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A low blow

The tribals living on both sides of the Afghan border were as proud, rugged and harsh as the terrain they inhabited, writes MN Batra.

india Updated: Apr 15, 2007, 23:50 IST
MN Batra
MN Batra

The tribals living on both sides of the Afghan border were as proud, rugged and harsh as the terrain they inhabited. During the British raj, Waziristan was an excellent training ground as live ammunition was used and survival was the watchword. Lessons were learnt the hard way. In army circles, a posting to Waziristan was considered a punishment. It happened on a ‘super night’ in the Officers’ Mess when free seating was allowed. A crusty old British major ordered me to vacate “his chair” which I refused to do. He went berserk and threatened to “fix” me. Sure enough, a week later I received posting orders to Waziristan. I was livid at that time but later, it proved to be a blessing as it gave me valuable field experience. On reporting to my new unit at Razmak, I found that my British company commander had been evacuated the day before on medical grounds, making me in command of a unit with British and Indian troops.

At that time, a religious icon called Faqir of Ipi had called for a jehad against all ‘occupation’ forces. Our outposts and convoys were attacked. A military operation was launched when an important post was surrounded. My company was ambushed twice but we came through successfully as a team. The elusive Faqir slipped across the Afghan border to fight another day. Field Marshal Wavell, then C-in-C India and later Viceroy, paid a special visit to congratulate our brigade. He had kind words to say when he was informed that for the first time an Indian officer had commanded British troops under fire.

Our brigade commander had warned us to be extra careful not to be taken prisoner as tribal customs meant that captives would be handed over to the womenfolk. Such captives could face the wrath of their women, who aim sharp weapons at the lower half of the body. It is said that all is fair in love and war. But does that exclude women from hitting below the belt?

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