Results 1 to 20 of 21

Thread: The Role of the British Political Officer on the North West Frontier

Hybrid View

Previous Post Previous Post   Next Post Next Post
  1. #1
    Council Member Red Rat's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Location
    Currently based in Europe
    Posts
    336

    Default The Role of the British Political Officer on the North West Frontier

    The Role of the British Political Officer on the North West Frontier, 1840-1945.

    The British Political Officers (sometimes called Frontier Officers) were mostly (in the NWF) military officers serving, seconded or retired. Their role appears to have been to keep track on the tribes and provide detailed political direction and advice to commanders. I am trying to research some more on them as it occurs to me that the model used is possibly quite pertinent to today. With the exception of one book (on order, yet to arrive - The Making of a Frontier: Five Years' Experiences and Adventures in Gilgit, Hunza, Nagar, Chitral, and the Eastern Hindu-Kush (by the man who gave us the Durand Line ) I have not found any good material. Does anyone know of any good material, primary or secondary out there? It is mostly outside the scope of the Imperial War Museum in London, and I have yet to check the National Army Museum (London).

    On a similar vein - anyone aware of good material on the role of District Officers?

    In failed states where any capacity for governance has to be grown (ie Afghanistan and Somalia where there is no functioning police, civil service or education system as we would recognise it, nor the educated middle classes to establish one) and intervention is measured in years, probably decades it occurs to me that the District Officer model could well be a successful model to follow. At the moment however I do not know enough about it to venture much of an opinion!

  2. #2
    Council Member Van's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Honolulu, Hawai'i
    Posts
    414

    Default

    Red Rat, do a search on Google Books - I've found some period works that have been scanned in there.

    Didn't some of these officers get published as ethnographers?

  3. #3
    Council Member tequila's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    New York, NY
    Posts
    1,665

    Default

    In failed states where any capacity for governance has to be grown (ie Afghanistan and Somalia where there is no functioning police, civil service or education system as we would recognise it, nor the educated middle classes to establish one) and intervention is measured in years, probably decades it occurs to me that the District Officer model could well be a successful model to follow.
    Pakistan continued the political officer model in the FATA. As a model of low-cost governance that allowed Pakistan (and the British) to maintain the illusion of control over the Frontier, it worked whenever the tribal system was not in flux. However, it utterly failed to integrate the FATA into Pakistan or convince any of the inhabitants of the FATA that they had any stake in Pakistan at all. When confronted by masses of refugees from across the border, the growth of a violent mass movement, and the collapse of the tribal system, the District Officer model failed utterly. The result is today's FATA, which is under the dominance of al-Qaeda, the TTP, and associated Taliban, criminal, and jihadi networks.

    Rather than a discredited colonial system that will simply require repeated combat deployments as it fails over and over again, a more extensive state building model may be appropriate.

  4. #4
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Posts
    1

    Default British Political Officers

    Red Rat,

    A good account, although oblique, can be found in Chevenix Trench's book, 'The Frontier Scouts'. Whilst primarily concerned with the development of the various Guides and Scouts regiments that have evolved into the modern, Pakistani, Frontier Corps, there are many references to the roles of the Political Officers.

    Another source, although again oblique, are the recollections within the journals of the Indian Army Association (IAA). Now sadly defunct, a quick flick through the pages of that journal (and indeed others such as that of the Sikh Regiment Association) will produce a fund of stories. Some of them are quite wry. I've lost the detailed reference but one account of a major battle which lasted some 24 hours ends with a company commander clearing a ridgeline and just trying to work out how to winkle out the last remaining 'hostiles' from a cave, when along comes the political officer, who had been moving 'one bound' behind the lead troops and talks the opposition out of their bunker. He then led them off downhill without so much as a 'by-your-leave' to the company commander. The latter expressed himself as 'flabbergasted' but his problem had been solved as he reflected it would probably have cost him several men to clear the cave. It would be wonderful to know what the political officer did; I suspect remove them to a tribal shura where a decision would be made on whether they would be punished or more likely 'bound over' to keep the piece, until the next time..........

    Lessons learnt? The need for an acceptable mechanism for what I suppose we would now call 'tactical reconciliation' - without the fuss. The need for authorised 'political officers', up close and dirty - perhaps partly met by the successful MSST concept, operating immediately in areas that have been 'cleared' in the SCHB construct. And finally, note the terminology: 'hostiles'. As David Kilcullen has shown, a percentage (the majority?) of those we are fighting are 'accidental guerillas', as Shakespeare puts it, 'Warriors for the Working Day'. In that case gracing them with terms such as Taliban, Anti Government Elements (AGE), Opposing Military Forces (OMF) or even 'insurgents' is to label them incorrectly. Our predecessors called them 'hostiles', because that is what they were at the time but they also knew that tomorrow they would have to deal with them politically. If you 'project' an inaccurate title onto them, then you will be failing in one of the first military principles, 'know your enemy'. May I commend a 'rebranding exercise' therefore - let them be 'hostiles' and thus judged by their behaviour and not by some 'a priori' labelling exercise. We may then learn also to be more discriminating in whom we are dealing with: those that are hardcore and irreconciliable can be dealt with accordingly; those who are willing to accept a political process, even if fighting now, can be approached differently.

    Hope this might shed some light???????

  5. #5
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    UK
    Posts
    13,338

    Default Pointers

    Second 'The Frontier Scouts' and I'd suggest looking at journals of imperial history / commenwealth history and maybe de-colonisation. Best of all get 'The Men Who Ruled India' by Philip Mason, pub. 1985; better known as author of 'A Matter of Honour: Indian Army 1746-1947'). District Officer obituaries are a good start, some refer to their own books, I use the daily Telegraph, although The Times can help. Further back 'Soldier Sahibs' by Charles Allen, pre-Mutiny time.

    davidbfpo

  6. #6
    Council Member pakphile's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Location
    Pakistan
    Posts
    10

    Default

    There is a huge literature on this subject. You can start with the originators of the tradition with just these names in Google or Wikipedia: Henry Lawrence, John Nicholson (there is an oblisk erected to his memory outside Islamabad), Herbert Edwardes (Edwardes College Peshawar), James Abbot (Abbotabad, NWFP), John Jacob (Jacobabad, Sindh). Also, early outfits like Hodson's Horse, Daly's Horse, Coke's Rifles, Jacobís Horse, Lumsden's Corps of Guides.

    Three famous ones from post-1857 years are John Lawrence (rose from tax collector to Viceroy), Robert Sanderman (creator of the concept 'hearts and minds' in the 1880s), Francis Younghusband (invader of Tibet and Political Agent in Gilgit and Kashmir).

    These are good secondary sources:
    Allen, Charles, Soldier Sahibs, John Murray, 2000.
    Allen, Charles. Godís Terrorists. Little, Brown, 2006.
    Loyn, David, Butcher and Bolt, Hutchinson, 2008.

    Allen is a historian, Loyn is a journalist (BBC South Asia correspondent). Both have a good selection of primary sources in their biblio.

    Most of the district gazetteers were written by British political agents and commissioners. Many are still available. But donít look to these folks as guides to improved governance. Their purpose from 1757 to 1947 was plain and simple: protect the state and its profits. Their successors in Pakistan continued that tradition up to 2002 in the settled areas, but remain in the tribal belt using the British Frontier Crimes Regulation as their tool to bludgeon anyone they want. You can find a similar framework of collectors, commissioners, political agents in nearly all of the former British colonies. This institution has mostly retarded democratic growth, particularly local governance, everywhere it was planted.

    By the way, Sanderman's 'hearts and minds' amongst the Baloch was created precisely to counter the 'butcher and bolt' policies that 'Henry Lawrence's Young Men' started with the Pashtun, particularly as practiced in Waziristan and Swat. Heard of those places lately? It seems neither tactics nor strategy have changed much in more than a century, so what have we learned?

  7. #7
    Registered User aborgu's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Location
    Canberra ACT Australia
    Posts
    5

    Default

    One recent article that may be of interest is:

    Christian Tripodi, ďPeacemaking through bribes or cultural empathy? The political officer and Britain's strategy towards the North-West Frontier, 1901-1945, Journal of Strategic Studies, Volume 31, Issue 1 February 2008 , pages 123 - 151

  8. #8
    Former Member George L. Singleton's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    South of Mason Dixon Line
    Posts
    497

    Default The people of Swat in my experience were quite happy

    During my two years in then West Pakistan, based on visits I made to Swat. then ruled by a carried over Raj era family principality, good progress was being made from the grass roots up: schools and colleges for boys and girls; light industry; good agriculture; tourism among the best in the world; great fishing and hunting; mountaineering.

    What pulled Swat backward then and now was extremist religious practices and views. The benevolent, albiet non-democratic rulers were eventually pushed out, the necessity to keep a semblance of law and order came about, and coerced Sharia in it's most extreme forms reached it's apex today, and is now being resisted by the local tribes people who are being murdered at worship, Mulims murdering Muslims, while at mosque services, Sunnis attacking Shias.

    Too, Christians, while a minority in Swat, had a peaceful coexistance until this era of the Taliban and al Qaida.

    I have acquaintances today from Swat who are highly successful as professionals (MDs, recent Harvard Law graduate, etc.) who hate and want an end to the use of extremist religion/terrorism to try to take an unwilling people down to neolothic barbarism.

    Terrorists and al Qaida hiding behind the good name of Islam are now being fought vigorously by the several tribes within Swat and this is most welcome. They are fed up and enough is enough bloodshed by the terrorists.


    By the way, Sanderman's 'hearts and minds' amongst the Baloch was created precisely to counter the 'butcher and bolt' policies that 'Henry Lawrence's Young Men' started with the Pashtun, particularly as practiced in Waziristan and Swat. Heard of those places lately? It seems neither tactics nor strategy have changed much in more than a century, so what have we learned?
    Basic freedoms involve the haves and the have nots, but social and religious issue of helping the have nots improve their lot is life is opposed by the terrorists, who fight progress to keep the people, the have nots, in economic subjigation in "the name of radical terrorism" which they try to "smoke screen" as religion.

    The grass roots have to have basic freedoms and be allowed to practice moderate Islam, too.

  9. #9
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Location
    DeRidder LA
    Posts
    3,949

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Red Rat View Post
    The Role of the British Political Officer on the North West Frontier, 1840-1945.

    The British Political Officers (sometimes called Frontier Officers) were mostly (in the NWF) military officers serving, seconded or retired. Their role appears to have been to keep track on the tribes and provide detailed political direction and advice to commanders. I am trying to research some more on them as it occurs to me that the model used is possibly quite pertinent to today.

    Rat,

    Given my current peculiar status as a retired officer (FAO) and civil servant now acting as a POLAD I can attest the role is both useful and in play, depending on who is doing the acting.

    Best
    Tom

  10. #10
    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Location
    The State of Partachia, at the eastern end of the Mediterranean
    Posts
    3,947

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
    Given my current peculiar status as a retired officer (FAO) and civil servant now acting as a POLAD I can attest the role is both useful and in play, depending on who is doing the acting.
    ....some things never change. If want to be a nation builder, learn from colonial administrations. They did it best and there is no other model of best practice.

    ....ain't history cool!
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

  11. #11
    Council Member tequila's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    New York, NY
    Posts
    1,665

    Default

    Just finished Akhbar S. Ahmed's Resistance and Control in Pakistan, specifically about his time as the political agent for South Waziristan in the early 1980s in the wake of a Wazir rebellion.

    Very interesting and filled with excellent information about the tribal and qawm structure of South Waziristan and the way a smart, motivated religious leader can leverage his office into economic and political power in the frontier areas.


  12. #12
    Council Member Red Rat's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Location
    Currently based in Europe
    Posts
    336

    Default

    As ever a font of knowledge and good advice! Trench's 'Frontier Scouts', Allen's 'Soldier Sahibs' and 'God's Terrorists' are all in the library here - Ahmed's 'Resistance and Control in Afghanistan' is now on order. The first three titles are fonts of knowledge, but none seem to clarify the precise nature of the relationship between the Political Officer and the military in terms of formal C2 relationships. Perhaps it was more along the lines of supported (Political Officer) and supporting (Military).

    Leo (Lyon?) made some very good points wrt naming ('hostiles' as opposed to the plethora of jargonistic and sometimes misleading terms we have now) and the concept of 'tactical reconciliation'. I am less convinced by the MSST (Military Stabilisation Support Teams) concept, partly because I know little about it. From the briefings I have had it comes across more as the deployable wing of the PRT designed to accomplish what the civilian component of the PRT (diplomats and development staff) cannot do because their rules and the local security situation will not allow them to deploy effectively; what they (the MSST) do not seem to possess is any political authority.

    Of course what the big difference is now is that Coalition Forces are working with the Afghan Government, in whom the political authority is vested. Perhaps then we should have Afghan Poltical Officers attached to Coalition units instead?

    Does anyone know what is happening in Pakistan with the current Pak Army offensive and the relationship between the political authorities and the military authorities there? The media gives the impression that all authority has been passed across to the military and report on it in purely military terms.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 10-31-2009 at 04:12 PM. Reason: Leon in fact is Lyon, the BBC reporter & author

  13. #13
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    UK
    Posts
    13,338

    Default Military Stabilisation Support Teams

    Red Rat refers to:
    I am less convinced by the MSST (Military Stabilisation Support Teams) concept, partly because I know little about it. From the briefings I have had it comes across more as the deployable wing of the PRT designed to accomplish what the civilian component of the PRT (diplomats and development staff) cannot do because their rules and the local security situation will not allow them to deploy effectively; what they (the MSST) do not seem to possess is any political authority.
    I know the advocate of the MSST, who had years of experience in the region and in Helmand. Quite simply the technical skills needed could only be found in the military - mainly from the reservist Territorial Army - who had suffiecent military skills to defend themselves and do the desired task.

    The MSST was not envisaged as having any political role, although if deployed in the field - away from the PRT it could easily have that role.

    More on Pakistan later.

    davidbfpo
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 10-31-2009 at 09:12 PM.

Tags for this Thread

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •