Guardians of the Frontier

“I think the units in which officers can get the best training in this kind of self-reliance and initiative are the battalions of Militia or Scouts on the North- West was for this reason that I made my son, after a few years with the Regiment, do a tour of duty with the Kurram Militia..”

The Frontier tribes were the toughest adversaries of the British in India. The inhospitable terrain called "a gigantic slag-heap" merely compounded their difficulties. Between the "administered border" of the Province and the Durand Line is the tribal territory which was "ungoverned, untaxed, ungarrisoned." "Never having called any man master and preserving an obdurate independence from the rulers of the Punjab and of Afghanis,tan alike", the tribes were not willing to submit to another foreign invader. For the British these border tribesmen were raiders who forayed into the settled areas, where the British exercised a semblance of control, kidnapped Hindu money-lenders and stole cattle. In return the tribes saw the representatives of the British Government as a scourge, who came to burn and kill, practising the pol¬icy of "Butcher and Bolt",a policy that Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India (1899-1905), was later to find "undignified, unpro¬ductive and unacceptable." This policy consisted of punitive expeditions: killing men of the offending tribe, burning down their villages, destroying standing crops on terraced fields and then withdrawing. During the first decades of the twen¬tieth century even aircrafts of the Royal Air Force were inducted to bomb villages. First white leaflets of warning were dropped. The day before the bombardment, red leaflets were dropped. Then the RAF, later the Indian Air Force, went into action. In the early days, however, it also meant, as Rudyard Kipling versified in "Arithmetic on the Frontier" :

A scrimmage in a Border Station -
A canter down some dark defile -
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail –


The flying bullet down the Pass,
That whistles clear: "All flesh is grass."

To deal with this volatile belt, Political Agents - or PAs -were appointed. One of the most colourful was Col. Sir Robert Warburton. Son of an Irish father and Afghan mother, he was the Political Agent of Khyber for almost seventeen years in the 1880's & 1890's. Beyond the administrative line of the districts, the PAs were to keep rudimentary order in accordance with local codes of conduct. Within the Agency, their job was to attend to trouble of all kinds: inter tribal fights, raids into settled districts, highway robbery, kidnapping, murder and mayhem.Then there was the threatening fact that the Russian Empire had moved nearly a thousand miles closer in the course of the previous century.So the PA had at his disposal a striking force, whose constant duty was "to proclaim the presence of the Government and its right to go up to the Durand Line." The British misadventure in Afghanistan, the Second Afghan War (1878-80), had led to the demarcation of the Durand Line. The PA's reaction to any disturbances was first to activate the Scouts and only as a last resort, the Army. Scouts, therefore, were raised as a first line of defence. They "move up and down from one little desolate post to another; they are ready to take the field at ten minutes notice; they are always half in and half out of a difficulty somewhere along the monotonous line; their lives are as hard as their muscles and papers never say anything about them". So wrote Rudyard Kipling admiringly in "The Lost Legion". Their presence was particularly crucial along the mountain passes. The basis of their security operations was "piqueting" or known by the more picturesque term of "crowning the heights". Any column was accompanied by an immensely long "train of camels, horses and mules, carrying artillery and machine-guns, rations and ammunition, blankets, greatcoats and tents, barbed wire, picks and shovels, picketing ropes and stakes and telephone wire, water-pumps and canvas troughs, clerks and field post-offices and cooks - all the clutter and impedimenta and non-combatants which seemed just as necessary to an Indian Army column." The Scouts were deployed in small forts. These out posts served as base for gashts, a term more descriptive than "patrol" because it conveyed the impression of speed. The Scouts were not regular soldiers but organized and trained like them. They kept the roads open and lent "fire-power and muscle to the persuasion..[of] the Political Agent" .Lightly armed they became known for their "speed and endurance". Except for the very small number of British officers, the Scouts were all Pathans who relished danger. To them war was the supreme sport. Thrown together in such close interaction, which became all the more intense in crises, personal liking, trust, affection, overcome differences of religion and culture.

Among the first Scouts to be raised, in November 1878, was an irregular corps con¬sisting mainly of local tribesmen, the Afridis, by Captain Gais Ford. They were to protect the traffic moving through the Khyber Pass. With no uniform but a red tag sewn on to the back of the pagri / turban to distinguish them, they were at first known as the Khyber jezailchis. 16 Each member of this semi-Khassadars force was armed with his own jezail or rifle. It was raised to prevent the tribes molesting the columns of the Second Afghan War expeditionary force. Captain Gais Ford com¬manded them upto 1881. Sardar Muhammad Aslam Khan, the first Muslim Commandant, succeeded him and commanded the corps from 1881 to 1897. He was later promoted Lieutenant Colonel and honoured with the titles of "Nawab" and "Sir". The Khyber Jezailchis served only in Khyber Agency upto 1887, when they were redesignated as the Khyber Rifles. By the end of the nineteenth century, other levy units had been raised: Kurram Militia, initially called Turi Militia, raised in 1892,Tochi Scouts (1894), South Waziristan Scouts (1900), Zhob Militia (1883), initially Zhob Levies and Chitral Scouts. These units collectively were known as the Frontier Corp. Today, besides these Frontier Corps units, the levy forces exist in all the tribal agencies of the Frontier.

The formation of Turis Militia started under Captain CM. Dallas on October 18,1892 was completed by Captain LW.5.K. Maconchey of the 4th Punjab Infantry.
The headquarter was originally at Balish Khel but later shifted to Parachinar. Around 1902 the Turi Militia was renamed Kurram Militia. These Scouts were to guard and police the 90 km. long Kurram Valley.

The danger of invasion from Russian Turkestan, through the narrow panhandle of the Afghan Wakhan and over the Hindu Kush prompted, in 1900, the raising of
a part-time militia of "trained cragsman" from the tough mountaineers of Chitral, the Chitral Scouts. They were "a tripwire which could a least delay an incursion".The Mehtar of Chitral was installed as the Honorary Commander. The Scouts were trained to defend the passes in the region and along with the levies in Dir and Swat maintain order on the Chakdarra-Chitral road. 21 In 1913 the Gilgit Scouts were raised on similar lines for similar roles.

Parching Drought and Raging Flood,
Months of Dust and Days of Mud
Mixed Monotony and Blood
That's Waziristan

SO J.M. Ewart about the Agency he was posted in 1922.Tochi Scouts of North Waziristan Agency were headquartered at Miranshah, about twelve miles from the Durand Line. Upto 1904 regular troops occupied the outposts in Tochi Valley. Their replacement, the North Waziristan Militia was raised on June 1, 1900 at Idak by Captain A. Fergusson Davie.A post was built in 1905 and occupied by the Tochi Scouts. Gradually it enlarged to a fort. A small fortified township was built in 1925 for the Royal British Air Force and an airfield for carrying out operations in Waziristan. A duty pilot was always on stand-by to help a gasht of the Tochi Scouts, Kurram Militia or southwaziristan Scouts in trouble. "So efficient were the communications - a carrier pigeon from gasht to fort, thence by telephone or radio to Miranshah - that within half an hour of calling for help a gasht could expect a plane overhead." After Independence 5th and 9th squadrons of Pakistan Air Force, in turn for a tour of 15 days each, were located at Miranshah to support the Tochi Scouts.

Before Independence several military operations were car¬ried out: during 1902-1919, 1936-1939 and 1942-1945. In 1910 the North Waziristan Militia was spread over eighteen posts with 70 to 80 men each. The only outpost with a res¬ident British officer was Spin Wana. On january 7, 1915 Captain Eustace jotham of North Waziristan Militia and 12 mounted infantry rode out of Miranshah to locate raiders from Khost, Afghanistan. At Spina Khaisora, fifteen miles west of Miranshah, they were ambushed in a deep nullah and almost surrounded by some 1500 tribesmen. Jotham and his men galloped to safety, but then the horse of one of his sawars was shot down. He turned back to rescue him and using his sword killed several tribesmen before he was shot dead, riddled with the bullets and bleeding with dozens of slashes. Almost at the same time his daffadar, a Wazir named Darim Khan, dismounted to give covering fire to the remain¬der of the patrol and remounted and got away safely. Darim Khan received the Indian Order of Merit and subsequently the Croix de Guerre. Darim Khan lived to become one of the Frontier's most famous characters. Jotham was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. Another posthumous VC was conferred during the campaign of 1919 on Captain Henry Andrews in charge of the Khajeri Post.

Pathans distinguished themselves as magnificient warriors even outside the home territories. Many won medals in wars from the Western Front to East Africa, from China to Egypt. The Pathans' love-hate relationship with the British is illustrated by two Afridi brothers, Mir Mast and Mir Dast. During World War I, Mir Mast deserted the British Indian Army on the Western Front in France, was awarded the German Iron Cross and sent back with a Turkish mission to Tirah where he made much "mischief' for the British. From a different perspective, he expressed the Pathan's innate independent spirit. Mir Dast was awarded the Victoria Cross in France and never wavered in his loyalty.

During World War II also the Germans planned to compel the British to commit a large number of troops along its frontiers in India. Throughout the War there were never less than five regular brigades in Waziristan. Sir George Cunningham, Governor of the Province and Agent to the Governor-General for the Tribal Areas (1937 - 1944) was instrumental in preventing the Frontier from going up in flames, as it had in 1919. General Wavell, the Commander-in-Chief, said that Cunningham was "worth a division of regular troops on the border". Competent and calm, "his physical presence - he had played rugby eight times for Scotland - was persuasive, and its impact softened but not weakened by a warm, slow smile."

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