-eminence at the Afghan court. They were also granted lands in Kabul, Kohistan, Jalalabad, Kandahar and Herat where the influence of the Naqshbandiya-Mujaddidiya line grew to its strongest. It is Alf Sani’s Mujaddadi militancy that forms the Pakhtun personality. This militancy is still found in the frantic frenzy of militants residing in these areas.
The piri-muridi tradition was strong among the Pakhtuns, until another great man in the tradition of Naqshbandiya-Mujaddadiya chain became their patron in chief, Shah Waliullah. This was a puritanical era in the religious configuration of tribal areas. His movement was one of easing the orthodoxy propagated by Mujaddid Alf Sani. His disciples and descendants waged Holy war against Sikhs to revive and establish an Islamic Caliphate based on Arabian model. The roots of militant activities can be traced back from that era of religious revivalism.
Akhund Ghafur set up the throne of Swat and in 1849 put Syed Akbar Shah on it as Amir of Swat. Shah was a former secretary of Syed Ahmad of Rai Bareilly, but after his death took the throne himself. He kept contact with the Mujaddadi chief mullah of Kabul and derived much power from the Kabul throne through the mystic silsila. His military might was respected in the region surrounding Swat.
Jamaat e Mujahadeen began in 1915. The roots of anti-colonialism in the tribal areas did not come directly and this movement made anti-colonialism its main agenda. Anti-colonialism was in essence the off-shoot of the influence of Indian Muslim political discourse on the areas of Peshawar, Hazara, Bannu, Kohat and Dera Ismail Khan. Tribal areas became accomplices of wider settled regions in that struggle against anti-colonialism.
In post-independent Pakistan, students of politics and history know what followed in that region during the regime of General Zia ul Haq. He launched a Jihad against the ‘evil empire’ of Russia at the behest of the American government. The army of Pakistan in connivance with CIA garnered a worldwide recruitment for militants. It was an era of free trade in jihadists. Washington witnessed the liberalization and deregulation of Jihadists across the world. Globalization of militancy took place without restriction and Peshawar became the capital of global Jihad. After 9/11 though, all the Taliban fugitives from Afghanistan took refuge in these tribal areas. Now these rogue elements, out of Jihadist impulse, are wrecking vengeance on the people of Pakistan.
The book is thorough, clearly written and well researched. Its arrival in the Pakistan market will definitely help to understand the religious anatomy of tribal areas of Pakistan. Policy makers as well as students of history and politics can immensely benefit from such a resource. Hammad Raza is an independent political analyst and is currently working on a book on the history of revolutions. He holds a Masters degree in International Relations from Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.
Reviewed by Hammad Raza