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The Rise of Deobandi Islam in the North-West Frontier Province and its Implications in Colonial India and Pakistan 1914–19961

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 December 2007


The commitment of North-West Frontier Province Pakhtun religious politics towards the quest for a society and state governed by religious leaders was directed through the colonial period, and into the national period, predominantly by the ulama known as Deobandis. These ulama took their title from the madrasa Darul Ulum Deoband in the United Provinces in north-India and came to prominence through championing Muslim interests in colonial NWFP. After the partition of the Indian subcontinent and the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the United Provinces remained in India, separating Pakistani scholars trained in Deoband from Indian Deobandi theologians, and indeed from the school itself. But these ulama continued to call themselves Deobandis and were central to the successful demand for the constitutional declaration of Pakistan as an Islamic state; and brought Islam to bear on national and provincial legislation from positions in parliament. Increasingly well-organised and well-funded, NWFP Deobandi ulama established madrasas and mosques in the province, strengthening the preserve of religion and their own authority. When the Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation began in 1978, a section of the resistance organisation working in exile in Peshawar gravitated towards these Deobandi institutions, drawing the Deobandi ulama of the NWFP into the jihad. Sustaining links to the Afghan fighters even after the withdrawal of the Soviets, the NWFP Deobandis contributed to and encouraged the emerging organisation of the Taliban, becoming champions of their reactionary brand of Islam.

Research Article
Copyright © The Royal Asiatic Society 2008

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This research was made possible by a post-doctoral fellowship grant from the Past and Present Society in 2005–2006. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the centre of South Asian studies Conference in Cambridge 2005 and the Anglo American Conference 2006. Useful suggestions have been made by Barbara Metcalf, Francis Robinson, Sarah Ansari.


2 See Sana Haroon, Frontier of Faith: Islam in the Indo-Afghan Borderland (London, 2007).

3 ‘List of students who passed from the Dar-ul-Ulum, Deoband’ in Youth and Student Movements, Special Branch Peshawar files, NWFP archives [hereafter SBP].

4 A single-sheet cyclostyle poster circulated in Peshawar by the JUH condemned the organisations Liberal League and Aman Sabha as acting under the influence of ‘colonial officers’ to ‘subvert the objectives of non-cooperation’. See ‘Islami Fatwa Liberal League wa Aman Sabha mein Shareek Hona Sharan Haram Hai’ (JUH, 1921), Oriental and India Office Collection [hereafter OIOC].

5 Single-sheet posters and pamphlets were used to publicise meetings and a political strategy. A cyclostyle summary, single-sheet version of the fatwa of the JUH printed by the Khilafat committee Dehra Dunn (Peshawar District) was circulated in this medium. ‘Ulama-yi Hind ka Mutafiqa Fatwa’ (JUH, 1921), SBP.

6 This political activity was not religiously inspired, but part of an emerging political discourse popularised by the All India National Congress. Pakhtun historian Allah Baksh Yusufi credits Sayyid Ali Abbas Bukhari of Peshawar with introducing the tactics of public political expression to the NWFP by leading the first major public demonstrations, in Sarhad Aur Jaddo Jehed-i Azadi (Lahore, 1986), pp. 129–130.

7 Hussain, Ahmed Madni, Tehrik-i Reshmi Rumal (Lahore, 1966), p. 418Google Scholar.

8 The Muslim position was bolstered by a compact between Hindu and Muslim leadership to jointly pursue an anti-colonial objective. Gandhi, through the All India National Congress, launched the non-cooperation movement simultaneously, calling for a boycott of British goods, non-payment of taxes and mass resignations from government employment. For more on the impact of the Khilafat-non-cooperation period on public political action, see Ayesha, Jalal, Self and Sovereignty: Individual and Community in South Asian Islam since 1850 (London, 2000)Google Scholar.

9 Shamsur Rahman Nomani's short biographies of Deobandis in the NWFP in Suba-yi Sarhad Kay Ulama-yi Deoband (Peshawar, 2001) notes that many were involved in the Khilafat movement, some individually, and some in connection to Popalzai.

10 Yusufi suggests that the culture of public demonstration was introduced as early as 1912. However it was not until the Khilafat period that the public expression of political objectives was used on a mass scale for common set of objectives. See Yusufi, Sarhad, pp. 129–130.

11 Khan, Aik Ishtiraki, p. 18.

12 See Mukulika, Banerjee, The Pathan Unarmed (Karachi, 2000)Google Scholar.

13 Abdul Jalil Popalzai, Hurriyet-namah-yi Bannu (Peshawar, n.d.).

14 See Yusufi, Sarhad. Yusufi dates the start of serious broadsheet journalism in the NWFP in the mid-1920s. The most significant contributors to journalism were Yusufi himself, Ghulam Ghaus Sehrai, and Qazi Muhammad Wali Khan (pp. 176–179). Yusufi started publishing the Sarhad to popularise the Khilafat agenda in 1926, Ghulam Ghaus Sehrai started publishing the Azad in 1937.

15 Peshawar Intelligence Bureau Diaries [hereafter PIBD], June 1931.

16 Although the Khilafat movement ended unremarkably in 1921, many activists continued to call themselves Khilafatists in tribute to the originating ideals and organisation engendered by the movement. This is discussed further in reference to the NWFP below.

17 Abdur Rahim Popalzai, Afghanistan Mein Qayam-e-Aman (Rawalpindi, 1929; reprint Peshawar, 1996), p. 8.

18 Amanullah Khan was championed as the saviour of Islam after the dissolution of the Ottoman Caliphate in key Deobandi writings. See Madni, Tehrik, pp. 149–151.

19 While the electoral expression of Muslim-ness was limited – see Farzana Shaikh in Community and Consensus in Islam: Muslim Representation in Colonial India (Cambridge, 1989) – the ideological expanse of the Muslim imagination was not similarly confined, see Jalal, Self and Sovereignty.

20 Although David Gilmartin posits his theory of ‘particularism’ in opposition to Sandria Freitag's theories about the formation of the public in colonial India, the electoral religious identity that he describes circumscribed the formation of the Muslim electorate but did not supersede mechanisms by which the public operates such as press, and the significance of places of religious congregation and the performance of ritual.

21 At the first meeting of the Jamiyatul Ulama Committee Ziarat Kakasahib, a resolution was passed condemning the Sharif of Mecca and calling for a Khilafat deputation to Angora. PIBD, 30 August 1924.

22 Anwar Shah Kashmiri, Khutba-yi Sadarat (JUH, 1927) pp. 36–40.

23 The JUH central organisation had highlighted and organised around three central issues during the 1927–1935 period – the Rangila Rasul movement, the Sarda act, and the Shahidganj Mosque protection. The Rangila Rasul agitation was sparked over a book published in 1924 by a Hindu, Rajpal, that described the Prophet Mohammad as a self-indulgent philanderer. The Sarda Act was a piece of legislation that had raised the legal age for marriage from twelve to fourteen years this was declared to be an unacceptable interference by the government in a matter governed by religion. The agitation over the Sarda Act was exacerbated by the feeling that Hindus supported the legislation. The Shahidganj mosque issue contested the site of a mosque built in the Mughal Aurangzeb's times that had been taken over as a Sikh gurdwara in the nineteenth century. This issue became a highlight of public controversy once again in the 1930s. Because of the distinct Hindu-Muslim tensions surrounding these three issues, the activities of the JUH have generally been classed as ‘communalist’ – a part of the Hindu-Muslim opposition.

24 ‘The magnificent demonstration of the Jamiyatul Ulama Sarhad and unanimous decision of the ulama’ (JUS, 1931).

25 ‘Decisions taken at a meeting’ (JUS, 1931).

26 ‘Decisions taken at a meeting’.

27 The Jamiyatul Ulama Sarhad printed posted announcing the formation of a Majlis-i Shura of local Muslims. Representatives were invited from other greater-Peshawar groups and committees. CID report 20 December 1928, SBP.

28 CID report 22 June 1931, SBP.

29 ‘The magnificent demonstration’.

30 CID Reports, 9 May 1931, 12 May 1931, PIBD, SBP, June 1931.

31 Comment by Member Legislative Council, Pir Bakhsh of Peshawar, 23 May 1932, in NWFP Legislative Council Debates, Vol. 1, 1932.

32 Wiqar, Ali Shah, Ethnicity, Islam and Nationalism (Karachi, 2000), p. 101Google Scholar.

33 Muhammad Shuaib was named secretary JUS, Charsadda at its formation in 1931. Zamindar, 5 June 1931.

34 See Jamiyatul Ulama Afghan, Da Suba-yi Sarhad Da Ulama-o-Qurbani (Peshawar, 1931).

35 The issues represented in the earlier pamphlet were raised in council in 1932. See NWFP Legislative Council Debates, Vol. 1, 1932.

36 Francis, Robinson, ‘Islam and the Impact of Print’, Islam and Muslim History in South Asia (Delhi, 2001), p. 78Google Scholar.

37 Muhammad, Qasim Zaman, ‘Commentaries, Print and Patronage: ‘Hadith’ and Madrasas in Modern South Asia’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 62, 1 (1999), p. 70Google Scholar.

38 PIBD, 1928–1931.

39 Sarhad printed twenty six pages in Urdu and included a Pashtu supplement of sixteen pages. Other papers, Paigham-i Sarhad (1930), Azad (1937) and Paigham (1940), were published solely in Urdu. See Omar Amer, A History of the Press in the NWFP (Peshawar, 1987?), pp. 111–120.

40 See Peter, Hardy, The Muslims of British India (Cambridge, 1972), pp. 143144Google Scholar.

41 ‘Catalogues of Books Printed and Registered in the North-West Frontier Province 1933–1945’, OIOC.

42 Metcalf, Islamic Revival, p. 103.

43 Religious debate, which had so long been restricted to the quiet recesses of the madrasa and articulated in detailed, carefully referenced tracts, was based in a careful study of the Arabic language and the validity of a chain of transmission. Religious study was a restricted domain, dependent on a fluency in Quranic Arabic and an accurate knowledge of hadith.

44 PIBD, 1931–1937.

45 CID report, 17 April 1937, SBP.

46 CID report, 18 July 1934, SBP.

47 NWFP Political Diaries [hereafter NWFPPD], 5 August 1934.

48 Poster found in Qissa Khwani Bazaar, NWFPPD, 30 July 1927

49 CID report, 7 October 1936, SBP.

50 Shorosh, Kashmiri, Khutbat-i Ahrar (Lahore, 1944), IntroductionGoogle Scholar.

51 See Ayesha, Jalal, The State of Martial Rule (Lahore, 1999), pp. 151154Google Scholar, for a general discussion of the Ahrar condemnation of the Ahmediyya in India and post-partition Pakistan.

52 CID report, 5 February 1936, SBP.

53 It is important to note that Shakirullah supported the Khaksars over the Ahrars because the former were pointedly non-sectarian in their position. Special Branch report 27 August 1937, in ‘Jamiyatul Ulama Bannu’.

54 Ghaus's declaration was made in a mosque in Akora Khattak, 19 November 1937.

55 Abdul Haq's career and contributions will be discussed in greater detail further down. See ‘Ahraron kay challenge ko Majlis-i Ittihad-i Millat nay manzur kiya’, Sarhad, 27 November 1937.

56 Hakim Abdul Khaliq, ‘Mujahid-i Millat Ghulam Ghaus Hazarvi aur Khaksaron kay darmyan aik muartakah alara-u munzarah ki dilchasp roedad’, in Al Haq, Abdul Haq Number, March 1993 (Akora Khattak), pp. 733–736.

57 Hazarvi quoted Mashriqi's writings that stated of the Christians, ‘Their children will appear as the hurs and ghulman [promised as a reward to pious Muslims] in heaven.’ ‘Ghulam Ghaus Hazarvi aur Khaksaron kay darmyan’, p. 734.

58 Ibid., p. 734.

59 Ibid., p. 736.

60 From provincial police reports, 1940. Quoted in Jalal, Self and Sovereingty, pp. 401, 448; Jalal states that the Khaksars and Ahrars came together in support of the Muslim League by 1945, but statements by the Ahrars suggest that this alliance did not mitigate the tensions between the two groups.

61 Ghulam Ghaus Hazarvi to meeting of Jamiyatul Ulama Bannu, 1942, poster printed and circulated by Jamiaytul Ulama Bannu, 1943. National Documentation Centre [hereafter NDC] 432.

62 Superintendent CID NWFP to Superintendent Police, Bannu, 10 June 1933, in ‘Jamiyatul Ulama Bannu’, Special Branch Peshawar.

63 Ibid; See CID report, 5 January, 1942, in ‘Deoband Arabic School’, Special Branch Peshawar.

64 Highly regarded Deobandi scholars in the United Provinces tried to prevent such an accord developing in the NWFP. Madni was critical of the Muslim League, accusing its members of undermining the anti-colonial cause by accepting favours from, and working with, the British administration. Anwar Shah Kashmiri, a prominent Ahrar party member who ultimately left the Darul Ulum Deoband and then died in 1933, was a strong proponent of the Congress non-cooperation and civil disobedience method in the NWFP. See Madni to unknown, Jamadi-ul Awal 1366, in Naziuddin Islahi (ed.) Maktubat-i Sheikhul Islam, vol. II (Saharanpur, 1950); and Kashmiri, Khutba-yi Sadarat, 1927.

65 Popalzai, for example, was only in Deoband for four years, Maulana Abdul Haq for five years, Mufti Mahmud for one year.

66 It is worth noting that Deoband recognised madrasas that were modelled upon it. Deoband, on its centenary in 1967, claimed to have had over 8,000 madrasas set up after its image.

67 See Shorosh Kashmiri, Tehrik-i Khatam-i Nabuwwat (Lahore, 1976), and Nawaz Deobandi, Svanay Ulama-yi Deoband (Deoband, 2000), p. 109.

68 Ataullah Shah Bukhari, leader of the Ahrar party, established the All Muslim Parties Conference in Lahore in July 1952. This organisation, including the Jamiyatul Ulama Islam, Jamaat-i Islami, and Tanzim Ahl-i Sunnat wa Jamaat, amongst others, was to be the nexus of support for the Tehrik-i Khatam-i Nabuwwat. Kashmiri, Tehrik, p. 91.

69 Kashmiri, Tehrik, pp. 131–156.

70 See Dawn, 27 February 1953–8 March 1953.

71 Dawn, 5 March 1953.

72 Nomani, Suba-yi Sarhad, p. 163; Letter Haq to Popalzai, Peshawar, 1373?, Al Haq p. 799.

73 Related by Samiul Haq in his Zati Dairi, reproduced, Al Haq, Abdul Haq Number, p. 61. This criticism was reiterated in 1959 as part of Abdul Haq's general appraisal of the moral and spiritual obligations of the Muslim. See Abdul Haq, ‘Din ka khulasa’ [The quintessence of religion] speech given at Gujranwala, 3 Safar 1388 [1959], printed in Hafiz Momin Khan Usmani, Khutbat-i Jamiyat (Lahore, 2004).

74 ‘Government will not be coerced: Ahrars inspired and aided by Pakistan's enemies’. Dawn, 28 February 1963.

75 Report of the Court of Inquiry Constituted under Punjab Act II of 1954 to Enquire into the Punjab Disturbances of 1953 (Lahore, 1954).

76 Abdul Haq, ‘Maulana Abdul Haq ki khud navisht svanay hayat’, Al Haq, (Akora Khattak, Abdul Haq Number 1993) pp. 23–27.

77 Correspondence between Qari Abdul Tayyib and Maulana Abdul Haq, 1947. Reproduced in Al Haq (1993) pp. 757–761.

78 Haq, ‘Maulana Abdul Haq ki khud navisht svanay hayat’, p. 27.

79 A number of local land owners, businessmen and religious personalities made contributions of 5,000 rupees each. One benefactor donated one canal of land for the madrasa. Almost all the benefactors were from the greater Peshawar-Nowshera districts. See Afzal Raza, ‘Darul Ulum Haqqaniyya – mukhtasir tarikhi jaizah’, Al Haq (1993), pp. 464–467.

80 Abdul Haq to a benefactor, c. 1952 [15 Shawal 1370], reproduced in Al Haq (1993), p. 800.

81 Correspondence between Mufti Siyahuddin and Abdul Haq dating from 1953, reproduced in Al Haq, Abdul Haq Number, pp. 782–787.

82 Abdul Haq began to attend annual meetings of the Jamiyatul Ulama Islam, and became involved with other organisations such as the Jamiya Ashrafiya in Lahore and Yusuf Banori's Majlis-i Dawat wa Islah in Karachi. See extracts from Samiul Haq's Zati Dairi, Al Haq (1993), pp. 68–69.

83 See Tariq, Rahman, Denizens of Alien Worlds: A Study of Education, Inequality and Polarization in Pakistan (Karachi, 2004)Google Scholar.

84 Abdul Haq, ‘Khutba Istaqbaliya’, conference of the Wafaqul Madaris, March 1982.

85 Abdul Haq, May 1985, transcribed in Samiul Haq, Davat-i Haq (Akora Khattak, 2000), p. 640.

86 See Awan, Maulana Mufti Mahmud, pp. 65–66.

87 Correspondence between Mufti Mahmud and Abdul Haq, 1957–1969, Al Haq (1993), pp. 776–779.

88 Shujaabadi, Khutbat-i Mahmud, p. 37.

89 ‘Pakistan ka budget eik mussalman ki nazar mein’, Khutbat-i Mahmud, p. 106.

90 Summaries of National Assembly debates, Dawn, March 1963.

91 ‘Council of Islamic Ideology Asked to Give Opinion’, Dawn, 2 March 1963.

92 Abdul Qayyum Haqqani, ‘Hayat-i Tayyaba par aik nazar’, Al Haq (1993), pp. 34–35.

93 ‘NAP-JUI talks with Bhutto’, Dawn, 25 March 1972.

94 ‘Mufti Mahmud to be NWFP Chief Minister’, Dawn, 29 March 1972.

95 Address to the Khatam-i Nabuwwat Conference, Lahore, 4 June 1972. Reproduced in Shujaabadi, Khutbat-i Mahmud, pp. 189–203.

96 ‘Sheikhul hadis Maulana Abdul Haq aur fitna-yi qadiyaniyat’ speech to parliament excerpted in Al Haq (1993), p. 737.

97 ‘People and not the ulama will have the final say: Khan Abdul Qaiyyum Khan, Chief Minister, NWFP’, Dawn, 1 January 1953.

98 Abdul Haq, in ‘Sheikhul hadis Maulana Abdul Haq aur fitna-yi qadiyaniyat’.

99 The Constitution of Pakistan, articles 227–231.

100 For more on the 1956 constitution, see Jalal, The State of Martial Rule, pp. 214–222.

101 Some of the most significant ‘Islamic’ features of the constitution were that the government was required to promote national education in ‘Islamiyat’ and the Quran, and take steps to ensure that laws of state should conform to ‘Islamic’ injunction.

102 Mufti Mahmud, Provincial Address, 14 August 1972, in Shujabadi, Khutbat-i Mahmud, pp. 167–171.

103 ‘Wali explains party stand’, Dawn, 2 March 1972.

104 ‘Ham apnay khun say’, p. 170.

105 Kamal, Tarikh, p. 195.

106 ‘Ham apnay khun say’, p. 170.

107 Nomani, Suba-yi Sarhad, pp. 151–160.

108 Mufti Mahmud made similar concessions for Wali Khan. He was accused by Ghulam Ghaus Hazarvi of ‘hobnobbing with NAP and Jamaat-i Islami to the detriment of the religious and national cause, and challenged to confront Wali Khan with the Pakhtunistan issue. (‘Hazarvi accuses Mufti Mahmud of violating manifesto’, Dawn, 25 May, 1973).

109 ‘NAP won't press for secularism says Wali Khan’, Dawn, 28 March 1972.

110 ‘Language debate in NWFP assembly’, 5 May 1972.

111 These presses include Al Jamiyat Academy Press, Peshawar; Al Qasim Academy Press, Nowshera; Maktaba Shujaat, Peshawar; University Book Agency, Peshawar.

112 One of the most important religious texts published was Abdul Haq's Dawat-i Haq (Akora Khattak, 1974), an ‘invitation to the truth’ reprinted several times, most recently in 2000. The accounts of important figures, modelled on the classic tazkirah form, include Tazkiray Sarfaroshan-i Sarhad (Peshawar, n.d.), Suba-yi Sarhad kay ulama-yi Deoband kay siyasi khidmat (Peshawar, 2001), Aqwal-i Mahmud (Peshawar, 1993).

113 The NAP dominated government in Balochistan was dismissed in 1973. ‘Bhutto removes both NAP governors and Mengals government: Mufti's government resigns in protest’, Dawn, 16 February 1973.

114 See Haroon, Frontier of Faith.

115 Abdul Haq, ‘Maulana Abdul Haq ki khud navisht svanay hayat’, Al Haq, (Akora Khattak, Abdul Haq number 1993) pp. 23–27.

116 Abdul Haq draws attention to his autobiographical note, ‘Khud Navisht’, p. 26, and Abdul Qaiyyum Haqqani's detailed biographical notes on the life and sayings of Abdul Haq note the latter's appreciation of the secret practices of Sufi zikr and his own induction into a Sufi silsila, and the importance of the regional Pakhtun history of Sufi-organised militancy and resistance to the British. See Sahbatay ba Ahl-i Haq.

117 See ‘Darul Ulum Haqqaniyya ka aik faizan: fazla-yi Afghanistan’ – an incomplete list of Afghan graduates of Haqqaniyya, in Al Haq (Abdul Haq Number, 1993) pp. 658–681. See also Gilles Dorronsoro, Revolution Unending: Afghanistan, 1979 to the Present (London, 2005).

118 Samiul Haq, ‘Jihad-i Afghanistan key Haq Parast Baz Haqqani Shuhdai ka Tazkirah’.

119 Statement of the Majlis-i Shura of the Wafaqul Madaris, June 1981, in ‘Afghan Ittehad’, Al Haq, p. 649.

120 Letter of Abdul Haq to the Mujahidin commanders, Al Haq, p. 649.

121 Abdul Haq, Speech at the annual Wafaqul Madaris Conference at Darul Ulum Haqqaniyya, 29 March 1982. Al Haq, p. 863.

122 Haqqani, Svanay, pp. 216, 283.

123 Abdul Haq's speech to the TNSM conference, 1986, Haqqani, Sahbatay, pp. 215–216.

124 Haqqani, Sahbatay, p. 214.

125 Including the Madrasa Darul Ulum Waziristan in Wana; Jamia Muhammadiyya South Waziristan, Madrasa Manaba-ul Ulum in Miramshah; Madrasa Darul Huda Swabi; Madrasa Mazharul Ulum Dir; Jamia Imam Waliullah Dehlavi Lahore Sarhad, ‘Chand Jalilul Qadar aur Maruf Talamazah’, Al Haq, pp. 516–518.

126 Most prominent amongst the Haqqaniyya-graduated mujahidin were Maulvi Yunis Khalis, head of a faction of the group Hizb-i Islami, and his commander Jalaluddin Haqqani but they also included Pakhtun ulama belonging to other mujahidin factions. Haqqani, Sahbatay, p. 216.

127 An entertaining space attached to a mosque, open to receive and feed any male guests who present themselves. Most affluent families in the Pakhtun regions also maintain private hujras in their homes – outside parlours within which they receive male visitors.

128 These were the Saudi government and the United States government, represented by the CIA. See Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan between Mosque and Military (Lahore, 2005), pp. 85–92.

129 Haqqani, Svanay, p. 283.

130 Arif Jamal, ‘Restart’, The News (Karachi) 11 July 2004.

131 In an address to students and visiting ulama at Darul Ulum Haqqaniyya, Maulana Samiul Haq said that ‘Afghanistan's human rights model was exemplary in the world’. ‘Pakistan in search of new options for Afghan peace’, The Muslim (Lahore?) 9 March 1998.

132 ‘Profile of Nek Mohammad’ Dawn, 19 June, 2004. Also amongst these were Maulana Abdul Khaliq of Madrasa Gulshanul Ulum in Khaney Khel, North Waziristan, Maulana Sufi Muhammadi, Maulvi Abbas, Maulvi Abdul Aziz, and ‘Khalifa’ who established the Khalifa Madrasa near Miranshah, in South Waziristan. See Owais Tohid, ‘The warrior tribes’, Newsline April 2004 (Karachi)); ‘Militants’ den destroyed in Miranshah’, Dawn, 16 March 2006).

133 Ahmed, Rashid, Taliban (London, 2001) pp. 193194Google Scholar.

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