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Tackling The ‘Barbarians’

It is known that the British had suffered a bloody and miserable defeat in the First Anglo-Afghan War, in 1838-42. Although some battles took place after that war, the Britons failed to punish the Pathans. Then, the colonial British rulers in South Asia came to the conclusion that tribes, like the Pathans, were not exactly civilised, and they could not be subjugated by the modern Politico-Judicial System.

Later, the British rulers came out with the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), a special set of laws of British India that was applicable to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). These laws were enacted by the colonial rulers in the 19th Century and remained in effect in Pakistan until 2018. The FCR was not a set of written laws, as they allowed the rulers to make decisions on the basis of their own present judgement, much like a war commander. At the same time, the British rulers reportedly empowered some of the obedient Pathans by providing them with weapons in order to tackle other tribes in Afghanistan. This Criminal Code that separated the border areas from the rest of the country remained unchanged in Pakistan until the 1970s. Even today, the Code exists, under a different name.

Preparations for the First Anglo-Afghan War

In his latest publication ‘Ruling the Savage Periphery: Frontier Governance and the Making of the Modern State‘, Benjamin D Hopkins has discussed the implementation of the FCR in border areas of Pakistani Provinces of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in detail. Hopkins, the Professor of History and International Affairs and Senior Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Elliott School of International Affairs, has shown that once the British rulers discovered the way to keep frontier areas outside the common law, the model spread across the British Empire. The historian of modern South Asia, specialising in the history of Afghanistan and British Imperialism in the Indian Sub-continent, has claimed that the Britons also implemented the FCR in African countries, including South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, as well.

One of the reasons for this is that all the Englishmen who were once posted in Pakhtun Province were transferred and moved elsewhere. For example, the Welsh-British colonial administrator, Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere (March 29, 1815 – May 29, 1884), had a successful career in British India, as he rose to become Governor of Bombay (1862-67) and Sindh. Later, he served as the British High Commissioner in Southern Africa (1877-80), and waged a war against the Zulus. Sir Henry implemented a set of policies that attempted to impose a British Confederation on the region, leading to the overthrow of the Cape’s first elected Government in 1878 and to a string of regional wars, culminating in the invasion of Zululand (1879) and the First Boer War (1880-81).

Often, other rulers made new laws on the basis of laws that had already been implemented in British India. It happened in Nigeria and Iraq. Hopkins had to work really hard to prove all this, as he spent days at archives in England, Kenya and Nigeria to discover copies of the FCR.

Hopkins’ enthusiasm for new discoveries is not limited to the British Empire, as he has explained how the border areas were kept separate in this way in the US and Argentina. However, the acceptance of his view on the US is low, as the colonial rulers had indiscriminately killed indigenous peoples to occupy their lands with the help of law there. In Asia and Africa, they had implemented Criminal Laws to separate certain tribes from the mainstream population.

Benjamin D Hopkins

Hopkins’ real contribution is to the creation of a unified, yet multidimensional history of the frontier regions of Asia and Africa. It is generally assumed that border regions are inherently turbulent. Some Far-left sociologists have also claimed that independent ethnic groups seek refuge in the mountains and forests, away from cities, in order to avoid the State. One should not have those illusions after reading this book. The author has irrefutably argued that the frontier regions are not a geographical or sociological issue, but a question of law, and a strategy of governance. The Imperialist British rulers, for their own convenience, had called the marginal people as barbarians, and enacted separate laws for them. Unfortunately, the Independent States are following the same strategy even 75 years after the departure of colonial rulers.

The Present has always attracted the historians, including Hopkins. He, too, has analysed the issue from the perspective of modern context. Exactly where the colonial British rulers had enforced the special frontier laws in Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Kenya, Somalia and Nigeria; the tradition of violence and bloodshed still continues, triggered by the Taliban, al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, et al. However, there is no presence of such militant groups in the border regions of the US, Argentina and South Africa.

It is assumed that today’s international boundaries are the places where all the atrocities are taking place. On the one hand, Hopkins has claimed that there is no such thing as a natural boundary, and it is just a trick of the law implemented by the colonial rulers. On the other, he has concentrated mainly on frontier areas or the traditional border regions away from the capital as hotspots of terrorist activities while analysing the issue. This is where his arguments become a little weak, because not all frontier regions were called barbaric by the colonial rulers. Again, in the eyes of the British rulers, the barbarians were not only present in the frontiers, but also spread all over the Indian Sub-continent. Still, Hopkins’ book helps readers understand the border crises in different parts of the globe.

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