When Lord Curzon took over as the Viceroy of India in 1899, the British were trying to recover from the affects of 1897 rebellion in northwestern parts of India, that beginning from Malakand took the most parts of the tribal areas in its spiral. Around 10,000 British forces were deployed in Khyber, Waziristan and Malakand areas at the time of his arrival. Lord Curzon in 1901 created a new province by the name of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) from areas lying west of Indus under the policy known as ‘Withdrawal and Concentration.’
The British first interaction with the Frontier came when Monstuart Elphinstone visited the area in 1809 and his ‘ An Account of Kingdom of Kabul’ was first British account of this area, which was gaining importance due to ‘Alarmist Policy’ followed by Britain due to Czarist expansion in Central Asia.
Following his visit the region potential as a trade corridor to Central Asian states came to limelight and under ‘Meddling Policy’ Alexander Burnes was sent to Kabul on a mission in 1832 and the British interference in the Afghan affairs culminated in First Anglo-Afghan war of 1839-42.
Before the British ascendancy over area, Sikhs snatched it from Durrani rulers of Afghanistan, who had earlier ended the mastery of Mughals over the areas west of Indus. After defeating Sikhs, British tried to create a series of defensive lines against the possible Russian advance on India in the wake of ‘Great Game’ in 1850s.
The British retained the Sikh tradition and Frontier remained a part of Punjab and they also introduced the notion of ‘Tribal Areas’ and tried to create a buffer zone of Afghanistan between the Russia and British India by defining the Durand Line as border in 1893.
These actions in the long run proved counter productive and 1897 risings in Malakand, Swat, Waziristan, Khyber and Orakzai areas not only gave British a cold sweat but were by-products of ‘Active Forward Policy’ towards NWFP and Afghanistan as C.C. Davies puts it. The British had to crave out NWFP province and tribal areas to cope with the challenge of policy failure.
During the past three decades the neighboring Afghanistan saw two super powers attacks, first came the Russian in 1979 and NWFP became a frontline in struggle against Russian occupation of that country. The bad blood among the Jihadi groups in Kabul following the fall of Najib compelled the Pakistani policy makers to follow the notion of ‘Strategic Depth’ with secure western border vis-à-vis India and this led to the formation and backing of Taliban.
In 2001 American toppled the Taliban government in Kabul after 9/11 terrorist attacks on America and NWFP emerged as geographic and ideological flashpoint for the religious fundamentalism.
The landslide victory of hardliner Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) in 2002 elections from the province was a watershed that signified a shift in the politics of the province, previously dominated by the secular and nationalist forces. Towards the end of MMA days the ‘spillover effect’ of what was happening in remote parts of North and South Waziristan caught the province in a windstorm of militancy as the neo-Taliban phenomenon diffused into settled areas.
The MMA not only lost 2008 general elections to nationalists, but was also not able to keep itself intact, rather, “the MMA constituent parties were outflanked by a new class of “religious” actors operating on the blurred boundary between formal politics and insurgent militancy”, as Joshua T. White puts it.
Whether it was under Mughals, Durranis, Sikhs or British, this part of the world has inherited a political volatility throughout its history. The period after the partition of Pakistan is relatively peaceful era in the area history, however, the conflict has returned to area in the form of militancy and most of the tribal areas on fire like 1897. The British sensing the nature of the Frontier problems devised a Frontier Policy and created a new province and tribal areas and Pakistan is still relying on that a century old colonial policy to address the issues that owe their genesis to the globalization and three decades long Afghan conflict. Pakistan needs a new paradigm shift in her Frontier policy to address the issues of the NWFP, as given the present state of affairs in the region; this area is bound to dominate the future of Pakistan as well as of Southasia.