WAR AND WAR: PHOTOGRAPHS OF WAZIRISTAN’S PAST FROM THE JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF COLLECTION IN THE WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY
Today’s blog post come to you courtesy of Sharf Associate Librarian, Rochelle Pienn. This past summer, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf substantially added to our holdings a large and historically important cache of rare books, original diaries, and photograph albums. Their generosity was not limited to the two dozen or so boxes of books shipped to our library, but also included funds enabling us to keep Ms. Pienn hard at work accessioning and documenting the materials. Here is her report on one particular photograph album from the Sharf’s most recent gift to the library.
In the winding terrain of Waziristan, before the formation of Pakistan in 1947, the Wazirs and Mahsuds clashed in episodes of violent conflict on the British-occupied Afghan border and in former British India. This original photograph album from the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection at the Wolfsonian museum library contains rare pictures from one of the more intense military operations of the British kind in the contested region.
Upon first opening this album, I discovered two distinctive sets of photographs: some smaller, showing men in candid shots, and others larger, and apparently strategic, depicting marches through a specific landscape. Part of the excitement of processing rare photograph albums includes what I like to call the “spy” factor—that spark of desire to solve a mystery from the past with the most elusive of clues.
The album begins with a painterly image of Khyber Pass by B. R. Tundan. Tundan was a civilian and a professional photographer. Further captions and soldiers’ scrawls on the backs of photos informed me that the subject of Tundan’s pictures was the 1st Battalion, Northamptonshire, 48th Regiment.
This photo shows the Regiment crossing the Baran bridge as it proceeds to cover as much harsh terrain as quickly as possible. I contacted the Northampton Museum in the U.K., which houses the official records of the Regiment since its deactivation in 1960. John Sims, a historian, and Jenny Hand, a curator, both helped me piece together more of the story of this compelling photo album: Tundan and his associates, along with occasional photographic rivals, made a series of pictures showing the Regiment running its paces in 1936, during the Waziristan Revolt. These photos served as a guide to troops perusing the area.
Troops here arrive at their base at Rail Head. This photo is attributed to James Cass. Historian John Sims noted that Tundan and his colleague’s pictures were carried around by soldiers who kept their own personal albums. An earlier researcher of this album indicated that scenes in the photos possibly portrayed a previous military regiment known as the Wana Column, a group originally created to quell the first Waziristan revolt, ten years previous.
In fact, it’s more likely that these unidentified British soldiers were part of the troops sent to squelch Pashtun religious leader Faqir of Ipi’s anti-Hindu and anti-British attacks during the Waziristan Campaign of 1936-1939. Today’s Taliban traces its ancestry to the warrior Pashtuns. The delicate threshold of religious intolerance between various Muslim and Islamic factions and Indian religions erupted regularly during British occupation. The British cautiously aligned themselves with Indian sensibilities per their years of colonialism in that country.
These photos show scenes from Dalhousie, a well-established British retreat at the foot of the Himalayas.
The British troops descended upon the fighting in the Khiasora Valley. Afterwards, the region quieted for the most part, with Faqir of Ipi making an escape into Waziristan. He became an enemy of what is now today’s Pakistan until his death.
“A scout’s post” rises suddenly in the bare hillside.
Here, the British Army meets with native tribes, dictating terms of their surrender.
The typical gallows humor of the British soldier also included racist attitudes, as shown in this cartoon:
The railroad at Bannu Station allowed for more efficient movement of men and supplies:
The Indus River bridge was a critical supply route.
Valley bridges cut dramatically through the mountain landscape.
The unknown owner of the album displays “General Views” of Razmak in these smaller amateur photos.
This aerial shot of the organized camp at Dambil illustrates the sheer determination of the British military to infiltrate foreign soil. The camp’s stronghold was the site of bloody combat between Gurkhas (British and Indian soldiers from Nepal) and Pashtun warriors.
Tension occurred between unyielding religious rivals in this turbulent part of the world no less during episodes of history than it does today. While the British continued to strive for peaceful coexistence between hostile tribes as would serve imperial interests, long-term calm would repeatedly elude all stakeholders of the region, so diametrically opposed in their beliefs.