What is the connection between young Winston Churchill and the Taliban? According to the history of the British Indian Empire, Churchill was a young subaltern in the elite 4th Queen’s Own Hussars, an elite Army cavalry’s punitive expedition against the rebellious Taliban on the northwestern frontier of the Empire in 1897. It was in Malakand that Churchill discovered his two lifelong passions, writing and whiskey.
Jennie, the American-born wife of Tory peer Lord Randolph Churchill and mother of Winston Churchill, was instrumental in getting her son to volunteer for the Malakand Field Force, soon after young Churchill passed as a cadet officer from Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst.
Churchill was an ambitious young man hailing from an aristocratic family. His lineage can be traced to the famous Duke of Marlborough. Valor, so to say, was in his blood.
Jennie, a noted beauty, was said to have had 200 lovers, some as young as her son and others as old as General Bindon Blood. General Blood, upon her insistence, took the young Churchill under his wings and enrolled him in the Malakand Field Force on a punitive mission against the Afghan Taliban. General Blood knew the northwestern frontier well, as he had previously led a campaign against the Afghans in Chitral.
Young Churchill, eager to make a name for himself, enthusiastically joined the Malakand Field Force. This was his first military expedition, and perhaps the most critical in his eventful life. His ambition was to become a politician and the best way to achieve his dream was to perform acts of bravery in the battlefield for his homeland. Though most Churchill biographers often underestimate Churchill’s few weeks in Malakand and devote more time to his exploits in Sudan and the Boer War, especially his escape from a war camp in Pretoria– a feat of singular courage that made Churchill a household name in England overnight. This act of bravery earned him his first seat in the parliament from Oldham constituency in 1900.
According to Churchill himself, the few weeks he spent in Malakand taught him some of the most fundamental lessons about warfare. This helped him immensely later on in life, as the Prime Minister of Britain who led the free world to victory against the Nazis and fascism in World War II.
Upon Churchill’s arrival in Malakand, the future Nobel laureate formed a low opinion of the Talib-ul-‘Ilm (seekers of knowledge), the forefathers of the modern Taliban. In one of his dispatches as a war correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, Churchill describesdthe Taliban “…as degraded as any on the fringe of humanity: fierce as a tiger, but less cleanly; as dangerous, not so graceful.” Churchill held the Taliban responsible for the pitiful conditions of the Afghans. These so-called holy men repelled Churchill for their loose moral conduct. According to Churchill, the Taliban incited the common Afghan to rise in rebellion against the British: ” …they live free at the expense of the people, keep them in the grip of miserable superstition, and enjoy droit de seigneur …no man’s wife or daughter is safe from them. Of some of their manners and morals it is impossible to write.”
After the tragic events of 9/11, a whole new generation of foreign soldiers, some of them the great grandsons of those who fought the Taliban in 1897, once again were face-to-face with the centuries’ old enemy. This was a deja vu of sorts, with the slight difference that now the Americans, and not the British, are the policemen of the world. The enemy, though, remains the same Taliban that young Churchill fought against.
By Iftikhar Tariq Khanzada