Thursday, 24 July 2014

Afridis in the eyes of Winston S. Churchill

During the stay of the brigades in Bajaur, there had been several cases of desertion among the Afridi Sepoys. On one occasion five men of the 24th Punjaub Infantry, who were out on picket, departed in a body, and taking their arms with them set off towards Tirah and the Khyber Pass.
It should not be forgotten by those who make, wholesale assertions of treachery and untrust- worthiness against the Afridi and Pathan soldiers, that these men are placed in a very strange and false position. They are asked to fight against their countrymen and co-religionists. On the one side are accumulated all the forces of fanaticism,patriotism and natural ties. On the other military associations stand alone. It is no doubt a grievous thing to be false to an oath of allegiance, but there are other obligations not less sacred. To respect an oath is a duty which the individual owes to society. Yet, who would by his evidence send a brother to the gallows ? The ties of nature are older and take precedence of all other human laws. When the Pathan is invited to suppress his
fellow-countrymen, or even to remain a spectator of their suppression, he finds himself in a situation at which, in the words of Burke, " Morality is perplexed, reason staggered, and from which affrighted nature recoils."
There are many on the frontier who realise these things, and who sympathise with the Afridi soldier in his dilemma. An officer of the Guides Infantry, of long experience and considerable distinction, who commands both Sikhs and Afridis, and has led both many times in action, writes as follows :
" Personally, I dou't blame any Afridis who desert to go and defend their own country, now that we have invaded it, and I think it is only natural and proper that they should want to do so."
Such an opinion may be taken as typical of the views of a great number of officers, who have some title to speak on the subject, as it is one on which their lives might at any moment depend.
In 1895, when Lieut. Colonel Battye was killed near the Panjkora River and the Guides were hard pressed, the Subadar of the Afridi company, turning to his countrymen,
shouted : " Now, then, Afridi folk of the Corps of Guides, the Commanding Officer's killed, now's the time to charge ! " and the British officers had the greatest difficulty in restraining these impetuous soldiers from leaving their position, and rushing to certain death. The story recalls the speech of the famous cavalry colonel at the action of Tamai, when the squares were seen to be broken, and an excited and demoralised correspondent galloped wildly up to the squadrons, declaring that all was
lost. " How do you mean ' all's lost ' ? Don't you see the loth Hussars are here ? " There are men in the world who derive as stern an exultation from the proximity of disaster and ruin as others from success, and who are more magnificent in defeat
than others are in victory. Such spirits are undoubtedly to be found among the Afridis and Pathans.
I will quote, in concluding this discussion, the opinion of an old Gurkha Subadar who had seen much fighting. He said that he liked the Sikhs better, but would sooner have Afridis with him at a pinch than any other breed of men in India. It is comfortable to reflect, that both are among the soldiers of the Queen.
The Story of the Malakand Field Force - An Episode of the Frontier War By Winston S. Churchill

1919: An Afridi Tribesman sniper fires down upon British troops from a vantage point in the Hindu Kush mountains.

Major M C Holmes conferring with Afridi tribesmen, 1930

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