The ongoing hysteria about lightly settled, mountainous Pashtun tribal lands in Pakistan or near the ill-defined Afghan border might seem unique to our imperial moment. So imagine our surprise when Juan Cole tells us it actually has a history more than a century old.
And there’s nothing like a little history lesson, there, to put the strange hysterias of our moment into perspective? So who better to offer a little history lesson in imperial delusions of grandeur and peril?
If you feel like a more extensive lesson in what to make of the gamut of issues where the U.S. and the Muslim world meet, or rather collide, don’t miss what he says. It’s a continual eye-opener. [image: Winston Churchill in the Hussars just before he saw action in present day Pakistan].
A CENTURY OF FRENZY OVER THE NORTH-WEST FRONTIER
by Juan Cole
First a Note from WoP: The Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan (FATA) have either, traditionally been autonomous or semi-autonomous region. Before the British, Pathan chieftains had their sway and prior to Mughals, the Pathan dynasty of Lodhis ruled the subcontinent. Later during the Mughal and the successive Punjab kingdom of Raja Ranjit Singh even, the Pashtun chieftains exercised their might though they either remained as satraps of the Delhi Darbar or were completely autonomous. During these epochal periods of history, they sometimes aligned themselves with the rulers in Delhi and other time with the man occupying the throne in Kabul. However, in the heydays of these empires, they retained their autonomous/quasi autonomous status in one form or another.
When the British expanded their rule, after the end of the Sikh kingdom of Lahore (which was the only region in the subcontinent which last of all, finally annexed to the Delhi Darbar), even during British rule, in spite of the best military maneuvering (a part of the great game played then between the British and the Tsarist Russia) the British could not subdue the whole of Pashtun borderlands. Excepting the garrison towns of Peshawar, Kohat, Nowshera and Bannu, where every morning Union Jack was unfurled at all the cantonments, the areas beyond the garrisons, were completely autonomous and most of the time at war with Gora lords of the Delhi Darbar.
After various episodes of war and peace between tribes of the frontier and the central authority in Delhi, ultimately the parties agreed to maintain a status quo but now and then skirmishes always did take place.
In 1947, when British were to pack up, two independent states emerged on the landscape of Hindostan. The people of the North West frontier decided through a referendum to join the newly established state of Muslim Pakistan.
Qaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a statesman that he was, had the vision to assure at the very outset that all tribesmen inhabiting the PAKISTANI borderlands will enjoy an autonomous status within the state of Pakistan. Central Govt. will not interfere with the local customs and they will continue to have their tribal jirgas according to Pakhtunvali, the traditional Pathan code of life, and ever since they have enjoyed this status as loyal citizens of Pakistan.
Before 2001, one never heard of a single suicide attack from any area in the tribal agencies or FATA (as they are administratively called). There was never any trace of an Islamic Zealot from the Pashtun tribal belt of Pakistan nor was there any thing called Taliban or some Mujahid /s plotting to bomb some embassy, some building, fortress or army convoys in Pakistan, India or any where else in the world.
The plane hijackings were initiated and undertaken by Palestinian guerrillas in the sixties and suicide bombings were also initiated either by LTTE insurgents in Sri Lanka or the Palestinians in the Mideast peninsula.
Such things have entered in our borderlands only after 2001, when the neoconservatives under the senior Bush and later by his son Bush junior unleashed their all out offensive against Muslims under the banner of the so called clash of civilizations.
An outfall of these activities especially in Afghanistan has been the Pakistani borderlands. Unfortunately the militancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan has taken many nuances some very ugly indeed. The ulterior motives of wars for control of energy and its transmission lines have made this area a hot bed of geopolitical endeavors, military ventures, adventures and misadventures.
It is in this context that you will find Juan Cole’s post as a highly interesting and thought provoking read. Its an eye opener for all actors on the great Asian stage, the Afghans, the Pakistanis, Indians, Chinese, Russians but above all for our American friends in the Pentagon and the State Department. [Nayyar] (more…)