Frontier Policy September – October 1947

I had a hard time finding anything on the internet about early Pakistani policy towards the NWFP and FATA and so I thought it worthwhile to type up some documents from The Jinnah Papers from this time period. (They are all PDF files and I will be attaching them to this blog post as I type them up).

The first one is a memorandum on Frontier Policy dated 23 September 1947 by Sir George Cunningham who was the last governor of NWFP under British rule and remained as the first governor under the state of Pakistan. He makes a number of policy recommendations to the state of Pakistan regarding the tribal areas. The biggest one is the recommendation to withdraw all regular troops from Waziristan since, as he admits, the military occupation of the region by the British Government has been a failure. Apart from this, he recommends leaving most tribal agreements intact except for an increase in Levies and possibly a new Militia in Malakand. In his general recommendations, the main change he recommends that clearly was not implemented by Pakistan was putting the tribal agencies under the control of the Provincial Government of NWFP. According to him, the administration of the agencies would be assisted by the local knowledge of the Provincial Government although he does admit the difficulty the Provincial Government would have in raising funds to take on the responsibilty for the agencies.

The next document, also from September 1947, is a note on George Cunninghman’s memo by Abdur Rab Nishtar, the famous Muslim League politician from Peshawar. Apart from a disagreement with the Governor regarding the continutation of existing allowances and Khassadari, his main point of departure from the Governor’s recommendations are on the matter of whether the Center or the Province should control the tribal areas. Nishtar makes several points against the Provincial Government handling the tribal areas. First, that any dispute between the settled and tribal areas will favour the settled areas since the elected representatives of the Provincial Government will be from the settled areas. Second, a Frontier government hostile to the Central government would create “immense difficulties” for the Centre if tribal affairs are in its hands. Third, the tribal areas are critical to defence and so should be best handled by the Defence Department. Lastly, he does not think that the Governor’s suggestion of a special subvention (i.e. a grant of financial aid) to the Provincial Government by the Centre for the purpose of administering the tribal areas is a good idea since it will create a constance source of grievance between the Centre and the Province.

Nishtar also brings up the issue of the Afridi tribe’s claim on the Khajuri Plain (which was confiscated by the British government in 1930 and which Gandhi promised to the Afridis would be returned to them after the British left India). Nishtar’s advise to the Pakistani government is to pre-emptively address this issue since it could become an issue by which the Red Shirts (i.e. Khudai Khidmatgars) could possibly gain favour with the Afridi tribe with at the expense of the popularity of the Pakistani government. I think this is an example of the constant power struggle between the Centre and the Pashtun nationalists in the province and how that affected the Centre’s policy towards the province in these early days and which set the tone for the Province/Centre relations for the rest of the country’s history.

The next document is a memo from Frank Messervy (the Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army) to George Cunningham. Basically, Messervy agrees with Cunningham’s recommendation for withdrawal from Waziristan but wants to do it sooner rather than later:

My dear [Cunningham,]
I have read your paper on the policy recommended with regard to the Frontier Tribes with great interest. It all fits in well with the reorganisation of Pakistan Army in one vital factor: time.
[…]
If there had been no Internal Defence problem we would have been able to accept a gradual of the Regular Army on the Frontier, but that is now not ossible without the grave risk of the Army breaking down altogether as an inefficient organisation.

He wants to evacuate Wana by October 1947 citing a shortage of troops overall and officers specifically in the rest of the country. This shortage is exacerbated by the internal law and order crisis due to the influx of refugees. In addition, he thinks, like Cunningham, that it will send a good message to the tribes from the State of Pakistan if a troop withdrawal is undertaken as soon as possible, even before reaching a settlement regarding governance with the tribes.

The final document is a memo from George Cunningham to Liaquat Ali Khan summing up all the arguments put forward by himself and Frank Messervy for troop withdrawal from Waziristan. Cunningham takes full responsibility for the decision to withdraw and even comes up with a draft of what Jinnah should say to the tribal leaders. Cunningham says something interesting — he says that the tribesmen would be “peculiarly open” to the argument that Islam and Pakistan are synonymous and any offense to Pakistan during troop withdrawal would be synonymous with an offence to Islam. Cunningham even suggests that Jinnah should personally offer a full pardon to the Faqir of Ipi in order to minimize the chance that the Faqir or his followers would attempt any raids on the withdrawing troops which is one of the scenarios that Messervy was concerned with.

I found Cunningham’s perspective really interesting. The whole incident shows how much political currency the State of Pakistan had in its early days in the minds of the tribal Pashtuns – in marked constrast to post 9/11 – because of its association with Islam. Both Cunningham and Messervy were aware of the huge risk that Pakistan would be taking by withdrawing its army completely from Waziristan and it’s really interesting that they were aware that they could recommend a policy to the State of Pakistan that would have been unthinkable to the British Government. In The Sole Spokesman Ayesha Jalal quotes Cunningham as rather audaciously taking the credit for the League’s victory in the 1943 by-elections saying that he, not Jinnah, was responsible for “rallying Islam” for the Muslim League in the Frontier. Reading these memorandums by him, one can understand the truth behind the statement.


George Cunningham with tribal leaders:


The Faqir of Ipi:


Clerk helping Malik (Chief) of Swat Ranezai tribe, place his inked thumb print as his signature on the agreement document to their accession to the govt. of Pakistan during Jirga (tribal assembly) for the Northwest Frontier Province.


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8 responses to “Frontier Policy September – October 1947

  1. Rabia

    thank you, that was a fascinating read

  2. It then makes sense that as with the turn of time, this ‘rallying point’ became rather weak, the affinity of tribal regions with Pakistan also weakened, eventually coming down to this point where there is open hostility in many ranks of these regions.
    This also means a secular or liberal governmental structure would be opposed by these regions, if indeed the rallying point was Islam.

  3. Rabia

    Salman,
    well, the Muslim League successfully used Islam as a rallying point even in Punjab (against the unionist government of Khizr Hayat Tiwana). Check out this article (pdf). Do you think that that means that a secular or liberal governance would be opposed by the people of Punjab? I am not sure. I think that using religion as a rallying point in politics is very easy in any part of Pakistan. This is not to deny that FATA is probably a lot more conservative than other parts of the country…

  4. And btw, thanks for putting up those docs. They made an awesome read!! (:

  5. Rabia

    you’re welcome, glad you read it!

  6. Rabia,
    Talking about the tribal regions, I think religion wasn’t the ‘used’ rallying point but the ‘much needed’ rallying point to attract them. Down the history lane, we see earlier, Syed Ahmed Shaheed Brailvi also used the same rallying point to gather him a force and followers from these lands. Religion’s central role in the social system there makes this essential.
    As for Punjab, Punjab’s population has played more of a conformist role in nearly all historical invasions, physical and else wise. I believe that the general oufit of ML’s campaign coining Islam as the main slogan was accepted per se by Punjabis. And so, a change in ideological alignments of the center won’t be much of a bothering issue for them.

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