The British colonial experience in Waziristan and its applicability to current operations(Chapter 3)CHAPTER 3 British colonial experience in Waziristan
The British colonial experience in Waziristan must be viewed in the strategic context of the British Empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Britain had numerous territories under its hegemony during this time period and India represented the “jewel in the crown” of its colonial possessions. The British viewed the tribal areas between Afghanistan and India as critical territory and an important line of defense against possible Russian territorial expansion. These realities governed British policy toward these areas from 1849-1947.
After the annexation of the Punjab from the Sikhs in 1849, the British inherited responsibility for a frontier that consisted of large and fiercely independent groups accustomed to intertribal fighting and an adversarial relationship with any power that controlled the plains west of the Indus River. After 1849, Waziristan represented the greatest challenge to the British along the northwestern frontier and the Mahsuds caused them the most trouble. Despite the challenges of managing such a lawless frontier in forbidden terrain, the British government in India believed that maintaining peace and stability along the border with Afghanistan was a strategic necessity.
Despite the overall importance of the frontier, the British government in India had limited material, financial, and personnel resources available to achieve its policy goals. The British therefore adopted a “Close Border” policy that restricted interference with tribes along the border and extended its influence in these areas through intermediaries. Generally speaking, the line that separated British territory from the tribal territories near Waziristan was located east of the Zhob and Kurram rivers and west of the cities of Tank and Bannu.
The British executed a “Close Border” policy from 1849-1894. This policy of non-interference was punctuated by periodic punitive expeditions or “butcher and bolt” operations as some British officials described them. For reasons that will be addressed late in this chapter, the British also adopted a “Forward” policy from 1895-1901 and 1923-1947. This policy placed British Army in India soldiers in tribal areas on a permanent basis. In the interim period, Britain followed a “Modified Forward” policy from 1901-1923. This policy empowered locally raised troops officered by British soldiers to control the tribal areas. British Army in India forces were permanently based outside of the tribal areas during this time period.
Since the tribes were dispersed across difficult terrain, military control of them would have probably required greater resources than what the British government in India possessed. The tribes in Waziristan, therefore, “…had to be managed rather than repressed.”24 There were four main influences on how the British tried to manage the tribes: strategic issues, resources, ideological/cultural viewpoints, and sociological perceptions.
Although the British did not foresee an immediate Russian threat to India following the First Anglo-Afghan War, the British viewed the tribes along the frontier as a potential menace. The tribes shared a religious and cultural identity with the Amir of Kabul, Dost Muhammad Khan, and the British feared the tribes might play the Kabul card to maintain their independence
24 Beattie, 161. 15
and seek help from the Amir “…in return for recognition of his sovereignty over them.”25 The British also feared the Amir might play the tribes card and incite the tribes to invade British controlled territory. The British were not well prepared to deal with either contingency shortly after annexation. These strategic realities, consequently, helped ensure that initial British policy limited interference with the tribes in Waziristan.
Although punitive expeditions, settlement schemes, and patronage were proven tools of subduing indigenous populations, the British did not have sufficient monetary and manpower resources to carry out these programs. Thus, the British had to deal with the tribes indirectly. More resources probably would not have solved the enoromous challenges along the frontier; the Punjab government probably would not have significantly changed policy. “However, had there been more money available, the government might have been more willing to spend more on various forms of indirect tribal subsidy. For example the settlement schemes could have been on a larger scale, and more of the tribesmen could have been enlisted in the militia.”26 All in all, the lack of resources limited British options.
In addition, prevailing imperial culture guided the overall British policy with the tribes. The British believed that they were obliged to: maintain law and order and defend their subjects; treat the tribes fairly but respond forcefully to any tribal challenge to British controlled territory; and abolish frontier duties to facilitate open trade. Overall, the British believed that “…the innocent should not suffer for the crimes of the guilty, cruel punishments should be avoided, and officials should deal consistently with the tribes.”27
The British view of how the tribes were organized influenced its policies as well. The British believed the Mahsuds did not have effective chiefs but could be organized collectively
25 Ibid., 162.
26 Beattie, 165.
27 Ibid., 25. 16
based on a genealogical basis. This organization would allow the British to pressure certain individuals within the tribe to influence the actions of others. Whenever this focus on the individual did not achieve the desired results, the British tried to work through jirgas or maliks.
From 1849-93, the British administrators for Waziristan were headquartered in Bannu and Tank. Both of these offices fell under the administration of the Dera Ismail Khan District, which was led by a deputy commissioner. The deputy commissioner reported to the commissioner of the Leia Division (later renamed the Derajat division in 1861) who answered directly to the Punjab government in Lahore. The administration in Lahore fell under the responsibility of the Foreign Department of the British government of India. The Governor General of India (the predecessor of the Viceroy) usually consulted with the Punjab administration and its local officers before making decisions concerning the frontier. Prior to the advent of the telegraph, communication between the frontier and Lahore (and Dehli) was slow thus leaving local administrators a degree of independence. It was not uncommon for senior Government of India officials to complain that their subordinates stationed along the frontier did not adequately inform them and sometimes acted without sanction.28
The Punjab government had its own military force. The Punjab Irregular Force (renamed the Punjab Frontier Force in 1866) consisted of five cavalry regiments, five infantry regiments, three light artillery batteries, two garrison artillery batteries, two sapper companies, and a Corps of Guides. J.G. Hodgson commanded this 8,896 man force. Cantonments were located in Kohat, Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, Asni, and Dera Ghazi Khan. Another four regiments of Sikh Local Infantry and the Sind Camel Corps were also incorporated into this force. The Punjab government had an unknown number of police regiments and levy forces as well.
28 Beattie, 28.
Due to the policy of limited intervention with the tribes and the lessening of tensions with Russia after the First Anglo-Afghan war (1839-42), the primary goal of the British was to prevent tribes in Waziristan from raiding into their territory after 1849. The British installed an intermediary in the city of Tank, Shah Nawaz Khan (the Nawab of Tank after 1859), to act as their agent with any dealings with the tribes in Waziristan. He had connections with the Mahsud branch (through family lineage and his Mahsud wife) and acted on behalf of the British for more than twenty years. His overall performance was mixed, however, because he did not have the monetary or military resources to deal with one of the most turbulent areas on the frontier. His rivals in British territory (who also had links with the Mahsuds) harassed him, moreover, by inciting tribes to conduct raids for the purpose of discrediting him.29
Although the overall imperial philosophy guided British actions in Waziristan, the British did not always practice this philosophy. Due to their view of the tribes as communal groups, the British believed tribe members were responsible for each other and thus applied collective punishment for the crimes or wrongdoing of individual tribe members.30 The British used the following techniques to punish recalcitrant tribes: levying fines; taking hostages; seizing men, animals, and/or property (barampta); and conducting reverse blockades (bandish) and punitive expeditions. The British tried to treat hostages humanely and they usually did not suffer an adversarial experience. Even though the British did not torture or kill hostages, life could be made unpleasant for the tribesmen by “…removing any privileges they enjoyed, or moving them away from the frontier, say to Lahore, which the tribesmen very much disliked.”31 Due to the economic dependence of the tribes on the world outside of the tribal areas, reverse blockades were another effective influence on tribal behavior in the long-term.
29 Beattie, 41.
30 Ibid., 26.
31 Beattie, 26.
The British also used positive inducements to co-opt the tribes. The British either paid tribesmen to resettle in British controlled territory or inducted them into paid militias. Although the resettlement strategy was costly, it increased the tribes’ dependence and made them more vulnerable to British reprisals. These factors made them less likely to defy the British. The militias, morever, were expensive and potentially trained and armed future adversaries of the British.
After the annexation of the Punjab in 1849, the British maintained a mostly hands-off policy with the tribes in Waziristan. The Mahsuds periodically raided into British territory in the 1850s and the British rarely retaliated due to the lack of personnel and material resources and the absence of political will (due to the losses incurred during the First Anglo-Afghan War) to undertake risky operations outside of their territorial boundaries. “In 1855, for example, [Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab] Lawrence commented to [Deputy Commissioner of the Dera Ismail Khan district] Nicholson that ‘in the hearts of the [British] Government and the [British] Commander in Chief [of India] there is a mortal dread going into the hills, and should any misfortune occur, a fine howl they would open on us. We cannot ensure that [British] Government will act promptly and vigorously against the hill tribes.’”32 Nevertheless, the British mounted a three-day expedition against the Wazirs in December 1852 and met little resistance. The approximately 1,000 man British force destroyed an unknown number of villages and captured a large quantity of cattle and sheep.33
Nonetheless, British policy changed after the Mahsuds attempted a 3,000-man raid against Tank in March 1860. Although the British broke up the Mahsud lashkar (tribal army) before it reached Tank, the British retaliated by launching a 5,000-man punitive expedition the
32 Ibid., 164.
33 Nevill, H.L. Campaigns of the North-West Frontier. (Nashville: The Battery Press, 1912), 21.
following month, which destroyed many Mahsud settlements and crops.34 The British also instituted a reverse blockade that prevented the Mahsuds from trading or grazing their herds in British controlled territory. Despite the destruction wrought by the punitive expedition and the economic difficulties caused by the reverse blockade, the Mahsuds did not sue for peace until 1861. In the mid-1860s, Major S.F. Graham, Deputy Commissioner of the Dera Ismail Khan district (1862-66), tried to pacify two troublesome sections of the Mahsuds (Shingi and Abdul-Rahman Khel Bahlozais) by “…settling some families in British territory, and giving some men service in the frontier militia.”35 Despite this attempt to pacify the Mahsuds, they continued raiding. Relations deteriorated further when the British constructed more forward located frontier posts, which the Mahsuds interpreted as infringements on their sovereignty.
As relations with the tribes in Waziristan continued to sour in the early 1870s, the British replaced the Nawab of Tank and placed all of his responsibilities in the hands of Major Charles Macaulay (1871-82), the new Deputy Commissioner of the Dera Ismail Khan district. Macauley used Nabi Khan Shingi and Azem Khan Kundi, a local landowner, as intermediaries with the Mahsuds in place of the Nawab of Tank. In an attempt to discredit these new intermediaries, political associates of the Nawab of Tank committed a series of “…raids, murders, and kidnappings” in British territory.36 Some of these associates of the Nawab of Tank who committed these criminal acts were closely related to Nabi Khan, demonstrating that factional alliances in the Mahsud society sometimes superseded family ties.
To better relations with the tribes in Waziristan the British enacted the Frontier Crimes Regulations 1872, which “…gave magistrates the power to withdraw certain types of case [sic]
34 Ibid., 46-7.
35 Beattie, 217.
36 Beattie, 217. 20
from the ordinary courts and submit them for arbitration by a jirga."37 To improve security of British controlled territory, Macauley also made arrangements with the Bhittani tribe to secure passes along the Dera Ismail Khan border. These arrangements helped reduce Mahsud raids over the next two years to nearly zero.38 In addition, Macauley unsuccessfully tried to settle nearly 200 Mahsud families in British controlled territory in Tank and make them responsible for the security of the Gumal route in Ghazni. This attempt led associates of the Nawab of Tank to make contact with Afghan Amir Sher Ali Khan, who wanted to use the Pashtun tribes in Waziristan against British-controlled territory if Britain tried to invade Afghanistan again. These political maneuvers ensured that the political situation among the Mahsuds remained unsettled.39
The Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-80) prompted Amir Sher Ali Khan to persuade Umar Khan and other leading Mahsuds to attack Tank and burn its bazaar on New Year’s Day 1879. This attack represented “…one of the most serious tribal incursions along the whole frontier during the British period, and led to a brief collapse of the government’s authority around Tank.”40 The British restored order afterwards but did not have the resources to mount an immediate punitive expedition. Instead of an immediate punitive expedition, the British initially enacted a reverse blockade, demanded the payment of a fine, and the handover of Umar Khan and the other ringleaders. Macauley also attempted to renew the resettlement scheme but subsequently mounted a punitive expedition in 1881. The expedition did not achieve decisive results although it destroyed substantial property. The lack of decisive results forced the British to continue the reverse blockade that eventually caused the Mahsuds to submit and comply with British demands in September 1881.41
37 Ibid., 170.
38 Ibid., 218.
40 Beattie, 218.
41 Nevill, 90-2.
Although Waziristan remained generally quiet in the 1880s and the early 1890s, events in Afghanistan during this time period had profound effects on the future of the entire frontier. Following the end of the Second Anglo-Afghan War, the British and Afghan Amir Abdur Rahman signed a treaty that stipulated the following: Britain controlled Afghanistan’s foreign policy; the British government in India controlled key passes between India and Afghanistan; and Britain agreed to protect Afghanistan from foreign aggressors (i.e., Russia). Russia and Britain nearly went to war in 1885 after Russian forces routed an Afghan garrison in Pandjeh, approximately thirty miles from the Afghan frontier. Diplomacy prevented any further armed conflict and the Afghanistan/Russian border was formally demarcated in 1887.
The crisis in 1885 prompted General Sir Fredrick Roberts, Commander-in-Chief of India, to improve the lines of communication between India and Afghanistan to better his ability to projects forces from India to thwart any potential Russian aggression towards Afghanistan. These improvements ran through tribal controlled territory along the frontier, most notably the Khyber and Kurram valleys. Amir Rahman interpreted these improvements as a threat to his influence along the frontier and he subsequently incited the frontier tribes against the British.42 To lessen tensions and formalize the exact location of the border, the British and the Afghans decided to demarcate the Indo-Afghan border in 1893-5. The Durand Line (named after the British officer who surveyed the border) enclosed inside British controlled territory many formerly independent territories along the frontier, including Waziristan.
Not surprisingly, the Mahsuds viewed this new boundary line as an infringement of their sovereignty and attacked the Durand Delimitation Commission and its escort at Wana in November 1894. The British lost twenty-one killed and thirty-four wounded, plus forty-three casualties among the camp followers. The Mahsuds lost approximately 150 men. The attack was
42 Michael Barthorp. The North-West Frontier. (Poole: Blandford Books Ltd., 1982), 99.
followed by a three-column British punitive expedition the following month that destroyed Mahsud villages and fortifications. The British renewed the punitive expedition in January 1895, and more destruction of Mahsud owned property followed. Mahsud representatives sued for peace on 21 January and agreed to pay fines (consisting of over a thousand Indian Rupees and various weapons), surrender hostages, and allow the boundary demarcation to continue unmolested. In a reversal of policy in place since 1849, the British established a permanent military post at Wana and did away with local intermediaries.43 The British installed government political agents to conduct direct liaison with the tribes.
In addition to the military post at Wana, the British also established permanent military bases in the Tochi and Kurram Valleys and other locations along the frontier. An attack against the British political agent in Northern Waziristan resulted in a punitive expedition against the Wazirs in July 1897. The two-brigade British force met scant opposition and destroyed Wazir villages. The Wazirs refused to submit until mid-November after the British initiated a full-time presence in the Tochi Valley.
A wide-scale Pashtun revolt against the British along most of the frontier shortly followed the conflict in Waziristan. The Swati, Bunerwal, Uthman Khel, Mamund, Mohmand, Orakzai, and Afridi tribes all rose up against the British. The forward presence of British troops following the demarcation of the Durand Line sparked the revolt and local mullahs fanned the fighting by calling for a jihad. The Pashtun tribes feared that the presence of British soldiers threatened their independence and recent British reverses in Sudan were enough to make the frontier tribes believe that they could defeat British forces. The British eventually quelled the revolt, but only after months of fighting, millions of pounds sterling expended, and at least one
43 Nevill, 153-7. 23
thousand casualties.44 Surprisingly, the Mahsuds, the most uncooperative tribe along the frontier during the nineteenth century, did not join the revolt.
Although the revolt suggested that the British should revise its forward policy immediately, change did not come until Lord George Curzon (1899-1905) became the Viceroy. He removed the frontier territories from the administration of the Punjab government in Lahore. Waziristan and the rest of the frontier territories became part of the newly created North-Western Frontier Province (NWFP). Sir Harlod Deane (1901-08) became the first Chief Commissioner of the NWFP and was directly responsible to the British Government in India.
Curzon changed the military structure as well. British Army in India forces based along the Durand Line were withdrawn and replaced by tribal forces led by British officers. In Waziristan, these tribal units were divided into the North and South Waziristan Militias. The militias manned garrisons and conducted security patrols in the tribal areas and were called upon to support regular British Army in India forces if a threat required their presence in the tribal areas. The political agent controlled these militia forces, augmented by a law enforcement body called the Frontier Constabulary that only operated east of the old administrative line. The British repositioned their forces east of the old administrative line to serve as a reserve force. Similarly, Lord Horatio Kitchener, Commander-in-Chief of British Army in India forces (1902-9), abolished the Punjab Frontier Force as a separate entity and integrated its units into the rest of the British Army in India.
Although the Mahsuds did not participate in the Pashtun revolt in 1897, they continued their recalcitrant ways in 1898. Led by a religious firebrand, the Mullah Powindah, the Mahsuds resumed raids “…across the administrative border, attacks on militias and police posts, ambushes
44 Barthorp, 138.
of convoys, murders of political officers, incitement of fellow-Mahsud sepoys of the Militia…”45 The Mahsuds ignored a 10,000 pounds sterling fine levied by the British (the largest fine ever imposed on a frontier tribe) and the Commissioner of Dera Ismail Khan instituted a reverse blockade. The blockade initially failed to force the Mahsuds to submit. The British then launched a punitive expedition that killed enough men and cattle to force the Mahsuds to come to terms in March 1902, fourteen months after the blockade was first imposed.46 After a brief respite, a Mahsud sepoy in the South Waziristan Militia murdered the political agent in 1904. A British Army in India battalion deployed to Wana but Mahsud intransigence and British reprisals continued unabated. The Mullah Powindah died in 1913. Nevertheless, his legacy ensured the Mahsuds continually resisted British forces.
The strategic importance of the NWFP significantly lessened when the so-called Great Game ended with the Anglo-Russian convention of 1907. This bi-lateral agreement allowed Afghanistan to remain in Britain’s sphere of influence as long as the British did not interfere in its internal affairs. The importance of the lines of communication between India and Afghanistan consequently lessened after the signing of the convention. The NWFP now represented only the outer periphery of India’s borders rather than a potentially critical transitory area for the British Army in India.
Sir George Roos-Keppel subsequently replaced Deane in 1908 and served until 1919. During his tenure, the NWFP remained generally quiet. The Mahsuds revolted again, however, in 1915 and were not subdued until two years later. Despite the considerable challenges experienced on the Western Front during the First World War, the British mostly benefited in the
45 Ibid., 147.
46 Nevill, 329.
tribal areas from a neutral Afghan leader. Amir Habibulla refused German pleas to support the Central Powers and rejected Constantinople’s call for a jihad against the British and Russians.
Following the First World War, assassins murdered Habibulla and his third son Amanulla took power. To help solidify his position with anti-British factions within Afghanistan, Amanulla rushed troops to the border in a show of support to Indians following anti-British riots in the Punjab. Although the movement of forces was ostensibly made to ensure the riots did not spread over the Durand Line, Afghan troops crossed the border on 3 May, 1919, and occupied an Indian village at the west end of the Khyber Pass. The British Army in India counterattacked on 9 May and the Third Anglo-Afghan War began in earnest.
Even though the British managed to quickly eject Afghan troops from Indian territory, fighting broke all along the tribal areas. The South Waziristan Militia mutinied and its British commander had to fight his way to safety. The Afridi and Wazir elements of the North Waziristan Militia mutinied as well, but the militia continued to function in fewer numbers. A revolt by the Tochi Wazirs accompanied these mutinies and the British subsequently lost control of Waziristan. Cooler heads eventually prevailed between Britain and Afghanistan and both parties signed an armistice in June shortly followed by a permanent treaty in August. The terms of the treaty allowed Afghanistan to take back control of its own foreign policy and reaffirmed the Durand Line as the political boundary. Amanulla consequently promised not to incite revolt against the British in the Pashtun tribal areas.
Although the Third Anglo-Afghan War between Afghanistan and Britain formally ended in August, but the conflict in Waziristan continued. Fighting raged until late 1920. Both the Mahsuds and Wazirs resisted British attempts to reassert control of the agency. The capability of the tribes to defy the British was strengthened by arms and trained personnel acquired from the dissolution of the militias. The British had to commit substantial forces and raze multiple villages to secure the submissions of both the Wazirs and the Mahsuds. The uprising prompted the British
to reverse policy again in 1923 and to place a permanent garrison in Razmak, located in central Waziristan.
The decision to permanently place troops in Waziristan took place without consultation with Sir John Maffey (1921-3), the NWFP Chief Comissioner. Maffey argued permanent garrisons were not only an affront to the independent minded tribes but were also highly vulnerable to attack and ambush due to their extended lines of communication. The exposed lines of communication would also inhibit the ability of the garrisons to dominate tribal territory. Maffey believed the seizure of hostages best discouraged tribal recalcitrance and garrisons located outside of tribal areas were most efficient in quelling disorder, especially with the aid of motor transport and aircraft. The decision to permanently base troops in Razmak was irreversible by the time Maffey made his dissent known.47
The British placed six battalions in Razmak including a mountain artillery brigade. Another seven battalions were located outside the tribal areas in Bannu and an additional brigade was based between Tank and Jandola. The British also reconstituted the Waziristan militias broken up during the 1919-20 uprising. The Tochi Scouts formed in North Waziristan while the South Waziristan Scouts replaced the old militia in the south. Waziristan remained generally quiet for the next twelve years but the new security arrangement “…was all preventive, rather than curative, and as time went by, Maffey’s forebodings would prove to be justified.”48
Following the submission of the tribes in 1920, nationalist sentiment resonated throughout most of India, including the NWFP. Abdul Ghaffar Khan led a Pashtun group called the ‘Red Shirts’ in Peshawar that openly challenged the British administration. Red Shirt-led demonstrations disrupted Peshawar during the summer of 1930. Afridi and Mohmand defiance
47 Barthorp, 162.
also required British punitive expeditions in the early 1930s. It did not take long for anti-government sentiment to boil over in Waziristan as well.
In 1936, a Tori Khel Wazir named Mira Ali Khan began an anti-government campaign in Waziristan that continually menaced the British until their departure from India in 1947. More commonly known as the Faqir of Ipi, he first gained British attention when he tried to disrupt a trial in Bannu. His anti-government rhetoric prompted a two column British show of force through northern Waziristan. In contrast to other punitive expeditions in the nineteenth century, the British operated under restrictive rules of engagement that forbade troops to shoot until shot at. “Every military rule for effective Frontier warfare was in conflict with political rules – all of which the tribesmen knew very well and took every advantage.”49 The show of force, intended to demonstrate British strength, ended in disaster as tribesmen continually attacked the columns and inflicted heavy casualties.
The failure of the columns elevated the Faqir of Ipi’s prestige and incited the Wazirs, Mahsuds, Bhittanis, and even Afghans across the border to rally to his cause. The British responded by sending an additional four brigades to Razmak in 1937. Although the British hoped to catch the enemy in a fixed engagement, the Faqir of Ipi never made a stand and eluded capture. In April 1937, tribesmen ambushed a British convoy traveling to Wana and killed or wounded ninety-two officers and enlisted soldiers. The challenges of the elusive enemy and broken terrain in Waziristan forced the British to operate in a very deliberate and set piece manner that ultimately inhibited flexibility and initiative.
The British responded to their failure to subdue the Faqir of Ipi by destroying villages but achieved nothing conclusive. By late 1937, the heavy destruction eventually dampened support for the Faqir. The British consequently decided that a large presence inside Waziristan was
49 Barthorp, 171-2.
counterproductive and reduced troop levels to pre-crisis levels. Fighting flared up again in 1938-9, albeit on a smaller scale. The Faqir managed to raid Bannu, at further expense to British prestige. The Faqir continued menacing the British until their departure in 1947, but violence did not reach the same levels it did during the 1930s. The British left India without ever capturing or killing the Faqir of Ipi. He later died of natural causes in 1960.
The British, therefore, had a mixed record of success in influencing the tribes in Waziristan. Although the Mahsuds proved to be the most challenging tribe to manage, the Wazirs were troublesome as well. The British used both positive and negative incentives to accomplish their goals in Waziristan, usually in some type of combination. Over time, there was no single course of action that determined success or failure in dealing with the tribes. Each individual conflict had to be dealt with uniquely because past methods did not always guarantee success in solving the contemporary problem.
The British, for example, not only used trade incentives but they also used resettlement programs and membership into paid militias to positively influence tribal behavior. Although the positive inducements matched British colonial philosophy nicely, they were usually more expensive than what the colonial government in Lahore or Dehli could afford. When positive incentives did not work, the British resorted to levying fines; taking hostages; seizing men, property, or animals; implementing reverse blockades; and/or launching punitive expeditions. Due to their manpower, material, and financial restraints, the British primarily used negotiation to resolve conflict. The British initially tried to use intermediaries to negotiate with the tribes but were dissatisfied either because the intermediaries did not have the manpower or financial resources to influence the tribes or their political rivals undermined their efforts.
After the perceived failure of intermediaries, the British assigned political officers to conduct direct negotiations with the tribes. Political officers often used jirgas to resolve disputes, which usually proved to be more successful than the intermediaries. Even when the British
successfully brokered agreements with the tribes, individual tribesmen could violate its terms due the inability of tribal leaders to ensure enforcement of agreements on the entire tribe or its subordinate branches and/or sections. The Mahsuds were notorious for violating agreements due to the ambiguous authority of its chiefs and mailks.
The British also had mixed results when it resorted to punitive expeditions. Due to its fear of suffering heavy casualties, the difficulty of the terrain, the fierceness of the tribes, and overall lack of manpower, the British limited its initial expeditions to “butcher and bolt” type operations. Although tribal forces usually did not try to fully resist punitive expeditions in the last half of the 19th century, British military forces conducted highly destructive but brief excursions into tribal territory to limit their vulnerability. These operations typically did not achieve their intended effect without the addition of a long-term reverse blockade and the seizure of hostages.
Punitive expeditions by themselves typically did not achieve their intended results not only due to the martial ethos of the Mahsuds and Wazirs, but also because of their superior fighting skills as well. In the British Army in India official record of their operations in Waziristan in 1919-20, for example, the Mahsuds and Wazirs were described as “…among the finest fighters in the world while operating in their own territory…” and the “…best umpires in the world because they seldom allowed a tactical error to go unpunished.”50 Similarly, the official record stated that offensive operations against the tribes were difficult because of their superior surveillance skills and effective warning system.
50 General Staff, Army Headquarters India. Operations in Waziristan, 1919-20. (Dehli: Government Central Press, 1923), 5-6.
The British did not attempt, however, to maintain a long-term presence in Waziristan until the establishment of the Durand Line. Despite the extended deployment of maneuver forces supported by artillery and usually with air support, the British continued to find mixed results. Although the long-term stationing of troops in the tribal areas gave the appearance of control, British forces could not guarantee their desired influence on tribal behavior. The tribes considered the long-term presence of foreign troops an affront to their sense of honor, which required a violent reaction. Despite the long-term “Forward” policy from 1895-1901 and 1923-1947, the British never permanently subdued the tribes in Waziristan.
The British also had little success in capturing or killing important fugitives in Waziristan. The Mullah Powindah and the Faqir of Ipi eluded British pursuit for decades. The Pashtun tenant of melmastia, the complex terrain of Waziristan, and their religious status helped ensure Powindah and the Faqir never were killed or captured by the British. Little wonder someone like Osama bin Ladin and other notorious fugitives could find sanctuary in Waziristan.
Mr. Matthew W. Williams,