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  • MARK CONDOS (a1) and GAVIN RAND (a1)

Since 2001, the geo-strategic priorities of the ‘War on Terror’ have prompted renewed attention to the historically significant region of Waziristan. Ironically, given the apparent failure of British attempts to pacify the region in the century after 1849, Waziristan’s colonial history has been picked over by policy-makers, commentators, and scholars for lessons which might be applied to current projects of state-building and counter-insurgency. Unabashedly instrumentalist, these works have reproduced the reductive stereotypes of the colonial sources and helped to entrench partial understandings of the frontier which obscure the dynamic and contingent nature of imperial state-building. This article offers an alternate frame for writing the history of the colonial frontier by re-examining how British officials attempted to constitute colonial authority through their engagements with one of the region’s most powerful groups: the Mahsud Wazirs. Challenging historiographical emphases on oscillating metropolitan strategies, this article maps crucial and largely overlooked continuities in British attempts to pacify the Mahsuds, providing new insights into state-building at the edge of empire and a more nuanced account of how imperial power was engaged, resisted, and deflected by those it sought to control.

Corresponding author
School of History, Queen Mary, University of London, Mile End Road, London, e1
Department of History, Politics and Social Sciences, University of Greenwich, Old Royal Naval College, London, se10
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1 See, generally, Richard Temple and R. H. Davies, Report showing the relations of the British government with the tribes of the North-West Frontier of the Punjab from annexation in 1849 to the close of 1855; and continuation of the same to August 1864 (Lahore, 1865), British Library (BL), India Office Records (IOR), V/27/273/1/1; Davies, C. C., The problem of the North-West Frontier 1890–1908, with a survey of policy since 1849 (Cambridge, 1932); Ahmed, Akbar S., Pukhtun economy and society: traditional structure and economic development in tribal society (London, 1980); and Beattie, Hugh, Imperial frontier: tribe and state in Waziristan (Richmond, 2002).

2 Roe, Andrew M., Waging war in Waziristan: the British struggle in the land of bin Laden, 1849–1947 (Lawrence, KS, 2010); Matthews, M. M., An ever present danger: a concise history of British military operations on the North-West Frontier, 1849–1947 (Fort Leavenworth, KS, 2010); Williams, Matthew W., The British colonial experience in Waziristan and its applicability to current operations (Fort Leavenworth, KS, 2005), United States Department of Defence: Defence Technical Information Center,; Ferris, John, ‘Counter-insurgency and empire: the British experience with Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier, 1838–1947’, in Gates, Scott and Roy, Kaushik, eds., War and state-building in Afghanistan: historical and modern perspectives (London, 2015), pp. 79112.

3 Though we follow the colonial sources in referring to ‘tribe’, we recognize that contemporary understandings of ‘tribe’ owe much to colonial ethnographies, which were invariably shaped by the security concerns of the expanding colonial state. See Tapper, Richard, ‘Introduction’, in idem, ed., The conflict of tribe and state in Iran and Afghanistan (London, 1983), pp. 56, 42; Scott, James C., The art of not being governed: an anarchist history of upland Southeast Asia (New Haven, CT, 2009), pp. 31–2; and Beattie, Hugh, ‘Custom and conflict in Waziristan: some British views’, in Hopkins, Benjamin D. and Marsden, Magnus, eds., Beyond Swat: history, society and economy along the Afghanistan–Pakistan frontier (London, 2012), p. 211.

4 Stewart, R., ‘The irresistible illusion’, London Review of Books, 31 (2009), pp. 36.

5 Allen, Charles, Soldier sahibs: the men who made the North-West Frontier (London, 2000); Tripodi, Christian, Edge of empire: the British political officer and tribal administration on the North-West Frontier, 1877–1947 (Farnham, 2011), which describes the frontier's inhabitants as ‘unruly’, ‘intractable’, ‘misbehaving’, and in need of ‘taming’. On the persistence of colonial stereotypes in contemporary political discourse, see Condos, Mark, ‘“Fanaticism” and the politics of resistance along the North-West Frontier of British India’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 58 (2016), pp. 717–45. For a useful summary of the problems of much of the extant literature, see Hopkins, Benjamin D. and Marsden, Magnus, Fragments of the Afghan frontier (Oxford, 2011).

6 Tripodi, Edge of empire, p. 16.

7 Agha, Sameetah, ‘Inventing a frontier: imperial motives and sub-imperialism on British India's Northwest Frontier, 1889–1898’, in Agha, Sameetah and Kolsky, Elizabeth, eds., Fringes of empire: peoples, places, and spaces in colonial India (Oxford, 2009), pp. 94114; and Akbar S. Ahmed, ‘Tribes and states in Waziristan’, in Tapper, ed., The conflict of tribe and state, pp. 192–211. For a critical appraisal of the underpinning ‘great game narrative’, see Bayly, Martin J., Taming the imperial imagination: colonial knowledge, international relations, and the Anglo-Afghan encounter, 1808–1878 (Cambridge, 2016), esp. pp. 1015.

8 As Christine Noelle has noted, Pashtun ‘identities and political strategies have always been shaped by their interaction with greater powers’: Noelle, Christine, State and tribe in nineteenth-century Afghanistan: the reign of Amir Dost Muhammed Khan (1826–1863) (Richmond, 1999), p. 123.

9 Scott, The art of not being governed, p. xi.

10 See, generally, Malcolm Yapp, ‘Tribes and states in the Khyber, 1838–1842’, in Tapper, ed., The conflict of tribe and state, pp. 151–87; Scott, The art of not being governed; Singha, Radhika, A despotism of law: crime and justice in early colonial India (New Delhi, 1998); Major, Andrew, ‘State and criminal tribes in colonial Punjab: surveillance, control and reclamation of the “dangerous classes”’, Modern Asian Studies, 33 (1999), pp. 657–88.

11 Singha, A despotism of law, pp. 169–70.

12 Guha, Ranajit, A rule of property for Bengal: an essay on the idea of permanent settlement (Paris, 1963).

13 Nichols, Robert, Settling the frontier: land, law, and society in the Peshawar Valley, 1500–1900 (Oxford, 2001), p. 215; Johnson, Robert, The Afghan way of war: culture and pragmatism: a critical history (London, 2011), p. 35.

14 ‘District memorandum, Derah Ismael Khan, 1852’, in Temple and Davies, Report, p. 171.

15 Nichols, Settling the frontier, p. 216.

16 Davies, The problem of the North-West Frontier, p. 25; Temple and Davies, Report.

17 Davies, The problem of the North-West Frontier, p. 116.

18 Temple and Davies, Report, p. 97.

19 Younghusband, G. J., Indian frontier warfare (London, 1898), p. 7.

20 See Callwell, C. E., Small wars: their principles and practice (1896; London, 1906); also Frontier warfare 1901 (Simla, 1901); and Churchill, Winston S., The story of the Malakand Field Force: an episode of frontier war (London, 1898); MacMunn, G. F., The romance of the Indian frontiers (London, 1931).

21 For a more detailed discussion of colonial frontier warfare, see Rand, G., ‘“From the Black Mountain to Waziristan”: culture and combat on the North-West Frontier’, in Roy, K. and Rand, G., eds., Culture, conflict and the military in colonial South Asia (London, 2017).

22 Hopkins, Benjamin D., ‘The Frontier Crimes Regulation and frontier governmentality’, Journal of Asian Studies, 74 (2015), pp. 122; Kolsky, Elizabeth, ‘The colonial rule of law and the legal regime of exception: frontier “fanaticism” and state violence in British India’, American Historical Review, 120 (2015), pp. 1218–46.

23 Scott, David, Refashioning futures: criticism after postcoloniality (Princeton, NJ, 1999).

24 Paget, W. H. and Mason, A. H., A record of the expeditions against the tribes of the North-West Frontier since the annexation of the Punjab (London, 1884), p. 506.

25 Beattie, Imperial frontier, pp. 29–34.

26 Mason, A. H., Report on the Mahsud Waziri tribe (Simla, 1893), BL, IOR, L/PS/20/B104, p. 32.

27 Paget and Mason, A record of the expeditions, p. 508.

28 See Wylly, H. C., From the Black Mountain to Waziristan: being an account of the border countries and the more turbulent of the tribes controlled by the North-West Frontier Province, and of our military relations with them in the past (London, 1912), p. 447.

29 Mason, Report on the Mahsud Waziri tribe, p. 36.

30 Chamberlain to the Punjab Government (PG), 7 July 1860, National Archives of India (NAI), Foreign/Political A/Nov. 1862/nos. 99–101, no. 100, p. 16.

31 Ibid., p. 20.

32 Ibid.

33 Taylor to the PG, 6 Dec. 1861, NAI Foreign/Political A/Jan. 1862/nos. 108–10, para. 7.

34 Graham to the commissioner and superintendent of Derajat, 8 Aug. 1865, NAI, Foreign/Political A/Jan. 1866/nos. 87–90, no. 88, para. 12.

35 Extract from the proceedings of the GOI, 18 Dec. 1865, NAI, Foreign/Political A/Jan. 1866/nos. 87–90, no. 89, p. 5.

36 Ibid.; PG to the GOI, 4 Dec. 1865, ibid., no. 87, p. 1; also Note by A. S., Aug. 1896, NAI, Foreign/Frontier A/Sept. 1896/nos. 84–91, p. 1.

37 Political letter by His Majesty's secretary of state for India, 30 Apr. 1866, BL, IOR, L/PS/6/456, p. 1195.

38 PG to the GOI, 10 Nov. 1873, NAI, Foreign/Political A/nos. 356–70, para. 6, p. 2; Beattie, Hugh, ‘Negotiations with the tribes of Waziristan 1849–1914 – the British experience’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 39 (2011), p. 579.

39 Memorandum on border policy, Dec. 1866, NAI/Foreign/Secret/Sept. 1872/nos. 60–83, no. 61, p. 10.

40 Translation of a petition from Gholam Nabbi Khan, NAI, Foreign/Political A/May 1877/nos. 180–8, no. 181, p. 1.

41 Macaulay to Munro, 23 Feb. 1877, ibid., no. 184, para. 1, p. 1.

42 Macaulay to Munro, 25 Feb. 1877, ibid., no. 187, para. 4, p. 3.

43 PG to the GOI, 22 Mar. 1877, ibid., no. 180, para. 6, p. 1.

44 PG to the GOI, 2 June 1882, NAI, Foreign/Political A/July 1882/nos. 261–8, no. 261, para. 3, p. 1.

45 PG to the GOI, 3 Jan. 1881, BL, IOR, L/MIL/17/13/107, p. 4.

46 Beattie, Hugh, ‘Hostages on the Indo-Afghan border in the later nineteenth century’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 43 (2015), pp. 561–2; also idem, Imperial frontier, p. 130.

47 Bruce, R. I., The forward policy and its results; or thirty-five years’ work amongst the tribes on our North-Western Frontier of India (London, 1900), p. 85.

48 Idem, Memorandum on our past and present relations with the Waziri tribe (especially the Mahsud section) and the Bhittanni tribe on the Dera Ismail–Khan border, 1888, BL, IOR, MSS Eur F163/8, p. 26.

49 Waziristan and the lessons of the 60 years (Simla, 1921), BL, IOR, L/MIL/17/13/123, pp. 4–34.

50 See, for example, ‘The Waziri expedition’, Pioneer, 10 June 1881, qtd in BL, IOR, L/MIL/17/13/107, pp. 89–90.

51 Diary entry, 27 Apr. 1881, BL, IOR, L/MIL/17/13/107, p. 59.

52 Kennedy to the PG, 5 Feb. 1881, ibid., p. 10.

53 PG to Kennedy, 13 Apr. 1881, ibid., p. 47.

54 Diary entry, 18 May 1881, ibid., p. 85.

55 For a broader, perhaps overstated, analysis of the imperial military and colonial knowledge, see Hevia, James, The imperial security state: British colonial knowledge and empire-building in South Asia (Cambridge, 2012), pp. 73106.

56 Ahmed, ‘Tribes and states’, p. 198.

57 The British intended that these hostages be used as chalweshtis – a ‘traditional’ tribal militia that could be used to police the Mahsuds themselves. Indicatively, the tribesmen regarded these as prized appointments, not as forms of punishment: Beattie, ‘Hostages on the Indo-Afghan border’, p. 563.

58 NAI, Foreign/Political A/July 1882/nos. 8–40, 99–101; also Wylly, From the Black Mountain, p. 458.

59 ‘Intelligence received from the Mahsud hills’, NAI, Foreign/Political A/Nov. 1881, nos. 161–212, no. 173, para. 2.

60 Temple, Richard, Report showing the relations of the British government with the tribes, independent and dependent, on the North-West Frontier of the Punjab, from annexation in 1849 to the close of 1855 (Calcutta, 1856), BL, IOR, V/23/3.

61 ‘Were this year's crops to be destroyed’, the Pioneer claimed, ‘starvation must ensue.’ ‘The Waziri expedition’, Pioneer, 10 May 1881, qtd in BL, IOR, L/MIL/17/13/107, p. 31.

62 Ommanney to the PG, 12 Apr. 1882, NAI, Foreign/Political A/June 1882, nos. 261–8, no. 262, para. 4, p. 2.

63 Gazetteer of the Bannu district, 1883–1884 (Calcutta, 1884), BL, IOR, V/27/67/6, p. 99.

64 Bruce, Memorandum, BL, IOR, MSS Eur F163/8, pp. 46–7.

65 Ogilvie to Ommanney, 21 Jan. 1887, NAI, Foreign/Frontier A/June 1887/nos. 23–6, no. 25, para. 5, pp. 3–4.

66 King to Bruce, 11 Mar. 1892, NAI, Foreign/Frontier A/June 1892/nos. 69–74, no. 72, para. 4, pp. 2–3.

67 Mason, A. H. and Cotherill, G. K., Operations against the Mahsud Waziris by a force under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir W. S. A. Lockhart, in 1894–1895 (Simla, 1897), BL, IOR, L/MIL/17/13/108, pp. 17, 19.

68 Papers regarding British relations with neighbouring tribes on N.W. Frontier of India and military operations, 1897–1898, Command papers: accounts and papers, 1898 (Cd 8713–14), lxiii.3, pp. 30–1; and Howell, Evelyn, Mizh: a monograph on government's relations with the Mahsud tribe (1931; Karachi, 1979), p. 9.

69 Mason and Cotherill, Operations against the Mahsud Waziris, pp. 43–6.

70 ‘Memorandum by Mr. A. J. Grant, political officer’, in ibid., appendix xix.

71 Ibid., p. 62.

72 Howell, Mizh, p. 9.

73 Enclosure no. 281 from Bruce, 15 Apr. 1896, NAI, Foreign/Frontier A/Sept. 1896/nos. 84–91.

74 GOI to the PG, 3 Sept. 1896, ibid.

75 Enclosure no. 281 from Bruce, 15 Apr. 1896, ibid.

76 Washbrook, D. A., ‘Law, state and agrarian society in colonial India’, Modern Asian Studies, 15 (1981), pp. 649721.

77 Lord Curzon of Kedleston, Frontiers (Oxford, 1907), p. 7.

78 Gilmour, David, Curzon: imperial statesman (London, 2003), pp. 196–8.

79 Joyce, Patrick, The state of freedom: a social history of the British state since 1800 (Cambridge, 2013), pp. 150–2.

80 GOI to Hamilton, 30 Jan. 1902, Papers relating to Mahsud-Waziri operations (East India: North-West Frontier), Command papers: accounts and papers, 1902 (Cd 1177), lxxi, p. 155.

81 Wylly, From the Black Mountain, p. 470.

82 Merk to Deane, 6 Mar. 1902, BL, IOR, L/MIL/17/13/109, p. 281; also Wylly, From the Black Mountain, p. 472.

83 As with punitive expeditions, the aim of ‘enhanced blockade’ was to ‘demolish all defences, capture prisoners and cattle, and destroy grain and fodder’: Wylly, From the Black Mountain, p. 471.

84 Merk to the PG, 1 July 1901, NAI, Foreign/Frontier A/July 1901/ nos. 10–39, no. 39, pp. 6–7.

85 Deane to the GOI, 27 Mar. 1902, BL, IOR, L/MIL/17/13/109, p. 285.

86 Anderson to the PG, 24 Jan. 1900, Papers relating to Mahsud-Waziri operations, p. 56.

87 Note by P. Pipon, 1 Feb. 1902, ibid., p. 273.

88 Testimony of Nazam Khan, May 1902, NAI, Foreign/Frontier A/July 1901/nos. 10–39, no. 36, p. 17.

89 See NAI, Foreign/Frontier B/Feb. 1901/nos. 193–204.

90 Note by P. Pipon, 1 Feb. 1902, Papers relating to Mahsud-Waziri operations, p. 274; also H. L. Nevill, Campaigns on the North-West Frontier (London, 1912) p. 326.

91 Beattie, ‘Hostages on the Indo-Afghan border’, p. 563.

92 Beattie, ‘Custom and conflict’, pp. 214–16.

93 Warren, A., ‘“Bullocks treading down wasps?”: the British Indian army in Waziristan in the 1930s’, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 20 (1997), pp. 3556.

94 Howell, Mizh, p. 95.

95 See Ahmed, Pukhtun economy and society; idem, ‘Tribes and states in Waziristan’; Beattie, Imperial frontier.

96 The emphasis on those relatively infrequent moments of direct engagement, including in revisionist accounts, is thus somewhat misleading. See, for example, Burton, Antoinette, The trouble with empire: challenges to modern British imperialism (Oxford, 2015), pp. 2486.

97 Condos, Mark, ‘Licence to kill: The Murderous Outrages Act and the rule of law in colonial India’, Modern Asian Studies, 50 (2016), pp. 479517; Hopkins, ‘The Frontier Crimes Regulation’.

98 For comparisons, see Mukerji, C., Impossible engineering: technology and territoriality on the Canal du Midi (Princeton, NJ, 2009); Dutta, Simanti, Imperial mappings in savage spaces: Baluchistan and British India (New Delhi, 2002); Haines, Daniel, Building the empire, building the nation: development, legitimacy, and hydro-politics in Sind, 1919–1969 (Oxford, 2013).

99 As recently as the 1980s, the long-anticipated ‘pacification’ of Waziristan was being mooted by the frontier official-cum-scholar A. S. Ahmed: Ahmed, ‘Tribes and states’, pp. 200–1.

100 Hopkins and Marsden, Fragments of the Afghan frontier, pp. 215–19.

We would like to acknowledge and thank Martin Bayly, Kim A. Wagner, Dev Moodley, Sujit Sivasundaram, and the three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and assistance in preparing this article.

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