21 Apr 2008

“Walk Warily in Waziristan”

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Captain Francis Stockdale in Waziristan, 1919

The BBC reports that the privately-printed memoir of a British officer deserves wider contemporary circulation, proving that, in that particular inclement corner of the world, little has changed in nearly a century, beyond precisely who it is the locals are sniping at.

In 1919, a young British army officer, Francis Stockdale, was deployed to the Waziristan area of British India.

The title of his book, “Walk Warily in Waziristan” seems no less appropriate now than it did 90 years ago, because today the autonomous Pakistani tribal region of North and South Waziristan is the centre of militancy orchestrated by pro-Taleban and al-Qaeda militants.

It is also an area where many believe the al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden, may be hiding after the September 2001 World Trade Centre attacks.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that Capt Stockdale’s family published a handful of copies of the book, only a few of which survive. But because or renewed interest in the region, the family in the English county of Norfolk are considering reprinting it.

The book provides a fascinating account of what was regarded then – as it is today – as a thoroughly dangerous area.

One of the main towns close to Waziristan is Tank. Capt Stockdale describes it as being “the worst station in British India”.

“It was known as ‘Hell’s door knocker’ because in the summer the temperature would rise so high that a village nearby rejoiced in the highest temperature in the world – a modest 131 degrees in the shade.

“But it was also an area where hostile tribesman waited, watched and pounced,” he wrote.

“My memories of Tank are characterised by sporadic outbreaks of rifle fire by night and spasmodic outbreaks of cholera during the day. The town fully deserved its poor reputation.”

Capt Stockdale goes on to describe just how dangerous the “hostile tribesmen” were in the Wana, the main town of South Waziristan, when a sniper infiltrated a British camp.

“Like all tribesmen in this area, he was a marvellous shot,” Capt Stockdale wrote, “and he killed the commanding officer with his first shot.

“He killed or wounded 11 other men before his hiding place was discovered.”

Ninety years ago, it seemed that British troops in Waziristan faced the same kind of dangers as Pakistani troops in the region do today.

Read the whole thing.

6 Feedbacks on "“Walk Warily in Waziristan”"

Dominique R. Poirier

Some readers of a weblog such as Neveryetmelted might be interested to know that the Waziristan region encompasses a historically renowned location known as the Khyber Pass, which happens to have another particularity I am going to introduce to gun aficionados, more especially.

Throughout history the Khyber Pass has been an important trade route between Central Asia and South Asia, and a strategic military location. The summit of the Khyber Pass is 3 miles inside Pakistan at Landi Kotal, and it cuts through the northeastern part of the Safed Koh mountains, which themselves are a far southeastern extension of the Hindu Kush range.

As with many passes, the start and finish of the Khyber Pass are ill-defined. Many definitions state that it starts from near Jamrud, Pakistan, 9 miles west of Peshawar, and ends west of Torkham, Afghanistan, a winding road of 30 miles which passes Fort Maude and Ali Masjid to reach a narrowest point of just 50 feet wide between canyon walls.

In some versions of the Aryan migration theory, the Indo-Aryans migrated to India via the Khyber Pass.
Recorded invasions through the Khyber Pass begin with the conquests of Alexander the Great and also include later Muslim invasions of South Asia, culminating with the establishment of the Mughul Empire from 1526. From India, the British invaded Afghanistan and fought three Afghan Wars in 1839-42, 1878-80, and 1919.

Also this location gave its name to a special type of firearms popularly known in there as “Khyber Pass Copy.”

A Khyber Pass Copy is a nearly perfect copy of a reputed military small arm, entirely and locally handcrafted from whatever materials are available – more often than not, railway lines/sleepers, junked motor vehicles, and scrap metal…

Those copies are thus produced since the 19th Century, during British military expeditions in the North-West Frontier. Along the following years, and until today, those home-made firearms, whose similarities with authentic models are as dumfounding as their rudimentary means of production, made a worldwide reputation for those who handcraft it in there.

Models regularly produced in the Khyber Pass region range from old British Martini-Henry and Martini-Enfield of the late 19th century, to 20th century Lee-Enfield rifles; and even AK-47 rifles, Webley Revolvers, Tokarev TT-33s, Colt M1911s.

Some years ago, as I carefully examined some pictures of those local copies, I found a copy of Browning 1919 A4 machine gun, caliber 30-06 whose exterior finishing could abuse any good gunsmith…

However, the quality of those guns varies – as one might expect – from “as good as a factory-produced example” to “dangerously unsafe”, tending towards the latter end of the scale. Let’s say that most, if not all, Khyber Pass Copies are equipped with smooth barrels; and so poor is their accuracy.
For, most of those local gunsmiths just do not have any rifling machine tools…

Ammunitions used in the region is often under loaded, being made from a variety of powders or even old film (which contains nitrocellulose, a key component of smokeless powder).

As such, Khyber Pass Copy rifles cannot generally stand up to the pressures generated by modern commercial ammunitions. In short, it is generally advised that they should not be fired under any circumstances, although there are a few collectors out there who have made extremely mild handloaded cartridges for their Khyber Pass rifles.

Pretty sure Captain Francis Stockdale knew something about Khyber Pass Copies.

rehan khan

sir,my name is rehan and i m belong from that area and i m really intrested to know my history so if u have history books or notes or some other stuff about that area plz send me me i m really thankful for u .

John Grammer

I was just casually talking with friends about Waziristan, and how my great uncle had written a book about it after being stationed there. I just googled the title and I was amazed this just popped up, right out of history! I met Uncle Tim when I was eight, on his farm in England, in 1969, and he still had horses, beautiful horses, in fact. His influence was responsible for my fascination with horses. My mother still has
an original copy of WWW which I grew up reading. Amazing how an obscure title has become relevant once again. History indeed does repeat itself. John Grammer2/11/2012

dawood khan

You have done a great job but to my surprize, it is regretfulthat full text(PDF format) is not availabale. You are requested to upload the whole book which may be aesily accessible for the benift of general readers.

Khalil ur rehman wazir

I have studied alots of books written by those brittian who stationed here in waziristan..but what they have wrote is totaly not according to our elders and historian stories and our history books which is vailable in our mother language. But let me know what this book is saying about us.plz available it in pdf or word text format. I will be thank full.. Khalil ur rehman wazir from wana s.w.a


The book is very rare. There are no electronic copies out there, and no actual examples of the book are currently being offered for sale.

You can read a description of its contents here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7325117.stm


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