Britain & the North West Frontier: Strategy, Tactics and Lessons

The tribal areas of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) fully deserve President Barack Obama’s description as “the most dangerous place in the world”.  This remote and inhospitable region is only nominally under Pakistan’s administration and its Pashtun tribesmen have a long history of opposing outside rule on their homeland. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have today become a haven for the most vicious and desperate elements of the Islamist insurgency. This includes Osama bin Laden, who is widely believed to be taking shelter in Waziristan under the protection of the Pashtun tribesmen, whose code of honor obliges them to protect anyone seeking refuge. This paper brings to light the experience of the British, who fought a desperate 100-year war to gain supremacy in the strategic tribal areas. Britain on the North-West Frontier: Strategy, Tactics and Lessons describes the Pashtun tribesmen and examines the military tactics used to deal with the insurgents, from “butcher and bolt” destruction of their villages to the later deployment of air power and even straightforward bribery, none of which were met with lasting success. In the end, the fatal flaw may well have been in treating this as a strictly military problem instead of an economic one. Pakistan, which is now engaged in a fierce battle to  clean out the Islamist insurgents from Waziristan, may be forced to learn the same lesson.