Both these books deal with regions of the British Empire hitherto considered ungovernable and hazardous. Written by academics familiar with the culture, societal and tribal norms of the area, they provide timely scholastic content to available literature on the subject at a moment when a Committee of Experts set up by the Establishment in Pakistan for reform in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has just furnished its report suggesting the merger of FATA into the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP—earlier known as North West Frontier Province—NWFP) in a phased manner, over the next five years.
The book under review by Dr. Salman Bangash, Associate Professor in the Department of History in Peshawar University, examines the reasons behind British Frontier Policy which led to a different administrative setup for the Tribal Belt. Dr. Sultan-i-Rome (a Swati Pathan from the well-known Bacha family), Associate Professor of History in Government Jahanzeb College, Swat describes the rather ineffectual implementation of land and forestry laws in Swat over the last sixty years.
Starting from a brief description of the topography, ethnic complexities and geo-strategic significance of the Tribal Belt, Bangash sketches how the parameters of British Frontier policy evolved and became inextricably interlinked with ‘the Great Game’ of countering Russian influence across Central Asia and into Afghanistan. He seeks answers to: ‘why the British were so sensitive and susceptible regarding this particular Frontier’; ‘was Russia’s threat to India—the jewel in their (British) imperial crown—a myth or reality’; why did the British create Tribal Agencies, ‘why they introduced a separate and peculiar form of administrative setup’ there and why they had to resort to ‘so many military operations’ instead of ‘normal, peaceful methods to control and handle them’.
Bangash explains in a self-explanatory pictorial diagram(shown below) the well-known ethic or code of conduct of good living and traditional moral behaviour known as ‘Pakhtunwali’ or ‘Pashtunwali’—a series of creed and tenets, which govern responses of ordinary Pashtuns as well as societal decision making within their Tribal hierarchies even today:
According to Bangash, after Lord Curzon became Viceroy of India, while he ‘was not too eager to extend the limits of empire, he was determined not to allow another power to get ascendancy in areas bordering India’. Kitchener too ‘had a paranoid fear of Russian intentions.’ Citing British academic sources extensively, Bangash holds that Russians deliberately ‘formulated’ a ‘policy of distraction’ to ‘cultivate fears that a Russian invasion of India was imminent’. Whether or not these fears were well founded, ‘protection of frontiers and its routes became an unquestioned axiom of British Foreign Policy’.
As a sequel almost, Afghanistan emerged as a major bone of contention between the two rival powers in the region. Bangash goes on, hereafter, to deal with British adventurism in Afghanistan, the ‘debacle’ of its ‘interventionist policy’ in the First (1838) and the Second Anglo-Afghan wars (1878–80). Insights given in this chapter are not new and rely, overly perhaps, on secondary British historical sources. The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 did not much impact in the Frontier though sporadic outbreaks of rebellion were reported in isolated units, which were crushed ruthlessly.
Bangash describes next how these wars posed a local quandary to the British ‘colonial masters’, leading to the creation of the Tribal Belt in 1877. Tribal areas included all the major important passes linking Afghanistan to India. Various methods were adopted by the British to either conciliate or subjugate the tribes inhabiting this mountainous trans-Indus tract, otherwise known as ‘gair ilaqa’ (No Man’s Land). British administration initially followed the Sikh pattern, established under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, of administering a territory less the farther it was from the permanently settled areas of Punjab. The Tribal Areas were treated as ‘a zone of indirect influence’. Not only was Afghanistan treated as a ‘buffer state’, after delineating the Durand Line, the Tribal areas became another ‘buffer zone’. This became known as the ‘closed border policy’.
The non-interventionist approach changed after Lord Lytton became Viceroy in 1874–75. The British began consolidating a forward wall of protective and defensive outposts, bludgeoning recalcitrant local Pashtun rulers where needed. The Treaty of Gandamak was signed in May, 1879, ending the first phase of the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Afghanistan ceded various frontier areas to Britain to prevent invasion of further areas of the country. Bangash accepts the description of British historians of this shift from the ‘concept of an administrative frontier to one of a scientific frontier’, with an effective line of defence. Military attention of the British got focussed on ‘fostering and securing support of the trans-border tribes on both sides, through the mountains and smaller border hills. Developments leading to the conclusion of the Durand Line agreement between Sir Mortimer Durand and Amir Abdur Rahman Khan in 1893 are covered here.
Bangash then recounts the events leading to the creation of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in 1901. It included the trans-Indus districts of Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan, together with the political agencies of Dir, Swat, Chitral, Khyber, Kurram, North and South Waziristan. Just before this happened, a serious tribal uprising had erupted in 1897 and the issue emerging before the British was whether an arrangement could be devised to prevent recurrence of such outbreaks while contemplating forward military advance against an implacable enemy (Afghanistan). The concept of twofold responsibility emerged for the Commissioner of Peshawar—he would be answerable for Frontier affairs directly to the Central Government but to the Punjab Governor for other matters.
The Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) was introduced in 1901. Intended basically as a procedural law, it tried to blend in local ethos by involving local Jigars and incorporating some traditional punishments. It sought to encapsulate elements of Pakhtunwali, such as ‘riwaj’ or custom, in the trial procedure of the Jirga. It did away with measures such as habeus corpus. It allowed arrests on mere suspicion, authorized collective punishment and restricted movements and activities of tribes.
A Political Agent was appointed instead of the Deputy Commissioner or District Magistrate, as the lynchpin of the administrative structure in the Tribal agencies. He reported to the Chief Commissioner/later Governor of NWFP. In between the people and the Political Agent, the British introduced the Maliki system. A local tribal chief or elder was designated as intermediary between members of individual tribes and the colonial representative. The Maliks were seen as reliable and trustworthy local elite, whose loyalty was rewarded by assigning them special status, financial benefits and official recognition of this influence. In return, the tribes policed themselves, promising not to interfere with British lines of communication and authority to administer. Tribal levies or militias could be recruited from local tribes to assist the Political Agent for policing the area—these became the Khasadars, later merged partially into the Frontier Constabulary in NWFP and Baluchistan.
FCR was notorious for its harsh penalties. These included the power to blockade hostile or unfriendly tribes, demolition and restriction of hamlets, village settlements constructed without permission, removal of persons from their places of residence. The Political Agent was empowered to arrest any person and keep him in jail for unlimited periods.
Another important strategy which developed slowly was signing agreements with different tribes to maintain peace and order. Agreements were made with monetary benefits for the tribesmen in the form of subsidies and allowances. If they did not keep their promises, the British punished them with economic blockades, taking prisoners and hostages, seizing property and finally sending military expeditions into their territory. Even as the edifice of Political Agents and Tribal Maliks, so assiduously built by the British crumbled suddenly in the first decade of the twenty-first century, modern day students of Pakistan found this approach sickeningly familiar to what the Army tried between 2003-2015, before the military crackdown under Zarb-e-Azb, to appease the radically motivated tribal militant groups in FATA.
The author devotes a separate chapter to the military operations undertaken by the British against the Tribesmen, starting from the Ambela campaign of 1863, the Jowaki operation of 1877–78, the Miranzai campaign, 1891, the Chitral campaign (1895) which led to the rather widespread Frontier Uprising of 1897–98, and the Tirah expedition. Operations conducted against the tribes were hampered by limited intelligence, difficult terrain, immense distances and harsh climate. The Pathans revealed themselves as tough fighters who could not be easily bought off. At one stage or another, almost all the tribes in this region were confronted. The Zakka Khel and Mohmand expeditions of 1908 provoked the hitherto peaceful Mohmands to take up arms against the British forces.
For the British, the Tribal Belt had multifaceted utility—it was a training ground for its soldiers and officers, a recruiting ground for its army, a place for administrative experiments, a second line of defence, a bulwark against an aggressive Russia, a launching pad to fulfil their imperial designs—in Afghanistan and beyond. While the British managed to achieve most of these objectives, Bangash concludes that ‘in the process they lost the trust and friendship of a large segment of the Pashtun population. As a consequence, enmity, animosity and confrontation continued till the end of British rule in India.
Sultan-I-Rome’s work focuses more narrowly on exploitation of forestry rights in Swat and Kalam. Funded under a study by the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR), North-South Switzerland, it examines the relationship between the Wali of Swat’s rules and regulations regarding maintenance and use of forests, how they evolved from riwaj (tradition), how the relationship developed with the colonial administration, whether the rules were followed in actual practice. What became of the relationship after Swat acceded to the State of Pakistan and what were the consequences of this merger on forestry? The book touches, only in passing though, on what was the impact of shariat laws introduced by the Tehrik Nifaz Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM) in the 1990s and again later in 2009, when a more violent Islamic militancy overtook normal administration in the area (2009–10).
To begin with, Rome provides a fascinating bird’s eye view of Swat’s political history, from the time it used to extend over an area of 4,000 sq miles bounded by Gilgit Agency and Chitral in the North and North-East, and Dir in the West. The Protected Areas of Dir, Swat and Chitral were commonly called Malakand Agency. From the Mauryas to Hindu Shahi and then occupation by Yusufzai Afghans, who were able to hold their own against Babur’s invasions. Conflict with the British came after the Ambela campaign in 1863. This was followed by a brief period of internecine rivalry between the Nawab of Dir and the Mianguls, grandsons of the Akhund of Swat. Miangul Abdul Wadud Shah or Bacha Sahib consolidated his dominion and became known as the first Wali of Swat. During his rule (1917–1949), he initiated development works like construction of roads, schools and hospitals. He ensured peace, order and dispensation of justice to a great extent, evolving a governmental structure even though keeping the feudal structure of society intact. The rule of the Walis was benevolent but completely autocratic. In August, 1947 Bacha Sahib executed an Instrument of Accession to join the dominion of Pakistan. In 1954, his son, Miangul Jahanzeb signed a Supplementary Instrument of Accession. Swat, Dir and Chitral were merged with North West Frontier Province as Provincial Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) in 1969(called the Merger Resolution). PATA was accorded special constitutional status under the 1973 Constitution. No law passed by central or provincial legislatures could apply unless specially extended by the Governor, with approval of the President.
In subsequent chapters, the land dimension, forestry in the pre-Swat State period, the period of the Walis, the post-Swat State period are discussed. The situation in the Kalam Tract—both pre-1947 and afterwards, is also examined. The Yusufzais held land under the ‘Wesh’ system (originally devised by Shaikh Mali)—the allotment by the feudal ruler was not permanent, it differed in composition, location, fertility, availability of water, accessibility. To ensure equitability of all shareholders, a peculiar practice of ‘khasarnay’ or ‘khasanray’ was instituted under which plots could be exchanged. Each male person could hold a share of land called daftar which was part of a village or khel. Right of women to inherit land was not recognized under riwaj. Disputes regarding inheritance had to be referred to the Wali of Swat. Serai allotments could be made to mosques or clerics or others performing specific utility functions. Shares or sub-shares of each individual could be re-allotted out of new land which the tribe got in exchange of their formal possessions. In the 1930s, the permanent settlement (‘turiwran wesh’) came in, confirming possessions held at the time.
Though intended to provide a fair share to all members of a tribe or ‘khel’, in practice it did not work out that way and both hereditary and social factors (‘riwaj’) caused perpetration of the chasm in land-holdings between the rich and poor within the khel. The Wali of Swat was himself one of the prime offenders. After the merger of Swat State in 1969, a lot of litigation emerged in courts about disputes of illegal or forced possession between landholders and
tenants, leading to the setting up of a Dir-Swat Land Disputes
Enquiry Commission which submitted its report in March, 1972. Land settlement work on modern lines was taken up only in 1974 but it did not end the litigation in disputed cases. Forest lands
were categorized under ‘Uncultivated Areas’ in the settlement
operation, totalling 1,533,957 acres in Buner, Alpurai and Swat
(Table @ p. 87).
Forestry governance is described in three phases: pre-Swat State period; the period of the Walis (1917–47, and from 1947–1969) post-Swat State period (1969- to present). Swat was rich in Chir, Deodar, Blue pine, Silver fir and scrub forests. Ownership stemmed directly from land holdings. Each dawtar holder could, under riwaj, access the part of forest falling under his tribe for social forestry needs—cooking, burning fires for heat/ warmth in winter. However, ownership of forests kept changing from tribe to tribe or village to another under the Wesh system. Temporary owners showed no real concern for forests, leading to indiscriminate cutting and misuse. After permanent settlement, timber contractors stepped in, making all manner of legal and illegal deals for extraction. In particular, Kakakhel tribe landowners entered into the timber business. Mian Rahim Shah Kakakhel is mentioned as one of the richest and most ruthless timber contractors who continued exploiting the forest wealth of the region through at least two generations. The colonial authorities tried to impose restrictions on the wanton tree felling but their efforts had limited impact as most owners were interested in immediate monetary benefits.
The Swat State came into being in April, 1915. The first king (bacha), Abdul Jabbar Shah remained weak and embroiled in political disputes. He was succeeded by Miangul Abdul Wadud, who had a long eventful reign. Known popularly as Bacha Sahib, he gave closer attention to forestry, declaring in a first step, deodar trees as being under State ownership. A specific sum (later standardized as 10% of sale proceeds—raised to 15% after 1969 and called raqm e mundan) was provided to former owners or right holders. Only deodar was considered commercially viable. Villagers continued to use other types of wood from the forest for social forestry uses. Initially, only deodar was commercially exploited but later, Blue Pine forests were also subjected to felling. There was no written or formal agreement for this change; affairs of forestry were disposed by word of mouth, of the Wali. One or two tribal chiefs tried to contest this step but they were politically neutralized. The colonial authorities were still concerned at the rate of denudation of forests in Swat. They asked a Forest Officer, Allah Yar Khan to give an assessment report about the forests owned by the Swat State. This report was submitted in 1926. The Wali of Swat promptly agreed to carry out all its recommendations. One of the important suggestions was to formally record the rights of people—to use them for charcoal, firewood, grass etc., in the case of each forest. Gradually, other British Forest Officers started suggesting better ways to control random deforestation in Swat, citing the example of laws introduced for the Simla Hill states. In May, 1926 a formal agreement for conservation was signed between the Wali of Swat and the Government of India. Though afterwards, the Wali’s discretion was slightly circumscribed, regarding observance of forestry conservation rules and procedures, he continued to remain quite powerful over how rights and concessions for use of forests could be implemented.
After Miangul Abdul Wadud abdicated in favour of his son, Jahanzeb (Dec 1949) a supplementary Instrument of Accession was signed in Feb 1954 but Miangul Jahanzeb codified some forestry usage rules and regulations for granting timber to Swat State residents and also for export, for commercial purposes. This was done in collaboration with the Government of Pakistan. Fines for illegal felling were also specified, to give a fillip to conservation. Rules were framed for tree planting along state/national highways. Different types of usage quotas—local, quami (public), special quotas for Swat State officials (!), concessional and central—were laid down. Demarcation of these quotas was done randomly by Tehsildars, paying scant respect to silvicultural norms. Depletion continued at the fringes, not least because of conversion into cultivable land. No demarcation was done of forest and non-forest lands till 1969. Smuggling and illegal felling continued, with involvement of feudal elites, high officials, friends and relatives of the Wali of Swat.
In the post-Swat State period (after 1969), forestry regulation powers were delegated, not to the Deputy Commissioner of Swat but to the Commissioner, Malakand Division. Riwaj continued to prevail until 1974, when the Forest Act of 1927 was extended to Swat. Sultan-I-Rome discusses at length the evolution of forestry practices in the Kalam and Gawri Tracts as well.
Even after take-over by the Pakistanis, Rome concludes, Forestry regulations were not properly implemented keeping conservation interests uppermost. Since then, more stringent laws were also brought in—the NWFP Forest Ordinance, 2002—which is described as ‘an overt attempt to remove some of the existing loopholes and anomalies to remedy the situation’. Better implementation remains ‘the crux of the matter’ and many sceptics maintain it will be difficult to arrive at a reasonable balance between social forestry usage and commercial exploitation of the still abundant forest wealth of the region.
Rana Banerji is a former Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat and a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for Peace & Conflict Studies, New Delhi.