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Northwest Frontier Expeditions - 1849-1902

The northwest frontier of British India, both beyond and within the British border, had many martial tribes. The independent tribes were estimated to have over 100,000 fighting men, but there had been few instances of anything like combination among them, and the mountain hosts can only be kept together for a few days at a time, as each one has to carry his own four or five days' supply of provisions. After annexation of the Panjab, several independent tribes harassed the border tribes of British India, and expeditions were undertaken for their repression. From generation to generation the plain country, within a night's run to the hills, had been their hunting ground from which to enrich themselves.

The Pathans had carried the stamp of fear and hatred ever since the bone-chilling January morning in 1842 when the sole English survivor of the forty-five hundred-man "Army of the Indus" rode into Fort Jalalabad. The eighty-odd years of guerrilla warfare that followed hardened these feelings into an article of faith. The British sent scores of expeditions into the Pathans's hills, shelled their strongholds, burned (and later bombed) their villages, beat, flogged, and jailed Pathans by the thousands. In between, in times that passed for peaceful, they tried to bribe them into submission. But nothing worked for long. The Pathan homeland remained the only part of the British Empire never to be safe to say, no Englishman slept a night in a Frontier town or village-or even within an army cantonment- without the lurking menace of a bullet crashing form a distant lookout or the sudden, silent descent of a razor-sharp dagger. The British counted on only one certitude on the Frontier: that the peace would break, and that British columns would once again across the earth's five continents, the North-West Frontier Province was called simply "the Grim."

Against the colonies at Sittana among the Utmanzais, at Malka on the slopes of the Mahabun, at Zazkata in Buneyr, among the Black Mountain tribes on both sides of the Indus, there stands a long record of campaigns, a great expenditure of men and money, due mainly to their agency. Where they have not openly undertaken hostile operations against the British, they have proved to be at the bottom of most of the tribal complications. Their nominal object a crescentade against English, Hindu or infidel Kafirs of any sort, they seem never to lose an opportunity of inspiring ill-feeling, and to be always ready to join hands with any lawless Khan, or clan, that can be persuaded into taking the initiative.

For some, plunder was their principal object, and when this was satisfied their interest in the Crescentade [as the nineteenth-century English termed the jihad] cooled down. But for others, the conflation of geopolitics and religion in Islam is predicated on the concept of jihad (struggle), which may be understood as a crescentade, in the same sense as the later Christian crusade, which seeks to achieve a religious goal, the conversion of the world to Islam, by militant means. This equates to a concept of perpetual war with the non-Muslim world.

During the nine years frontier between annexation and the outbreak of the Mutiny, on no less than seventeen occasions was the dispatch of troops against the tribesmen necessary. But the operations were simply of importance as being measures required for the establishment of a strong rule and a peaceful border, in countries which had never before known law and order.

Of all the frontier tribes only a few Yusufzai villages within the British border took advantage of the difficulties of 1857. They were speedily punished, Narinji, the centre of disturbance, being stormed and razed to the ground. In the next year the misbehaviour of the Khudu Khel, roused by emissaries from the Hindustani fanatics, compelled an invasion of their country, from which the fanatical colony was expelled. In 1859-60 operations were undertaken in the country of the Kabul Wazlrs between Thai and Bannu ; and in 1860 the Mahsud country was overrun, in punishment for a long series of outrages, culminating in an attempt to plunder and burn the border town of Tank. The tribe, however, did not submit, and after the withdrawal of the troops was put under blockade. Different sections of the tribe, and from 1877 onwards the whole of it, remained under embargo, on account of repeated violations of British territory, almost without intermission, until the next expedition was undertaken in 1881.

In 1863 took place the Ambela campaign. Repeated robberies in British territory had led to a blockade on the Yusufzai border, and blockade in turn had caused the denunciation of the infidel and the proclamation of jihad in all the high places between Swat and the Hazara border. Swat itself was at this time controlled by the famous Akhund, who had had experience of the strength of the Government, and whose inclinations were consequently for peace, especially as a religious rivalry prevailed between him and the head of the fanatical colony. Even in Swat, however, intense excitement was rife.

The object of the expedition was to root out the colony of Hindustani Fanatics which since 1858 had been located in the Barandu valley, and was recognized as a permanent source of danger and disturbance. The troops gained the crest of the Ambela pass leading to the Chamla valley, and thence advanced to Malka, when they encountered unexpected opposition from the Bunerwals whose country lies immediately north of Chamla. The Akhund was no longer able to stem the tide, and joined the enemy's camp, followed by standards from all the tribes of Swat, Dir, Bajaur, and by contingents from the Utman Khel and the Mohmands as well as by some British subjects. For more than a month the British force, though raised by successive additions to a strength of more than 9,000 men, could not do more than hold its ground. But with the passage of time the coalition of the enemy began to fall asunder, and on the repulse with heavy slaughter of the last of a long series of attacks the object of the expedition was achieved. The Bunerwals agreed to destroy Malka and drive out the fanatics, and exclude them from their country for ever. From 1863 to 1893 the fanatics wandered to and fro in the Chagarzai, Hasanzai, and Madda Khel (Yusufzai) country; and since 1893 they have lived mainly in the Amazai territory in Buner, but they have lost most of their political importance.

Other operations in this period do not require detailed mention ; but the Black Mountain expedition of 1868, in which the British force numbered nearly 15,000 men (including the reserve), was noteworthy, more perhaps from the audacious provocation given, the strength of the force used, and the difficulty of the country traversed, than from the stubbornness of the enemy or the permanence of the results secured.

The Black Mountain is a mountain range and district on the Hazara border of the North-West Frontier Province. It is inhabited by Yusafzai Pathans. The Black Mountain itself has a total length of 25 to 50 m., and an average height of 8000 ft. above the sea. It rises from the Indus basin near the village of Kiara, up to its watershed by Bruddur; thence it runs northwest by north to the point on the crest known as Chittabut. From Chittabut the range runs due north, finally descending by two large spurs to the Indus again.

The Black Mountain is chiefly notable for four British expeditions:-

  1. Under Lieut.-Colonel F. Mackeson, in 1852-53, agninst the Hassanzais. The occasion was the murder of two British customs officers. A force of 3800 British troops traversed their country, destroying their villages and grain, &c.
  2. Under Major-General A. T. Wilde, in 1868. The occasion was an attack on a British police post at Oghi in the Agror Valley by all three tribes. A force of 12,500 British troops entered the country and the tribes made submission.
  3. The First Hazara Expedition in 1888. The cause was the constant raids made by the tribes on villages in British territory, culminating in an attack on a small British detachment, in which two English officers were killed. A force of 12.500 British troops traversed the country of the tribes, and severely punished them. Punishment was also inflicted on the Hindostani Fanatics of Palosi.
  4. The Second Hazara Expedition of 1891. The Black Mountain tribes fired on a force within British limits. A force of 7300 British troops traversed the country. The tribesmen made their submission and entered into an agreement with government to preserve the peace of the border.
The Black Mountain tribes took no part in the general frontier rising of 1897, and after the disappearance of the Hindostani Fanatics they sank into comparative unimportance. By 1910 the tribes which inhabited the western face of the Black Mountain were the Hassanzais (2300 fighting men), the Akazais (1165 fighting men ) and the Chkgarzais (4890 fighting men), all sub-sections of the Yusafzai Palhans. It was in this district that the Hindostani Fanatics had their stronghold, and they were responsible for much of the unrest on this part of the border.

Between the outbreak of the second Afghan War and the Pathan revolt of 1897 there were sixteen expeditions against the frontier tribes. Of these eight took place before peace was concluded with Kabul, and were in the nature of punishment inflicted on the clans.

The expedition of 1881 against the Mahsuds was noteworthy, and produced comparative peace on this part of the border for five years. Between 1888 and 1892, the Hazara border was disturbed almost continuously, and large expeditions were dispatched against the Isazai clans of the Black Mountain, and their neighbors, the Cis-Indus Swatis, Alatis, and Parari Saiyids. Little resistance was offered to the troops, and the expeditions were completely successful. The first and second Mlranzai expeditions of 1891 were directed against the Orakzai tribes living along the crest of the Samana. There was little fighting, but the expedition resulted in the occupation of posts along that range ; and, except in 1897, there had been no trouble since then on the Orakzai border.

In 1894 the deputation of the Commissioner of the Derajat to demarcate the border between Waziristan and Afghan territory, and the invitation extended by the Ahmadzai of Wana to the Government to occupy their country, led to an attack by the Mahsuds, under the leadership of the Mulla Powinda, on the Commissioner's escort, in the Wana plain. An expedition followed, which effected the submission of the tribe. Since 1894 Wana had been occupied, and parts of Southern Waziristan had been administered by the Political officer in charge.

In 1885-6 Chitral was visited by the Lockhart mission; and in 1889, on the establishment of a Political Agency in Gilgit, Aman-ul-mulk received a subsidy from the British Government of Rs. 6,000 per annum. Some rifles were also given to him. In 1891, this subsidy was increased to Rs. 12,000, on condition that he accepted the advice of Government in all matters connected with foreign policy and the defence of the frontier.

In 1892, Aman-ul-mulk died suddenly. His second son Afzal-ul-mulk, who happened to be on the spot, seized the throne. The eldest son, Nizam-ul-mulk, governor of Yasln, fled to Gilgit. Before Afzal-ul-mulk had fairly embarked on the necessary extirpation of his other half-brothers, Umra Khan of Jandol, who was at this time master of Dlr, invaded Chitral territory, and seized the fort and district of Narsat. Afzal-ul-mulk was about to march against him when his uncle Sher Afzal, who had been a refugee in Afghanistan, returned suddenly with a small following. Chitral fort was opened to him, and in the confusion that followed Afzal-ul-mulk was murdered. Sher Afzal proclaimed himself Mehtar. Nizam-ul-mulk was then allowed to re-enter Chitral from Gilgit. Sher Afzal, believing him to have British support, fled before him and Nizam-ul-mulk in turn ascended the throne. He was recognized by Government, and a Political Agency was established in Chitral.

In January 1895, Nizam-ul-mulk was murdered at the instigation of his half-brother Amir-ul-mulk, acting as the tool of Umra Khan, who was still in occupation of Narsat and had espoused the cause of Sher Afzal. Amir-ul-mulk seized the fort. Umra Khan crossed the Lawarai pass with an army, giving out that he was conducting a religious war against the infidels, and asking Amir-ul-mulk to join him. Amir-ul-mulk was unable or unwilling to comply, and Umra Khan laid siege to Drosh, which he took after about a month's investment.

Meanwhile, the Political Agent at Gilgit had been sent to Chitral to report on the situation. With his escort, which by reinforcements had been brought up to a strength of over 400 men, of whom 300 belonged to the Kashmir Imperial Service troops, he occupied the fort. All appeared well when suddenly Sher Afzal reappeared on the scene. He was supported by Umra Khan, and was shortly joined by the bulk of the ruling class, the Adamzadas, with their adherents. Amir-ul- mulk made overtures to thejm and was consequently placed under restraint in the fort, and Shuja-ul-mulk, a lad of fourteen, his brother, was provisionally recognized as Mehtar.

The garrison of the fort made an ineffective sortie, and were then besieged from March 3 till April 19. During the continuance of the siege two notable successes were gained elsewhere by the enemy. The first was the treacherous capture at Buni of two British officers, the destruction of their following, and the seizure of 40,000 rounds of ammunition. The two officers were kept as prisoners by Umra Khan at Munda for nearly a month, and were then released on the approach of the relief force. The other success was the practical annihilation near Reshiing of a detachment of 100 men of the i4th Sikhs under Captain Ross. At Chitral, however, the besieged, though in considerable straits, held out gallantly until the approach of a small force from Gilgit caused their assailants to withdraw. A week later (April 26) the advance guard of the main relief force, which had been dispatched via the Malakand and Dlr, entered Chitral territory over the Lawarai pass. Sher Afzal was taken prisoner and Umra Khan fled to Afghan territory. Sher Afzal, Amlr-ul-mulk, and their leading followers were deported to India, and the selection of Shuja-ul-mulk as Mehtar was confirmed.

Since then Chitral enjoyed an unwonted peace.

Since the conclusion of peace with the Afridis in 1898, the 1898 border from the Kurram northwards had been undisturbed. In Waziristan the period had also been marked by increasing tranquillity, but on three occasions troops had been required. On December 1, 1900, the Mahsuds, whose behaviour had been very unsatisfactory, were put under strict blockade. As the tribe continued its depredations, their country was harried during the winter of 1901-2 by constant incursions of lightly equipped columns. In the spring the fines imposed were paid, stolen rifles were surrendered, and security was given for the fulfilment of the other terms demanded. Since this settlement the behavior of the Mahsuds, as a tribe, has been conspicuously good, though three British officers were murdered by individuals in 1904-5

In 1901 troops were marched through the Madda Khel country, in North Wazlristan, to enforce complete compliance with the terms imposed in 1897. The operations were successful. In the autumn of 1902 an incursion was made into the Kabul Khel country from Thal, Idak, and Bannu. There was little fighting except with a band of outlaws at Gumatti, but severe punishment was inflicted on the tribe, with excellent results.

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