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 British Administration of the Tribal Belt

British Administration of the Tribal Belt

The frontiers west of the tribal territory were unsettled at the time of the arrival of the British. The Mughal emperors added Kabul as a province to their empire in the 16th century as well as Roh, or the tribal areas as they called them. Nadir Shah was able to add these areas to what became the modern state of Afghanistan, in 1749. However, less than a century later, the Sikh drove out the Afghans from the areas up to the tribal foothills. At the time of British annexation of Punjab in 1849, the tribesmen were enjoying independence from both he British and the Afghan sides. The tribal area was an Ilaqa Ghair (meaning an alien country). It was then called Yaghistan also (meaning the land of rebels) - a word which was also used by the ruler of Afghanistan Amir Abdur Rehman.

The conquest of Sindh (1843) and the Punjab (1849) brought the English to the natural limits of the plains of the subcontinent towards the northwest. The administration of the plains of the region was entrusted to the British Government of the Punjab Province. Five districts, i.e., Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan and Dera Ghazi Khan, were created as frontier districts and were designated as settled areas/districts as distinct from the tribal territories. The Punjab Government had to perform dual function of administering these districts as well as the management of the tribes to the west of these districts to ensure security from frequent tribal raids.

Since the tribal area was too wide to be defended by the available armed forces, the British had to depend on the political management of the tribes. In 1877, Lord Lytton, the British Viceroy, instead of depending on the provincial government of the Punjab, devised a system whereby the central government itself would have direct control over frontier administration and policy. To achieve this purpose the system of political agencies was started in the tribal belt. As districts were the administrative units in the rest of India, agencies were created in the tribal area. The administrative control of an agency was entrusted to a Political Agent who was a counterpart of the Deputy Commissioner in a district. The Agent was required to liaise with the tribes in the area of his jurisdiction.

Tribal levies and tribal militias recruited from local tribesmen were raised to assist the Political Agent for policing the area to establish peace and security. Gradually pickets, posts and forts were built where the militia was to be stationed.

The first agency, i.e. the Khyber Agency was established in 1879. In 1889, Gilgit Agency was formed. In 1890, with the agreement of Shiranis, Mahsuds and Darwesh Khel, Gomal Pass in South Waziristan was opened for traffic. Tribal levies were raised and levy posts were built. Accordingly,
“…in 1890, when the trade route along the River Gumal [Gomal] was opened on the south borders of Waziristan, a system of Government subsidies or “allowance” was inaugurated, by which the tribes, in return for a fixed annual payment, pledged themselves to take that particular route under their protection, to abstain from raiding British-Indian territory and to perform certain minor services. … The system of tribal allowances was proving an insufficient safeguard against sporadic acts of violence. To secure the trade routes, (and to repress organized brigandage,) several military expeditions of varying importance had been undertaken into Waziristan.

In 1891, the Samanah range was occupied to dominate Miranzai Valley and Southern Tirah. For this purpose posts and pickets were built at suitable points and occupied by tribal militia.

In 1892, Turis, who were Ahl-e-Tashaee (Shias) and were in conflict with neighbouring Sunni tribe, allowed the British to exercise control over their territory. Kurram agency was soon set up in the area bringing it under British control.

In 1893, Kurram militia was raised. Posts and pickets were built for them. This gave the British control over the Kurram route leading to Peiwar Kotal Pass to Ghazni and Kabul. This expansion alarmed the Amir of Kabul and is one of the reasons that the Amir signed the Durand Line agreement in 1893 so as to check further British advance.

In 1895, Daurs and Wazirs of Tochi Valley allowed the government to occupy their territory and North Waziristan Agency was established. In 1896, South Waziristan Political Agency was created. This was followed by construction of militia posts and pickets and also increases in the allowance of Mahsud tribe.

In 1895, Malakand Agency consisting of Dir, Bajaur, Swat  and Chitral was created. The territories of Swat resisted for about 30 years till “purdah” of these areas were lifted and a political agency established there for the British forces.  Purdah (i.e. curtain) means that they would not let the foreign forces enter their territory. “The phrase is a graphic one, constantly used by the tribes to emphasize the value they set on the inviolability of their country, to be preserved behind a veil as jealously as the modesty of a woman.”

Province of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).
In 1901, the North-West Frontier Province was established. The four trans-Indus districts of Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan, along with Hazara east of Indus were separated from the Punjab to form a separate province.

But for purposes of administration, the tribal belt was dealt with separately under the central government as before. It was divided into Khyber, Kurram, North Waziristan and South Waziristan agencies. Each Agency had a Political Agent. He would normally move under an armed escort in the area of his jurisdiction. The same practice is prevalent in Waziristan up till now. In short, the tribal area continually enjoyed autonomy under British and even thereafter.

Judicial and the Jirga System. 
The unwritten law is that the Jirga (i.e. Council of Elders) takes decisions in civil and criminal cases of the tribe, which in the end overbear opposition, and is accepted as a unanimous decision. Jirga is a traditional institution for administration of justice. The British Government modified it and enforced it both in the tribal as well as in the settled areas of the respective Political Agencies. Under the revised version, a Jirga was to consist of not less than three persons. The Deputy Commissioner or the Political Agent would normally refer the case to a Jirga if he considers that there was likely to be a breach of peace, etc. If the Deputy Commissioner or the Political Agent did not agree with the recommendations of the Jirga, he would refer the case back to the same Jirga or appoint another Jirga.

A separate feature of judicial system of the province including the tribal territory from the rest of the country was the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). It was described as “an exceptional and primitive” regulation.  It was enacted by the British Punjab Government in 1872 and revised in 1887 and 1901. These regulations authorize the Deputy Commissioner or the Political Agent to refer all criminal and civil cases to a Jirga.

The British created the Tribal Agencies as administrative units, being counterparts of the entities called district in the settled areas to their west. These were administered by the political agents who administered the tribal areas through a system of indirect administration involving tribal chieftains called the Maliks and other elders called Safedresh or Spingireh (Pshto for white bearded), local assemblies called Jirga, and Rivaj, the collection of local customary law, within the broad framework of Pakhtunwali, or the Paskhtun code. The official administrative regulation devised for the tribal areas was the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR). The British felt the necessity of raising a force which was more mobile than the regular soldiers and could act under the civil authority, i.e. the Political Agent. Accordingly, Khassadars and Irregulars (a precursor of the Frontier Corps) were raised.


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