The British colonial experience in Waziristan and its applicability to current operations
Following the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001, members of the former regime and Al-Qaeda found refuge in Waziristan. Waziristan is a tribal area in Pakistan located along the border with Afghanistan whose majority ethnic Pashtun population has menaced every occupying power since Alexander the Great. The formidable terrain, coupled with the fierce independent character of the Pashtun tribes, has made Waziristan a difficult area for outsiders to subdue. Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements use this tribal area as a sanctuary and staging area for attacks against international and government forces in Afghanistan. Waziristan is especially important to the U.S. due to the belief that sympathetic tribesmen may be sheltering Osama bin Ladin and his key lieutenants.
Although Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf allowed U.S. forces to use multiple Pakistani air bases to support its post-9/11 military operations in Afghanistan, he has forbidden nearly all operations by uniformed U.S. forces in Waziristan. Even Pakistani military forces did not operate in Waziristan until late 2001, historically leaving security of the area to local forces. The introduction of Pakistani military forces in this area represented a significant policy change that took place after the U.S. requested the Pakistani government deny sanctuary to Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements fleeing from Afghanistan. The Pakistani Army initially carried out limited offensive operations in the tribal areas accompanied by infrastructure development activities. The Army, however, did not launch a large-scale offensive in Waziristan until spring 2004 after suspected Islamic extremists tried to unsuccessfully assassinate Musharraf in December 2003. Despite the fact that Pakistani forces have conducted counter-insurgency operations in Waziristan, Al-Qaeda and Taliban elements continue to wage cross-border attacks against international and government forces in Afghanistan.
Even though this area of the world is relatively unknown to the U.S., the British dealt extensively with these tribal areas from 1846-1947. The British first made contacts in Waziristan in 1846-9 after it defeated the Sikhs in the first Sikh War. During this time period, revenue collection was the primary British activity. Some officers also proselytized the tribesmen. The British did not take full responsibility for Waziristan until 1849 after completely subduing the Sikh kingdom and annexing the Punjab. The British governed its new Punjabi possession from Lahore and initially made it a subordinate administrative entity to its colonial government in India.
In the nineteenth century, Britain viewed India as the “jewel in the crown” of its colonial possessions and took an aggressive stance toward any perceived threat toward the sub-continent. Fear of Russian imperial encroachment made the tribal areas between Afghanistan and India key territory in the eyes of the British. Although the so-called “Great Game” between Britain and Russian led to the First Anglo-Afghan war (1839-42), tensions subsequently eased to allow the British to manage Waziristan indirectly.
Yet the British government did not have the financial resources or forces needed to control the tribal areas located in the difficult terrain bordering Afghanistan. Therefore, after annexation of the Punjab, the British chose to follow a “Close Border” policy that decentralized control over these border areas. The principal goal of the British was to discourage tribal raiding into territory directly controlled by the provincial government in Lahore. As a consequence of this policy, the British launched punitive expeditions in Waziristan in 1852 and 1860 to punish Pashtun tribes for raiding into British territory.
Following Russian overtures to Kabul in the late 1870s, Britain launched another expedition into Afghanistan resulting in the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-80). The British installed a permanent political administration in Waziristan after punitive expeditions against recalcitrant tribes in 1894-5. The formal delineation of the Afghan/Indian border by the Durand
commission in 1895 led to further conflict in the border areas. This new boundary, viewed unacceptable by most Pashtuns due to the perceived infringement of their independent status and the separation from their ethnic brethren in Afghanistan, resulted in a significant revolt against the British along the entire Afghan/Indian border in 1897. As a result, the British did not completely restore order until 1901.
The British subsequently conducted several more punitive expeditions in Waziristan up until Indian independence in 1947. The formidable terrain and militant character of the Pashtun tribes gave the British colonial administration significant challenges throughout its experience from 1849-1947. One religious firebrand in particular, the Faqir of Ipi, menaced British forces in Waziristan for many years during the 1930s. The British never captured or killed him despite their numerical and technological advantages. Overall, the British experienced and met many of the challenges that the U.S. and its allies currently face in Waziristan and its experiences may be applicable to current operations. Therefore, the research question for this monograph is: What lessons, if any, can the U.S. draw from the British colonial experience in Waziristan?
To determine if the U.S. can use lessons from the British experience the author collected primary and secondary sources from the time period (1849-1947). Primary sources consist of various critiques of the British campaigns in Waziristan. Other primary sources include commentaries from Pakistani government officials who served as political officers in Waziristan. Current newspaper and journal reports cover ongoing U.S. and Pakistani governmental operations in Waziristan.
To ascertain whether this evidence is valid for contemporary application, the author compared the political, military, geographical, and ethnographical realities in Waziristan during the British colonial experience and present-day Pakistan. Despite the passage of time, the British colonial period is a legitimate basis of study because these important variables remain mostly unchanged today. Historical material from the British colonial experience in Waziristan and
current press on the tribal areas in general and Waziristan in particular provide enough evidence to answer the research question.
The first chapter of this monograph is the introduction. It provides the research question and the strategic setting of British colonial India. The first chapter also outlines the British experience in Waziristan from 1849-1947. The chapter provides the foundation that ensures the evidence presented in subsequent chapters is viewed in its proper context. The second chapter discusses the ethnic groups, population size, geography, and political boundaries of Waziristan. This chapter provides a description of the important characteristics which define Waziristan. Its ethnographic and geographical characteristics, in particular, make this tribal area a challenge for any central authority to manage.
The third chapter examines British policies in Waziristan from 1849-1947. It outlines the political and military actions the British took and the positive and negative inducements they used to influence tribal behavior. It also examines the effectiveness of various punitive expeditions. The fourth chapter discusses Waziristan in the post-9/11 world. It concentrates on Musharraf’s policies and Pakistani military actions in the tribal area. In addition, it examines U.S. government actions in Waziristan since 9/11.
The concluding chapter summarizes the collected evidence and states the lessons the U.S. can draw from the British experience in Waziristan. Further, it also comments on U.S. policy and makes recommendations on future U.S. actions in Waziristan.
Mr. Matthew W. Williams,