1980-1989 | Afghanistan | Backing terror operations



The Daily Herald, 14 March 1932, p. 3.

[ 11 March 1932 ]

In early March 1932, the RAF prepared to launch what had become routine punitive bombing operations along the North West Frontier in which entire valleys of villages would be occasionally bombed whenever the British sensed that they were no longer sufficiently respected and feared. On this occasion, they were incensed that their reconnaissance aircraft were being sniped at by villagers, who had been angered by previous destructive raids, and that the inhabitants were providing refuge and assistance to members of Khudai Khidmatgar, an anti-colonial non-violent resistance movement also known as the Red Shirts, who had escaped across the border to evade arrest in India.1

The British authorities also claimed that a 74 year renown Muslim scholar and preacher, Haji Sahib Turangzai, had been ‘unremitting in his efforts to stir up the tribes which live north of the Kabul River,’ explaining that he was related by marriage to the 42 year old Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as ‘the frontier Ghandi,’ who was leading the Red Shirts in and around the Indian city of Peshawar, and had been recently imprisoned.2 Bodies of men were said to be marching towards the frontier chanting ‘Free Gandhi from prison’ and the British suspected that they had been encouraged by Haji Turangzai as well as activists from India’s pro independence Congress Party. There were also ‘unconfirmed reports’ that several local communities were ‘joining in with the Haji’ and ‘turning hostile.’3

The Times correspondent at Peshawar claimed that outside interference was also to blame and that intelligence suggested that the inhabitants of Chamarkand in the Bajaur district were engaged in ‘intrigues with Communist agents in Kabul, Tashkent and Samarkand’ and that their leader was in receipt of ‘regular sums of money from a Communist source abroad.’4 The Chicago Tribune, with the benefit of a relatively neutral stance, thought that the real motivation for British action was rather more prosaic, that they feared there was ‘uneasiness among the unruly tribes… up against the Afghan border, where the hillmen have never been fully subdued.’5

The Times correspondent made an interesting admission, which further undermined the supposed necessity for bombing villages, reassuring its readers that ‘it is thought that even if disaffection spreads among the Mohmands (one of the most prominent local ethnic groups), ample forces are available here to prevent incursions on a large scale.’ In other words, whatever unrest there might be, there was uncertainty as to whether it was widely supported, and that whatever might happen the British had ample defensive forces to meet even the worst possible scenario. ‘The immediate problem,’ the paper added, was ‘to check the infection in the Peshawar district itself,’ again suggesting that the bombing was no so much a military necessity, as opposed to a strategic decision to terrorize terrorize the local population into acquiescence to British rule.6


The first air raids by biplane bombers were carried out on Tuesday 8 March against what a Reuter report described as ‘certain Mohmand villages,’ without giving either their names, while The Times described it as a bombing operation by 32 aircraft against villages in the Bajaur Valley, located just inside British India on what is today the Pakistan side of the Afghan frontier. The Times added that the raid had inflicted a ‘salutary lesson’ on the inhabitants. No mention was made in either report as to the number of villages or even giving any indication as to the damage inflicted or casualties. 7


The Reuter report also described how on Thursday 10 March ‘3 Shamozai villages were given a similar punishment,’ According to Reuter, the RAF pilots had found the bombing on the previous days difficult due to a thick blanket of cloud from ‘the torrential rainstorms, blotting out the hills.’ The Times explained, they had been able to seize a brief window between storms on Thursday afternoon, again flying up the Bajaur valley to drop three and half tons of bombs on the village of Chingai which was ‘now in flames,’ and according to the next edition of the paper ‘was still smoking’ the following day, though it made no reference to the other two villages.8


On Friday 11 March, with the clouds finally clearing, a decision was made to make an air strike against the village of Lakari (or Lakhari), some thirty miles from the Indian border, where the Haji of Turangzai was said to be preaching, and also against several villages in the Bajaur valley, The Times correspondent reporting gleefully how ‘sudden puffs of whitish smoke from Bar-Khalozai, Badan-Kot and Damadola indicated direct hits with incendiary bombs.’9 The newspaper’s sympathies were, however, extended to the pilots in their open cockpits, noting that ‘an icy cold wind blew down from the snow covered mountains, which stand out like a white wall across the Afghan border.’10

It’s not known whether the haji was present at Lakari when the bombing began, but either way he was unharmed, although it’s likely that there may have been other casualties. We do know there were at least seven fatalities that day. The Daily Herald reported how as an RAF aircraft passed over the nearby mountain village of Pindiali, the air crew of the ‘punitive bombing expedition’ claimed that they were ‘compelled to open fire on a band of North West Frontier tribesmen’ who had allegedly ‘fired on their plane and the flyers replied with machine gun fire,’ supposedly, ‘in self defence.’ Nine tribesmen were killed and many injured.’11


  1. ‘Frontier Trouble – RAF Threat to Bomb Tribes,’ The Yorkshire Post, 8 March 1932, p. 9.
  2. Robert Swenson, ‘British Aeroplanes in Action: Indian Villages Bombed,’ The Chicago Tribune cited in the Belfast Telegraph, 14, March 1932, p. 4
  3. ‘Villages Bombed,’ The Scotsman, 12 March 1932, p. 15.
  4. ‘NW Frontier Unrest – Incitement by Red Shirts – Intrigues with Communists,’ The Times, 11 March 1932, p. 14.
  5. Robert Swenson, op. cit.
  6. ‘NW Frontier Unrest,’ The Times, 11 March 1932, p. 14.
  7. Robert Swenson, op. cit and ‘NW Frontier Unrest,’ The Times, 11 March 1932, p. 14.
  8. Robert Swenson, op. cit and ‘NW Frontier Unrest,’ The Times, 11 March 1932, p. 14 and ‘NW Frontier Unrest – Fires in Bombed Villages – more RAF raids,’ The Times, 12 April 1932, p. 12.
  9. ‘Villages Bombed,’ The Scotsman, 12 March 1932, p. 15 and ‘NW Frontier Unrest – Fires in Bombed Villages – more RAF raids,’ The Times, 12 April 1932, p. 12.
  10. ‘NW Frontier Unrest – Fires in Bombed Villages – more RAF raids,’ The Times, 12 April 1932, p. 12.
  11. ‘Nine Tribesmen Killed on Frontier,’ The Daily Herald, 14 March 1932, p. 3.

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