Mullah Powindah

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Mullah Powindah born Mohiuddin Mahsud (died 1913) was a religious leader in the Pashtun tribe of the Mahsuds. Mullah Powindah led a long-standing guerrilla insurgency against the British forces in the late 19th century.

Mullah Powindah used the Tochi Valley as his centre of operations and incited people from the area to revolt in Jihad against the British. He became known first as the Selani Mullah and later as Mullah Powindah rather than by his rarely used real name of Mohiuddin. He was not a scholar in real terms but was familiar with the main tenets of Islam, and due to his closeness with the clergy came to be known as a Mullah. He was a revolutionary National leader and even the staunchest and most unwilling Wazir and Mahsud tribesmen supported him and united on his call.

Mullah Powindah did Bai'ath from Mullah Muhammad Anwar of Tirah under the Qadiriyyah Tarikah. His teacher was Maulana Hamzullah Wazir who also was a prominent mujahed of his time. Along with religious teachings, Mullah Powindah also received military training from Maulana Hamzullah Wazir.

Clash with the British[edit]

The British did not like his increasing popularity. They were already aware of the resistance from the Wazirs. In 1894 2000 Wazir and Mahsud youth had rioted against the British Cantonment, and the British losses at the hand of these Mujahideen in Wana were still fresh in their minds. After this incident, a Mr. Baros was named the Political Agent to the agency. He had already played a major role in the success of the Sandeman policy in Balochistan.

However, Baros knew it would be difficult to handle the tribes. Unlike Balochistan; where sardars wield the power, Wazir tribes had power in the Jirga; where every single youth was an important member. As soon as Baros was appointed, a group of five Wazirs assassinated the British officer in charge of the constructions and communications department. Baros pressured the Maliks to bring forward the accused in a Jirga and punish them. The Mahsud tribe yielded under pressure and brought forward the five accused. They were each given seven years imprisonment.

When Mullah Powindah learned of this, he understood it as an act of subjugation to the British. He announced that no one was to carry out this punishment. At this, the public surrounded the abodes of each of the Maliks who had announced the punishment. Three of them were executed for treason and the other two vanished fearing their lives. Along with this, Mullah Powindah also sent a letter to the political agent Mr. Baros through his trusted nephew Mullah Abdul Hakeem. In the letter he told the Political Agent to release the five tribesmen. At the time of receiving the letter. Mr. Baros was again planning to recapture areas outside Wana. In the same letter Mullah Powindah also told him to stay clear of Wana.

As expected, Baros did not pay much attention to these warnings and sent an abuse riddled reply to Mullah Powindah. After the failure of these peace talks, Mullah Powindah decided to teach the British Political Agent a lesson.

Early morning on 2 November 1894, the British officers were still asleep in the Wana cantonment. Suddenly, a Lashkar of Mujahideen made a surprise attack. Such was the ferocity and quickness of the strike that the British forces couldn't make proper decisions on how to react.

According to the Pioneer (published from Allahabad, India), the number of Mujahideen was around 1000. It described in detail the event, how the drumming, shouting and firing Mujahideen caught the British by surprise. The article reported the deaths of at least 100 British officers and common soldiers, with at least twice that number injured.

As soon as they attacked, the Mujahideen retreated back to their mountain strongholds with the same swiftness. General Turner and Major O'Neil sent soldiers in pursuit of the retreating party but they came back empty handed.

Almost immediately, another army was assembled, its command given to Sir William Lockhart, and then sent to Waziristan. By November, cantonments in Waziristan were filled with troops under the British.

General Lockhart gave the Mullahs and other leaders a time frame of one month in which to submit an apology. But throughout the time nobody said anything or did anything.

On 14 December, the army spread out hoping to encounter the rebels and teach them a lesson. They proceeded from Wana to Kaniguram, Jandola to Makeen and from Bannu to Razmak. Winter had started and snow began to fall. Ice cold winds started to blow. The soldiers who had come from hot areas of India to these highlands were not used to the cold.

The Wazirs and Mahsuds played a patient waiting game. They did not confront the incoming armies, but followed the time-honored strategy of almost all Pashtun tribes which allows their enemies in and then unleash a fierce counterattack. However, in this case the British faced no resistance. On 9 January the British forces retreated back to the same positions from which they had started.

On 21 January 1895 the British approached the tribesmen for peace talks and proposed the following demands:

  • The Tribesmen return all the loot and war booty
  • Mullah Powindah not be allowed to enter any area of Waziristan
  • 50 Rifles, 200 Guns, 2 Swords and 1200 Rupees be given to the British as a fine for the crimes they have committed

During negotiations, the tribesmen agreed to the demands but none of them were ever fulfilled.

During the late 1890s Powindah may have carried out small raids on the British; these may have stopped after he met with the local Political Agent in 1900. He publicly refused the usual allownce given a tribal leader by the imperial government, insisting that his tribe's concerns be addressed. However he may have received larger sums without publicity. He remained a concern of the Raj until his death.

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