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Britain's FATA Policy

The semi-autonomous tribal lands of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas comprise seven "agencies": Bajaur, Momand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, and North and South Waziristan. The areas that today make up FATA were once part of the battleground on which the 'Great Game' of imperial domination was played out in the 19th century. For the British colonial administrators of India, effective control of the region was imperative for the defence of their Indian possessions, serving as a bulwark against Russian expansionism in Central Asia. It proved difficult, however, for the colonial government to establish its writ in the tribal areas. Colonial administrators oversaw but never fully controlled the region through a combination of British-appointed agents and local tribal elders. The people were free to govern internal affairs according to tribal codes, while the colonial administration held authority in what were known as 'protected' and 'administered' areas over all matters related to the security of British India.

British policy toward the tribal peoples on the northwest frontier vacillated between caution and adventurism during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Some viceroys opposed extending direct administration or defense beyond the Indus River. Others favored a more assertive posture, or "forward policy." The latters' view prevailed, partly because Russian advances in Central Asia gave their arguments credence. In 1874 Sir Robert Sandeman was sent to improve British relations with the Baloch tribes and the khan of Kalat. In 1876 Sandeman concluded a treaty with the khan that brought his territories -- including Kharan, Makran, and Las Bela -- under British suzerainty.

Although various tribes cooperated with the British off and on in return for financial incentives, this quid pro quo arrangement was never completely successful. Throughout the latter half of the 19th century, British troops were embroiled in repeated battles with various tribes in the area. Between 1871 and 1876, the colonial administration imposed a series of laws, the Frontier Crimes Regulations, prescribing special procedures for the tribal areas, distinct from the criminal and civil laws that were in force elsewhere in British India. These regulations, which were based on the idea of collective territorial responsibility and provided for dispute resolution to take place through a jirga (council of elders), also proved to be inadequate.

The Second Afghan War was fought in 1878-80, sparked by Britain's demands that Afghan foreign policy come completely under its control. In the Treaty of Gandamak concluded in May 1879, the Afghan amir ceded his districts of Pishin, Sibi, Harnai, and Thal Chotiali to the British. During succeeding years, other tribal areas were forcibly occupied by the British. In 1883 the British leased the Bolan Pass, southeast of Quetta, from the khan of Kalat on a permanent basis, and in 1887 some areas of Balochistan were declared British territory.

A similar forward policy was pursued farther north. A British political agent was stationed in Gilgit in 1876 to report on Russian activities as well as on developments in the nearby states of Hunza and Nagar. In 1889 the Gilgit Agency was made permanent. A British expedition was sent against Hunza and Nagar, which submitted to British control. A new mir from the ruling family of Hunza was appointed by the British. British garrisons were established in Hunza and Chitral in 1892. A formal protectorate was declared over Chitral and Gilgit in 1893.

In 1893, Sir Mortimer Durand negotiated an agreement with Amir Abdur Rahman Khan of Afghanistan to fix an only partially surveyed line (the Durand Line) running from Chitral to Balochistan to designate the areas of influence for the Afghans and the British. Each party pledged not to interfere in each other's lands. This agreement brought under British domination territory and peoples that had not yet been conquered and would become the source of much difficulty between Pakistan and Afghanistan in the future.

For some tribes (e.g., the Mohmands, Waziris, Afridis and Ahmadzais), the Durand Line was ridiculous, an insult and an absurdity; a thing so foreign to their nomadic, independent life-style of wandering in search of food, shelter, family, tribal friends or game that drawing it only served to set the border ablaze with controversy for the closing years of the century. The demarcation along the frontier of Waziristan, and Mohmand could not be completed due to heavy armed resentment in these areas.

The establishment of British hegemony in the northwest frontier regions did not lead to direct administration similar to that in other parts of India. Local customary law continued, as did the traditional lines of authority and social customs upheld by the maliks (tribal chiefs). To a large extent, the frontier was little more than a vast buffer zone with Afghanistan between the British and Russian empires in Asia and a training ground for the British Indian Army.

Frustrated in their efforts to subdue the region, the British in 1901 issued a new Frontier Crimes Regulation that expanded the scope of earlier regulations and awarded wide powers, including judicial authority, to administrative officials. In the same year, a new administrative unit, the North-West Frontier Province, was created by carving out parts of the then Punjab province and adding certain tribal principalities. The province, as it was constituted at the time, included five 'settled' districts (Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, Hazara, Kohat and Peshawar) and five tribal agencies (Dir-Swat-Chitral, Khyber, Kurram, North Waziristan and South Waziristan), and was placed under the administrative authority of a chief commissioner reporting to the Governor-General of India.

The institution of the 'political agent' was created at this time. Each agency was administered by a political agent who was vested with wide powers and provided funds to secure the loyalties of influential elements in the area. It was also during this period that the maliki system was developed to allow the colonial administration to exercise control over the tribes. Under this system, local chiefs (maliks) were designated as intermediaries between the members of individual tribes and the colonial authorities, and assisted in the implementation of government policies.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:02:59 ZULU