Early Years of NWFP

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Early Years of NWFP, J. M. Ewart
Published in Khyber.ORG on Tuesday, August 19 2003 (http://www.khyber.org)


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Early Years of NWFP

J. M. Ewart

Publishing Date: Tuesday, August 19 2003

There had existed for many years a school of thought which considered that the administration of the Frontier was too important a matter to form merely a portion of the duty and responsibility of the Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab. The experiences of 1897 brought the subject again to the fore and in 1901, after much discussion and deliberation and in the face of considerable opposition and genuine misgiving in some quarters, Lord Curzon's scheme for the creation of the North West Frontier Province as a separate administration, under a chief commissioner specially selected by the Governor-General, was introduced.

In geographical outline the new province can be readily likened to an outstretched hand, the five settled districts of Hazara (cis-Indus), Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan lying in the palm, while the thumb and four fingers stretched out to occupy and close against aggression (from) the five gateways of the Malakand (with Chitral), the Khyber, Kurram, Tochi and Gomal. Incidentally, the clenching of the hand exercises pressure upon the turbulent tribal areas lying between the fingers. (Soon after the decision) the construction of roads and railways was undertaken, to ensure that the regular troops of the Peshawar Division and the Frontier brigades could be rapidly moved to any threatened point. It was part of Lord Kitchener's general scheme of army reorganisation, that the Punjab Frontier Force lost its old corporate existence and its units took their places as part of the new model Indian Army, all portions of which were in future to take their share of service on the Frontier.

The seven peaceful years with which the new administration began bore useful fruit. Though too short a period to work a complete or lasting change in the warlike habits of the people, it was long enough to dispel to some extent the suspicion of our aggressive intentions engendered by the events of the (18)80s and '90s. It also served to introduce the trans-border tribesman to the possibilities of hitherto undreamt of prosperity from peaceful trade, while the extension of canal irrigation from the Swat and Kabul rivers gave opening to many of them to settle down as British subjects to the agricultural development of land newly made cultivable.

The Gulf arms trade between 1907 and 1910 revolutionized the military position on the Frontier. 1907 did not mark the beginning of the change; the importation of rifles and ammunition of European manufacture had begun soon after the Frontier rising of 1897, but ten years later the re-armament of the tribes with weapons far more effective than those possessed by our own militias and military police had proceeded to an extent which could not longer be disregarded and a climax was reached when a single consignment of 30,000 Martini Henrys was run through from the Gulf to Kandahar.

Just when the Frontier had entered wholesale upon this enterprise the Government of India stepped in with the naval and military blockade, which "spoilt sport" to such an extent as nearly to bring about another Frontier war. In 1910 the Adam Khel Afridis of the Kohat Pass were in a very embittered frame of mind owing to their financial losses from the blockade. With the ingenuousness that is a refreshing, if at times annoying, characteristic of the Pathan, they demanded that Government should compensate them. This demand, and the situation generally, was firmly dealt with and by 1911 the Gulf arms trade was to all intents and purposes killed. The re-armament of the tribes however had been effected. The relative position of our forces and theirs could never again be the same. Where formerly a dozen partially trained border police with Martini Henrys could safely be sent out to meet a raiding gang of 30 or 40, strong detachments of 50 were now required.

Between 1909 and 1913 the militias were re-armed, the border military police gave way to the better armed and better trained Frontier Constabulary and the system was inaugurated of issuing rifles to villagers for their own protection and to enable them to co-operate with the Government forces in the defence of the border. Where a tribe under the political control of our own officers (was) concerned, the evil (was) generally kept within bounds. But what if the fugitive from justice (sought) refuge beyond the Durand Line? This was one of the unexpected results of the demarcation of that line.

In the end however, by one means or another, the gangs which found a home beyond the Durand Line and thence pursued this monstrous trade, were killed, captured and broken up, and it was not until the period of tribal disturbance which followed the Third Afghan War that the evil again attained to anything like the same dimensions as in the years which preceded the Great War.

With all these difficulties and drawbacks the years which preceded the Great War were none the less years of progress. In no direction was this more marked than in the spread of education. The most notable step was the inauguration, under the close personal guidance of Sir George Roos-Keppel, of an Islamia College, very much on the same lines as the Gordon College at Khartum. The college buildings, erected in these years, stand on the open plain between Peshawar and Jamrud. Where all else is shuttered and barred and defended by armed men it needs no protection beyond such as a few chowkidars can afford....

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Early Years of NWFP, J. M. Ewart
Published in Khyber.ORG on Tuesday, August 19 2003 (http://www.khyber.org)