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You Are Here: Home » Articles » Ark of Empire; the Frontier

Ark of Empire; the Frontier


Arif Shahbaz Khan Wazir

“Both Alexander the Great and Field Marshal Alexander of Tunis served here and amid the two one finds a scroll of names like Tamerlane, Babur and Akbar. With advent of the British we finds names like Pollock, Napier, Lumsden, Nicholson, Roberts, Robertson, Blood, Churchill, Wavell, Slim, Auchinleck and also Lawrence of Arabia who marked the history served in FATA. Apart from soldiers, the Frontier has involved generations of administrators, politicians, and statesmen; Palmerston, Disraeli, Gladstone, Dalhousie, Lawrence, Lytton, Curzon, Gandhi, Nehru, Attlee, Jinnah, and Mountbatten rose to power and fell through their Frontier policies. The Frontier has not only been the concern of Britain, India and Afghanistan (and recent years Pakistan); the mysterious pressure it generates have involved Russia, China, Persia, Turkey and even France; on two occasions these pressures have brought the world to the brink of war”. Akbar.S.Ahmed quoted in his article ‘An Aspect of the Colonial Encounter in the Frontier’.

The so-called torch barriers of ‘western’ civilization treated the poor ‘frontier’ as conquerors do and the brown skinned “Sahibs” treated the regions by following the footsteps of their predecessor rulers. To an ordinary inhabitant of FATA (a nameless abbreviation for the unfortunate land) independence was proved not more than changing of masters.

The story of the frontier (Fata) is of broken promises and miseries. The slogans of liberty, fraternity and equality couldn’t reach the barren lands of Waziristan or the snow covered mountains of Bajaur. One can witness an old tribesman sitting near a road looking at the passer by vehicles in an un-interested manner even today. He and his lands have witnessed many civilizations and conquerors passing through these mountains hurriedly to their destinations. His fate remained unaffected.

When the British came to this part of India, their policies didn’t differ from those of their predecessors. For them the tribes and their lands were of no importance but a bulwark against any future threat to their ‘golden sparrow’. They embarked upon an ambitious project hitherto unfamiliar to the people of this land; that is a system of ‘patronage’ through administrative reforms. This ambitious project is to cast a long shadow on the destinies of these people.

In 1843 the British conquered Sindh and soon afterwards Punjab was subjugated in1849 before the British Empire knocked at the doors of Central Asia. For the 1st time in history a power was in control of a land ranging from Koh-e- Hindukash to Bengal. The Czars of Russia were advancing from the north.

A sense of insecurity developed among the British strategists of the era. An approaching encounter with the Russian empire was scare. British statesmen decided to evolve a new strategy to make their most precious colony safe from the impending danger.

In 1874 Disraeli became Prime Minister and it was decided to build a strategic line of defense against possible Russian advance in sub-continent. The Afghan wars also made it necessary for the British imperialists to settle the ‘problem’ of frontier.

Lord Lytton (1876-80) put forward the idea of a ‘scientific frontier’. For the next two decades the British strategists oscillated between the “FORWARD” and “BACKWARD” policy. Durrand Line was drawn in 1893 and it was a sort of compromise between the promoters of these two strategies. The fate of inhabitants of the poor land was decided between a King and an Empire without consulting anyone. The frontier region had been converted into a large ‘trench’ against any attack from the north. British insecurity had been sub-sided at the cost of the poor tribesmen.

The tribesmen continued their resistance against the British. Refusing to concede their independence to foreigners and they revolted in 1897-8.The British authorities put down these revolts with iron fist. The British realized that they wouldn’t be able to hold on these territories without institutionalizing the subjugation of these tribes. The result of this thinking was an introduction of a Draconian law “FCR”, an abbreviation known to every tribesman today. It is a symbol of tyranny for the poor tribesmen even today in an independent Pakistan.

The most unfortunate part of introducing FCR was that it institutionalized a “system” of patronage which was, and still is, at the expense of the poor tribesmen. Frontier Crime Regulations badly affected the fabric of tribal society. An elite character was created which had been totally dependent on the patronage from the British authorities. The “Malaki” system of this sort was alien to the tribes. This system was maintained even after 1947 and the miseries of tribal masses continued under the “Muslim” rule.

For the tribesmen of FATA the change was of mere of Masters. A brown ‘sahib’ replaced the white ‘sahib’ and the malicious system of patronage and agonies continued unabated. In 1997 Adult Franchise for the people of Fata was introduced. It raised hopes that the malicious system of patronage and the draconian law of FCR would be abolished soon. However, hopes turned into illusions later on, because the system was so potent that new patterns of patronage were devised. Maliks became government contractors and beneficiaries of the developmental schemes. The elites became stake holders in the system by adapting themselves to the new scenario. The ‘brown sahib’ has proved to be as skillful as the ‘Gora sahib’.

The introduction of real reforms is need of the hour however the apologists for this malicious system use the same lexicon in order to hinder any attempt for reforms which has been used by the colonial masters. It is said that reform process should be gradual as if sudden repeal of draconian law will be incomprehensible for the ‘semi-civilized’ masses of Fata. The colonialists used to select same words whenever the question of liberation came to fore for the poor masses.

Revolt against authority is not a new phenomenon in Fata. However the radicalization of youth is a dangerous development. This time arms have been raised by a section of tribal people against their brothers in the name of faith. The strategic junkyard during British era and during Afghan war (1979 and onward) has become a source of trouble for the state of Pakistan as well as for the international community. The militancy struck against the Maliks to weaken the merciless system and symbols of state. Knowing well that this system has no roots among the masses, militants have been successful in eliminating their role on ground though they may be still active at official level. Interestingly even now the protagonists of this vicious system defend it. A halfhearted attempt was made to introduce local government system in tribal areas but the whole attempt was nipped in the bud with the change of regime.

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