The Pakistan Frontier Corps in the War on Terrorism – Part One

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 15

Pakistan’s first line of defense against insurgent forces in its loosely-ruled western frontier region is not Pakistan’s regular army, but a long-neglected, locally raised paramilitary. A remnant of the British colonial era, the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) has been maintained and stationed in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan province by the government of Pakistan since independence.

Although the FC is a paramilitary organization led and commanded by officers from the regular Pakistan Army, the oversight of FC-NWFP and FC-Baluchistan rests with the federal Ministry of the Interior. The FC formations in the two provinces are separate administrative and functional entities with each commanded by a serving major general from the Pakistan Army. While FC-NWFP is headquartered at Peshawar, FC-Baluchistan is based in Quetta. The Pakistan government ascribes the following roles to FC-NWFP and FC-Baluchistan:

• Frontier Corps, North Western Frontier Province (NWFP): Anti-smuggling measures, maintenance of law and order and drug control along the borders with Afghanistan and in the federally administered tribal areas (FATA) of the NWFP

• Frontier Corps – Baluchistan: Anti-smuggling measures, maintenance of law & order and drug control along the Baluchistan border

As is apparent from these assigned tasks, the FC elements in both provinces are essentially border security forces with the additional responsibility of maintaining law and order—the latter being a function that is usually assigned to the police. This dichotomy flows from the fact that even to this day, neither the Constitution of Pakistan nor the Pakistan Penal Code are applicable in Pakistan’s tribal areas, which continue to be administered in accordance with the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), promulgated by the British more than a century ago [1]. In an important move aimed at addressing this anomaly, Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani has announced the revocation of the FCR—a move that has been widely welcomed (with some reservations) in the FATA (Daily Times [Lahore], March 30). Although the precise modalities of the revocation of the FCR are still awaited, there is a distinct possibility that the “maintenance of law and order” function of the FC will be taken away and entrusted to the Police Department. Such a step would result in the FC reverting to its primary role of providing border security along the Pakistan-Afghanistan and Pakistan-Iran borders in the NWFP and Baluchistan.

In addition to the assigned roles, the FC has been increasingly involved in the War against Terrorism that has engulfed Pakistan’s border regions in the aftermath of the U.S.–led invasion of Afghanistan. This task, though not within the operational capabilities and assigned role of the FC, has served to usher it into prominence worldwide.

In this first part of a two-part study, the historical background of the FC and its structure will be discussed, as will be the events prior to September 2001. The second part will recount the events following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and deal specifically with the role that has been played by the FC in the War against Terrorism.

Historical Background

The fiery and weapons-savvy Pashtuns inhabiting the western frontiers of Pakistan are a fascinating group. Proud, honorable, indomitable and hospitable are some of the terms that immediately come to mind whenever one delves into a discussion regarding them. Their warrior-like ethos and fierce independence precluded even the British from ever fully subjugating them prior to Britain’s ultimate departure from India in 1947. In an effort to regulate and administer the unruly tribesmen of the region, the British resorted to establishing local militias in the tribal belt with a tribal and ethnic flavor. The first such paramilitary outfit—the Khyber Rifles—was created in 1878, followed by the Zhob Militia in 1883, the Kurram Militia in 1892, the Tochi Scouts in 1894, the Chagai Militia in 1896, the South Waziristan Scouts in 1900 and the Chitral Scouts in 1903. The primary roles assigned to these units were to guard the border and curb smuggling. While virtually the entire fighting strength of these units was recruited from the local Pashtun tribesmen, the command and control of the FC remained vested in British officers of the pre-independence Indian Army (, November 2001).

These paramilitary outfits were administratively united under the Frontier Corps by Lord Curzon in 1907, with its headquarters located in the Balahisar Fort in Peshawar. By 1947 the FC had become a large force looking after the area from the Karakoram in the North to the Mekran Coast in the South—an area of responsibility well over 2,500 miles in length. Therefore, it was decided to divide the FC into two administrative units: FC NWFP and FC Baluchistan. While the Pakistan government opted to retain the structure and role of the FC even after independence, it expanded the force substantially by creating a host of new units including Thall Scouts, Northern Scouts, Bajaur Scouts, Karakoram Scouts, Kalat Scouts, Dir Scouts and Kohistan Scouts.

Structure and Organization

Immediately after the creation of the FC in 1907, an officer with the rank of lieutenant colonel was appointed as its inspecting officer and commander. Subsequent expansion of the FC saw this post being upgraded to the rank of a brigadier by 1947 and to that of a major general in 1978. As things exist today, the administrative components of FC-NWFP and FC Baluchistan are headed by serving major generals from the Pakistan Army. Major General Muhammad Alam Khattak is the current inspector general of the FC NWFP, while Major General Salim Nawaz commands FC Baluchistan. The entire officer cadre for the FC is provided by regular Pakistan Army officers who are deployed with the FC for a two- to three-year period under a scheme called Extra-Regimental Employment (ERE). Career-conscious Army officers generally view such deployment with disdain since it not only takes them away from their mainstream career in the Army, but also exposes them to the endemic corruption that is associated with the FC because of its involvement in anti-smuggling operations.

Interestingly, despite being split into two province-based administrative set-ups, the majority of FC manpower still continues to be recruited from amongst the Pashtun tribesmen hailing from the FATA in the NWFP. This has created problems for the FC elements deployed in Baluchistan, where the locals view them as outsiders (Dawn [Karachi], July 22). Currently, the basic training of all FC recruits is conducted at the FC Training Wing located at Mir Ali in North Waziristan.

The current strength of the FC is approximately 85,000 personnel, with FC NWFP numbering 55,000 and FC Baluchistan having a strength of 30,000. Organizationally, these troops are divided into the following sub-units:

FC NWFP: Chitral Scouts, Khyber Rifles, Kurram Militia, South Waziristan Scouts, Tochi Scouts, Mahsud Scouts, Mohmand Rifles, Shawal Rifles, Swat Scouts, Orakzai Scouts, Khushal Khan Scouts, Dir Scouts, Bajaur Scouts, Thall Scouts

FC Baluchistan: Zhob Militia, Chaghai Militia, Sibi Scouts, Kalat Scouts, Makran Militia, Kharan Rifles, Pishin Scouts, Maiwind Rifles, Ghazaband Scouts, Bambore Rifles, Loralai Scouts, Mahsud Scouts, Mohmand Rifles, Shawal Rifles

Equipment, Training and Conditions of Service

The FC has traditionally been subjected to neglect and inattention since Pakistan’s independence. This neglect has impacted all aspects of its operational capacity and military potential. Considering this force to be essentially a police and anti-smuggling element, the Pakistan Army has never deigned to equip and train its manpower on the lines of the regular army. The fact that oversight of the FC rests with the Ministry of the Interior and not the Ministry of Defense has also contributed to the Corps being relegated in importance and priority. Another cause of the Pakistan Army’s lack of attention toward the FC emanates from the Army’s India-phobic outlook, which forces it to concentrate only on the eastern frontiers with the relatively threat-free western borders being accorded much less importance (BBC, May 9, 2003).

Till quite recent times, FC troops were equipped with World War II-vintage bolt action rifles and even now continue to don the traditional shalwar–kamiz as a uniform, having no alternate dress that could serve the requirements of battle fatigues. FC troops had little in the way of armor-protection equipment—such as helmets—relied on obsolete or non-existent communications equipment and possessed an extremely limited range of military transportation vehicles (RFE/RL, November 20, 2007).

The troops in the FC are paid significantly less than their colleagues in the regular Pakistan Army and are also denied some of the benefits that are available to the regular army personnel. Despite being dispersed over rugged and inhospitable terrain which necessitates rapid mobility, the FC has no air element of its own and has to rely entirely on the Aviation Corps of the regular Army for any air support, including critical medical evacuations and logistical support.

Other than the structural and organizational impediments highlighted above, there are several functional constraints emanating from the peculiar cultural and religious tribal ethos of the tribesmen that make up a major part of the FC. Most of these constraints have surfaced as a consequence of the events that the FATA and its inhabitants have experienced during the past two decades.

The Frontier Corps in FATA Society

The FATA tribesmen which make up the FC belong to a very conservative and religious society. Their tribal links and connections bind them strongly to the inhabitants of the FATA. While there is an advantage in having FC troops speak the same language as the tribesmen and be familiar with the harsh topography of the region, it is also an impediment when the same FC troops are ordered to take action against members of the same tribe to which they themselves belong.

After successive Pakistani governments over the past six decades ignored the social development of the FATA, a lack of educational facilities provided an opportunity for the religiously inclined to set up religious seminaries or madrassas in the region. These madrassas mushroomed during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan with Saudi funding and U.S. acquiescence. Since the madrassas were the only educational institutions available in the FATA, most of the youth were exposed to religious education from the beginning of their schooling careers. Studying at these madrassas further strengthened the religious and conservative nature of these tribal youth (see Terrorism Focus, March 14, 2006).

The FC has been confronted with the problem of lack of continuity at the senior leadership level since all its officers are drawn from the Pakistan Army and serve only one rotation lasting two to three years. The fact that a majority of these officers belong to Punjab and other provinces of Pakistan and are unfamiliar with local social, cultural and linguistic peculiarities also creates problems (ANI, June 1; see also Terrorism Monitor, March 29, 2007).

The level of training of the FC has, to say the least, been of an appalling standard. Newly recruited youths who are already fairly familiar with weapons usage are imparted training regarding the rudiments of drill and parade but not much beyond that. The prime reason for this is the belief amongst the officers of the regular Pakistan Army that the FC is essentially a police force and not a military entity per se.

While the idea behind recruiting local tribal youth for the FC units is sound, it lost relevance when the FC troops belonging to the tribal areas of the NWFP were deployed in substantial numbers in the province of Baluchistan. Being foreign to the area, these troops faced a great deal of hostility from natives who considered them to be intruders.

A sizeable number of FATA tribesmen were involved in the resistance against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. On returning to Pakistan, these mujahideen were not only better trained in the art of warfare than the FC but were also better equipped. These factors had a significant demoralizing impact on the FC troops.

The Afghan struggle against the Soviets attracted a considerable number of fighters from the Middle East, Central Asia and other Muslim regions to the tribal agencies. After the ouster of the Soviets from Afghanistan, a substantial number of these mujahideen opted to marry into the FATA tribes and settle down rather than returning to their respective homelands. The proliferation of religious seminaries, the settlement of foreign mujahideen in FATA and the ease and ready availability of modern weaponry all have an influence on shaping the convictions of FATA youth prior to joining the FC.


As can be discerned from the above discussion, the FC has been faced with a plethora of weaknesses and deficiencies. The tumultuous events of September 2001, which were to radically alter the regional scenario, found this force faced with several serious deficiencies and obstacles which required tackling before this sizeable force could be brought into play in the War against Terrorism in an effective manner. The events after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, their impact on the FC and the role that the FC has played in the region since then will be covered in part two of this article.


1. The Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) comprises a set of laws enforced by the British in the Pashtun-inhabited tribal areas of north-west British India. They were specially devised to counter the fierce opposition of the Pashtuns to British rule, and their main objective was to protect the interests of the British Empire. The FCR dates back to the occupation of the six Pashtun-inhabited frontier districts by the British in 1848. The regulation was re-enacted in 1873 and again in 1876, with minor modifications. With the passage of time, the regulation was found to be inadequate and new acts and offenses were added to it to extend its scope. This was done through promulgation of the Frontier Crimes Regulation 1901.