London, Sept 22 : Frank Leeson, the last British officer to have served in undivided India in Waziristan in 1946-47, recounts how difficult terrain the tribal belt is. According to him, it is a perfect hiding place for terrorists, riddled with valleys and caves. He says now it was a perfect hiding place for the Taliban, and with the support of the local tribesmen, the Taliban couldn't be won over by use of force.
After more than 60 years of his service, Leeson says that the US must learn a lesson from the Britishers that the Taliban could not be won with force, especially because of the active support of the locals who believe in three principles - hospitality, protection and retaliation.
"Few places on earth are as remote and hostile as Waziristan. It's the worst mountain warfare country imaginable for a conventional army. Steep precipices, narrow winding valleys, every vantage point commanded by another and numerous refuges and escape routes," the Timesonline quoted Leeson as saying
Leeson was called up in 1944 and sent to India for officer training in Bangalore, eventually becoming a lieutenant in the Sikh Regiment. In 1946 there was a call for qualified officers to volunteer for a special mission in Waziristan.
When he was just 19, Leeson found himself commanding the Khassadars, a tribal force of 1000 Waziris. "Their task was to keep the roads of North Waziristan safe for trade and British Army convoys during a long-running insurgency led by a religious hermit turned militant known as the Fakir of Ipi. He was the Bin Laden of his day. He led us British a merry dance but we never caught him," says Leeson in his a privately published memoir "Frontier Legion".
"It was explained to me that the job of the British was to control, not govern, the tribes. We're supposed to trust them but we can't," he recalls and adds that this was done through a combination of "carrot and stick" policy.
Today, Leeson follows events avidly, spotting uneasy parallels with his own time and wondering what has been learnt. "I'm shattered, hearing the news and knowing all those places. The Muslims I knew then were quite different, before the Mujaheddin and the madrassas. It was very tolerant. But it's a perfect hiding place for terrorists, riddled with valleys and caves," he says.
According to him, nothing interfered with the Pathan code of honour based on three principles: hospitality, protection and retaliation. "A man who has killed the brother of another need only go to his house to be treated as an honoured guest," he said.
"It is this tradition of providing refuge even to those who have committed a crime that may have led Osama Bin Laden to choose the area as a hiding place," says Leeson.
He believes the Americans should learn a lesson from the British experience. "Using force alone is not the way. The Pakistani government is hoping the West is listening", he says.