Ramparts of empire : India's North-West Frontier and British imperialism, 1919-1947
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This study examines the relationship between British perceptions and policies regarding India’s North-West Frontier and its Pathan inhabitants and the decline of British power in the subcontinent from 1919 to 1947. Its central argument is that two key constituencies within the framework of British India, the officers of the Indian Army and the Indian Political Service, viewed the Frontier as the most crucial region within Britain’s Indian Empire. Generations of British officers believed that this was the one place in India where the British could suffer a “knockout blow” from either external invasion or internal revolt. In light of this, when confronted by a full-scale Indian nationalist movement after the First World War, the British sought to seal off the Frontier from the rest of India. Confident that they had inoculated the Frontier against nationalism, the British administration on the Frontier carried on as if it were 30 years earlier, fretting about possible Soviet expansion, tribal raids, and Afghan intrigues. This emphasis on external menaces proved costly, however, as it blinded the British to local discontent and the rapid growth of a Frontier nationalist movement by the end of the 1920s. When the Frontier administration belatedly realized that they faced a homegrown nationalist movement they responded with a combination of institutional paralysis and brutality that underscored the British belief that the region constituted the primary bulwark of the British Raj. This violence proved counterproductive. It engendered wide-scale nationalist interest in the Frontier and effectively made British policy in the region a subject of All-Indian political debate. The British responded to mounting nationalist pressure in the 1930s by placing the Frontier at the center of their successful efforts to retain control of India’s defence establishment. This was a short-lived stopgap, however. By the last decade of British rule much of the Frontier was under the administration of the Indian National Congress. Moreover, the British not only concluded that Indian public opinion must be taken into account when formulating policy, but that nationalist prescriptions for the “problem” of the North-West Frontier should be enacted.