The Frontier Crimes Regulation and Frontier Governmentality in Global Perspective lecture

Hopkins, Benjamin D.

Manjapra, Kris


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I’d like to welcome all of you to our lecture for today at the Center of South Asian and Indian Ocean Studies. I am Ayesha Jalal. I’d like to thank a couple of people without whom this event would not be possible, most notably Neda Parachar who is our graduate assistant and those of you who are not on our mailing list and would like to be, please approach Neda so that she can add you to the list.
I also want to thank my colleague Kris Manjapra for all his support. Really, it’s really a collective effort and also the History Department who cosponsors this event. And today’s speaker is Benjamin Hopkins, an Assistant Professor of History and International Affairs at George Washington University.
He received his doctorate from Cambridge University, something that I can relate to, in Modern South Asian History and he is the author of a highly acclaimed work, The Making of Modern Afghanistan, which came out in 2008 that focuses on the role of the English East India Company in the construction of a modern state in Afghanistan, but perhaps more interestingly really sets the records straight on our historical misconceptions of that infamous Great Game
and I really think that’s a very important contribution. Subsequently he has co-authored a book, Fragments of the Afghan Frontier, with Magnus Marsden, an anthropologist who teaches at SOAS and is an entity in his own right and it’s a fascinating study of the much more, I mean gives you a much more nuanced picture of the actual situation pertaining on the frontier than is allowed in much of policy making today
and even the public debate on that space constituting that frontier areas. What he is working on now and from which he will be speaking to us today is a study of frontiers across empires. What interests Ben is to understand what it is about the frontier that makes it at the same time so similar in other empires but also perhaps also distinctive, so he’s really grappling with that.
He’s just come back from Argentina and of course he’s working on Afghanistan, but it sounds like a fascinating project. He was just telling me a little while ago that he’s taking longer to complete, but that’s the nature of an engagement of this nature. Please join me in welcoming Ben Hopkins.
Well thank you Professor Jalal. I feel like you have been sold a bill of goods that I’m going to struggle to live up to but I’ll do my best. I’d like to thank first of all Professor Jalal for the invitation to come speak today and also Tufts and the Fletcher School. I very much appreciate the opportunity. It’s funny, as I was saying to Professor Jalal before we came in,
I missed a lecture for my freshman World History class today of 250 that I would have just knocked out without thinking twice about it and yet on the plane up here this morning I was worried about embarrassing myself as I gave this talk because talking to peers is so much more engaging but also intimidating than it is at least for me talking to my freshmen.
So with that if I can just move into what I hope to be a fairly broad ranging talk that is going to hit up many but not all of the “A” countries moving from Argentina to Afghanistan and back again. Today’s talk is entitled “The Frontier Crimes Regulation and Frontier Governmentality in Global Perspective” and if I can just spend a few minutes in kind of giving some context of where this work is coming from and where it’s going.
As Professor Jalal said, what I am really interested in is this idea of frontiers, what they are, how they affect both the inhabitants and the states that create and police them. Frontiers have been treated both as exceptional and problematic by state powers from time immemorial. They have long been considered as peripheries, the backwaters of nations and empires.
They are both an incubator and object of myth. At one and the same time as well they are a space of state power and state vulnerability. This is after all where the state defines and polices its limits. Yet it’s also where the state is in many ways at its weakest. This is where the state attempts to keep the barbarians at bay, as it were, and not always successfully.
Chris Bayly reminds us about the tribal breakouts that happened to come in from northwest, the North-West Frontier time and time again in South Asian history. Indeed the often inchoate nature of frontiers have historically invited the ambitions of neighboring powers who have sought to place their own imprimatur upon the blank spaces of the map. For me it is this dual, if not at times contradictory,
character of frontiers which has long peaked my curiosity and it’s about that general statement of what I am interested in that I move to the more specific of what this project is actually about. Broadly conceived I am interested in examining the frontier both as a space and categories of governance of the colonial state as well as the lasting effects of such concepts and practices continue to have on the post-colonial world.
My basic argument is that rather than being spaces of exception or peripheries as they are most commonly characterized, frontiers are in fact definitional of the state itself. They carry with them a particular set of administrative practices and norms marking how these states govern these spaces of limit and it is this package that I think is particular to the frontier,
practices of governance, norms of government and administration that I call “frontier governmentality" which I’ll later in the talk talk about how that perhaps distinguishes or is distinct from more commonly referred to kind of colonial governmentality that for instance Nick Dirks refers to. Now of the frontiers which have at least initially grabbed my attention,
the most obvious and pressing given my work in the past has been with the Durand Line which of course is the North-West Frontier of British India demarcated in 1893. Now the colonial state was centrally important to the global demarcation of frontiers through the course of the 19th century
and the North-West Frontier of British India was particularly significant in this process. In many ways the North-West Frontier of British India is the grand-daddy of the British imperial experience. They arrive there with the Elphinstone mission 1809 and they stay essentially until 1947 whereas many of their other frontiers they might come into contact earlier with but then move on.
This is quite a stable frontier for nearly 150 years in terms of its relative location. Now many of the practices developed and employed on this frontier were exported not only to other frontiers and I will talk to you about that as my lecture goes on today but also to the interior spaces of the colonial state. Let us not forget the largest frontier of British India is neither the Durand Line
nor subsequently the McMahon Line separating it from China, but the frontiers with the princely states. There is over 5000 miles of frontiers with the princely states within British India and my argument is that many of the norms and practices developed on the northwest are, as it were, re-ingested into the colonial state and then kind of spit out wide onto the colonial body politic, in particular with these princely states.
Consequently, the frontier was the definitional experience of empire both shaping and mediating the forms and norms of governance employed on a global scale. Moreover frontier governance though emphasizing its specificity to local conditions so the Frontier Crimes Regulation which I’m going to talk about is all tied up in the particular character, as it were, of the inhabitants of the frontier was in fact a global phenomenon
shared not only within empires within British India and more broadly within the British global empire but also between them. This project provides a comparative perspective on frontier governance.
It examines how the methods and norms of governance initially developed on the frontier of British India’s northwest were replicated globally over the course of the late 19th century. The project offers a unique and distinctive study, geographically wide-ranging, which seeks to excavate the distinctive yet widely shared characteristics setting these frontier spaces apart.
My project begins with an interrogation of the ways in which the frontier between what is today Afghanistan which of course doesn’t really come into existence as a state until about the time of the Second Afghan War in the 1880’s with Abdur Rahman Khan and Pakistan or previously British India has been historically conceived, actualized and governed by state authorities. Of course the Durand Line is delineated or agreed to rather in 1893,
but delineated after that but even once we have the Durand Agreement in 1893, the frontier remains fuzzy. There is only an agreement on paper of where the international line is but there is an administrative line somewhere at the foot of the hills where British administration essentially stops and beyond which we have over time spaces recognized as special—the tribal areas, the first one being setup in 1878.
Central to colonial and post-colonial governance of this frontier was a draconian piece of colonial administrative architecture, the Frontier Crimes Regulation. Inherent in this regulation were underlying assumptions about the region, its people and politics which the British Raj forcibly imposed through its executive strictures.
Amongst the most important and lasting of these assumptions was the tribal nature of the frontier’s inhabitants supposedly wedded to their particular traditions and customs and it’s going to be these particular traditions and customs which are the subject and mechanism of the Frontier Crimes Regulation. Utilizing these categories of rule, the British constructed a set of governing practices
which encapsulated the frontier’s inhabitants in a colonially mandated set of timeless traditions which remain in place today. Indeed the Frontier Crimes Regulation though amended in 2011 most recently with the renaming of the Northwest Frontier province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has been amended, it is still the 1901 version of the law which is being employed.
The Frontier Crimes Regulation first promulgated in 1872 was loosely based on the Hazara Settlement Rules of 1870 and I find that quite important because while we think of the Frontier Crimes Regulation in terms of its kind of culturalist explanation of governance focusing on local traditions, local customs, it is in essence a piece of economic governance.
It is the British who are trying to assert their authority over this space because of economic opportunities and limits and I’ll talk more about that as I go on. The regulation greatly expanded the administrative ambit of action for the colonial state. It was largely a response to the perceived shortcomings of the colonial judiciary in dealing with the inhabitants of the still poorly defined frontier of British India.
1872 there is no clear line between British India and what is becoming the state of Afghanistan. Frontier administrators complained of the inherit violence of the area’s populous. Pathan and Baluch tribesmen, and I will note that I use Pathan as the colonial nomenclature, I recognize there is all kinds of semiotics we can get into about Pathan verses Pashtun or Pakhtun
but I use the colonial nomenclature here. Pathan and Baluch tribesmen considered violence both honorable and commonplace, at least according to colonial administrators. Vexing attempts at the establishment of colonial order, they viewed lying in court with equal indifference, colonial judges were exasperated. At one and the same time the tribesmen supposedly did not understand the complexities of colonial legal procedure,
while proving only to adept at exploiting the legal laxities of the colonial code to pursue personal and communal vendettas. So you know in classic colonial style, on one hand they’re idiots that can’t understand this and yet they somehow are taking advantage of British justice to their own personal advantage. Convictions along the frontier were difficult to come by and even when won, their deterrent effect was nugatory.
The shortcomings of the colonial, legal, and judicial struggle were most prominently displayed by the incidents of murder which colonial officials complained plagued the frontier. They believe murder here to be a different animal than elsewhere on the Indian subcontinent. Because of the demands of honor and revenge integral to the Pathan moral code,
the so-called Pashtunwali, murder was fundamentally a communal undertaking, even if the only two directly implicated were the perpetrator and victim. Any act of violence along the frontier required, at least in the eyes of colonial administrators, un-avenging reaction which would itself require another spring of seemingly self-perpetuating cycle of violence.
Frontier administrators understood and portrayed the frontier as a space of institutionalized violence which the colonial judiciary could do little to prevent. Consequently, exceptional measures were required to cope with the exceptional character of the frontier’s inhabitants.
These exceptional measures assume the form of the Frontier Crimes Regulation. It’s quite a lengthy legal document and has about I think around 60 sections, at least the 1887 promulgation. There are three versions of the regulation which become more complicated over time—first the 1872, then the 1887, and then the 1901. The regulation adapted the administrative musculature of the colonial state to the unique challenges of the frontier.
Drawing upon the experience of previous rulers here as well as colonial ruler, rule in other parts of India, most conspicuously the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, it codified many of the practices commonly used by frontier officers. Central to these practices was collective punishment which served as the starting point for the regulation and within that we see a number of elements of collective punishment that are codified by the regulation.
So blockades are given legal sanction and structure, collective fines against communities found harboring criminals or suppressing evidence in a criminal case are imposed. Individuals are subject to banishment from British territories if they threaten to pursue a blood feud. Now interestingly this blood feud jurisdiction which is created by the regulation specifically targets the Pathans,
as in the words of one of the foremost colonial ethnographers, “The criterion of tribal unity resides in the obligations of blood revenge.” For my purposes the most interesting and important element of the regulation is the penultimate one. Its creation of an alternative judiciary for tribesmen, one in the words of one scholar, “almost hermetically separated from the ordinary court structure.”
Deputy commissioners could refer tribesmen accused of murder and other heinous offenses to adjudication by elders according to “Pathan or Baluch usage” on the grounds of insufficient evidence for conviction in colonial courts or that ordinary procedures in colonial courts would prove inexpedient. Indeed the 1887 form of the regulation defines, refines the idea of the tribal judiciary specifying a council of elders is to consist of
three or more persons according to Pathan, Baluch or other usage as the deputy commissioner in each district in each case may direct. The regulation thus usurped what the British considered a traditional mechanism of justice, yet its reliance on the dispensation of justice by tribal members, themselves appointed by the deputy commissioner, render the colonial state the ultimate arbiter of tradition.
The council of elders, commonly referred to as a jirga, was believed by colonial authorities to be an authentic tribal institution ubiquitous along the entirety of the frontier. While many of the Pathan tribes along the more northerly reaches of the frontier were familiar with this so-called tradition, the Baluch in the South were not and we see the direct transfer of the jirgas from the North to the South
actually within one personality and that’s Robert Sandeman who creates his famous Sandeman System in the Baluch territories. He had previously been deputy commissioner outside of Peshawar and thus was exposed to the jirgas of the Pathans up there. Moreover for many of the Pathan tribes, jirgas were less-formalized institutions of tribal governance than consultative bodies of tribal opinion.
Their form as well as purpose was highly varied with some tribes regularly calling jirgas of tribal maliks or khans while others held them rarely but allowed all male members of the tribe to participate. The rules of the jirgas were also highly individuated, some relying on riwaj or local customary law to resolve disputes while others employed precepts of the Pashtunwali or the Pashtun tribal code or even the sharia.
The effect of the regulation was the standardization of the form if not the substance of the jirgas, at least as a judicial institution of tribal governance. Thus in relying on a tribal tradition for local governance, the colonial state radically altered and in many places imposed that tradition on the frontier’s inhabitants. Interestingly, while the regulation was explicit about the institutions of tribal justice and punishment,
it remains silent as to what exactly constituted an offense. There is very few elements of the regulation that actually define an offense. Most offenses were those listed in the Indian Penal Code, but this reliance contradicts the regulation’s ostensible deference to Pathan and Baluch usage. There was one notable exception: adultery.
Paradoxically the procedure and punishment for adultery were brought into the colonial courts while other crimes were excluded from those same courts. This removal simultaneously abrogated ideas of collective punishment for adultery while reinforcing it for other transgressions. Colonial stereotypes of Pathan violence, honor and masculinity lay at the heart of the regulation’s treatment of adultery.
By reserving adultery to colonial courts, the colonial state asserted a clear claim over the regulation of sex within Pathan communities justifying it by reference to the tribesmen’s irrational propensity for violence. As a consequence it denuded Pathan males not only of their power but more damningly of their honor.
A Pathan who could not fulfill badal the prescripts of revenge may as a local Pashto saying goes, “May speak Pashto, but he could not do Pashto.” He was therefore not a real Pathan, so there is a kind of double game going on here.
What’s really interesting with this is while the colonial state is essentially trying to create an alternate judiciary and freeze these people out of the colonial judiciary, the Pathan and Baluch tribesmen who are supposed to be so uneducated in the ways of the world and the ways of the colonial judiciary are really adept at coming up with ways to gain access to the colonial judiciary.
So they claim a blood feud based on adultery when actually what they are fighting over for instance is a property dispute. But by claiming it’s about adultery they automatically get into the colonial courts. So they prove themselves extraordinarily adept at this and it’s because of this that over time we see the regulation revised. Later versions were enacted in response to the perceived failings of previous ones.
They reflected not only contemporary politics of their moment of passage but also the evolving attitudes of colonial administrators on ideas of tradition, identity, and punishment. While the general thrust of the regulation remained essentially unchanged the specifics sharpened with each subsequent promulgation. The steel frame of the Raj was thus reinforced with legal girders
in 1887 and 1901 as new versions of the regulation became both more detailed and more draconian. In the 1872 version the jirgas can only essentially fine people, 1887 they can fine, they can sentence to transportation for 7 years and they can give a sentence of whipping. 1901 it goes up to 14 years and there’s more whipping involved.
The composition as well as authority of the council of elders becomes more clearly delimited and its powers of punishment were augmented. Interestingly, these versions also created limits to the arbitrary authority of the deputy commissioner, requiring the regular submission of written reports. The written record provided the only formal check on the regulation’s excess.
The paper Raj thus asserted its authority over the personal Raj. This move fits the narratives that colonial governance replaced the irrational personal dictates of oriental despots with the rational institutional channels of colonial bureaucrats. I should also say that there’s a couple of other interesting elements of the regulation I am not going to go into here,
like who it applies to—it automatically applies to Pathans and Baluch and where it applies—it applies to both the settled districts but only Pathans and Baluch in the settled districts and then the tribal areas, but again the tribal areas are someplace that are becoming created at this point in time. What is the effect over time of this regulation?
Well, my argument is that the regulation fundamentally rendered the tribesmen of the frontier as a new and different type of subject. Indeed they were not fully colonial subjects like other South Asians inhabiting the British administered areas of India. The entire premise of the regulation is to encapsulate these people, hide them off and bound them by their own tradition
cutting off access to the colonial sphere in particular the colonial judiciary. Rather these people become imperial objects. They remain dependent upon the colonial sphere through a multiplicity of linkages spawned by colonial law, such as the regulation, administrative practice, such as their recruitment into tribal militias, and economic policy, in particular the recruitment of Pathans and Baluch into colonial labor patterns
that Bob Nichols has written so much about. However, these linkages acted unidirectionally—economically dependent upon, though physically blocked from, the colonial sphere they occupied a liminal space, the colonial stake conceived as the frontier, the tribal areas in between the settled districts and the Durand Line. Further they were denied access to the venue where other colonial subjects could contest their claims as
subjects of the crown, namely courts. Thus rather than being constituted as colonial subjects they were rendered what I call “imperial objects.” They were people who were acted upon, the crown owed them nothing and underlying this fact, this lack of obligation by maintaining the conceptual, political and legal fiction of their independence. They are often referred to as “independent tribes” or even “sovereign tribesmen” in some instances.
Now if this is the situation on the North-West Frontier, the Frontier Crimes Regulation has an interesting imperial life that I’d like to turn to now. The regulation continues as well to have a significant post-colonial afterlife. How the British Indian Raj defined and understood the North-West Frontier conditioned not only its actions here but also throughout its global empire.
Within British India the Frontier Crimes Regulation was promulgated as part of the Baluchistan Code in 1890, so it moves from the North-West Frontier province or becomes what becomes North-West Frontier province in 1901 to Baluchistan in 1890 though it’s actually applied before that. Its success in the Northwest quickly drew the attention of colonial administrators in India’s Northeast.
There the regulation provided the outlines for the Chin Hills Regulations of 1896, the Chin Hills being down here, as well as the Cochin Hills Regulations of 1898. Perhaps most interestingly the regulation was also adopted, in slightly modified form, for the rest of Somali districts along the northern frontier of Kenya in 1934 as the Special Districts Administrative Ordinance for these areas up here
and it was great when I found this file at the National Archives in Kew in London what they had actually done was they had taken the 1901 regulation from the legal office and they basically stuck it in the back just crossing out “British India” and replacing it with “British Kenya,” so I mean they exactly copied this law.
In a way this is not so surprising, I mean we talk about imperial careering of individuals but we can also think about imperial careering of laws. I mean, the Indian Penal Code is a particularly important example but here we see this Frontier Crimes Regulation traveling around the empire. More broadly the regulation and the type of frontier governmentality it reflected affected both forms and norms of governance and administration
throughout the British Empire. While the regulation was an attempt to create structures of indirect rule through indigenous traditions, defined of course by the colonial state, it was much more than that. The regulation fundamentally differed from other exercises of power practiced by the ethnographic state of the late 19th century, such as the annual census
whereas the latter which really constituted this arena called colonial governmentality focused on the production of colonial subjecthood through the rule of difference. I argue the former, the regulation, looked to manufacture imperial objecthood through the elevation and most importantly encapsulation by tradition. Frontier governmentality which relied upon and reproduced this idea of imperial objecthood
also rested on a different understanding of sovereignty than that ascribed to the colonial state’s modernizing face. They are able to encapsulate these people and hide them off from the colonial sphere by talking about them in terms of independence and sovereignty. I would argue that the story of the regulation points us towards a larger story about the construction of the frontier and indeed the modern state itself.
The frontier through its conceptualization and subsequent administration inflected itself onto the formation of the colonial, and perhaps even modern, state forms becoming globally ubiquitous in the 19th century. The practices of state craft perfected on the North-West Frontier were re-injested into the heartlands of state authority from where they were redeployed in like circumstance either on the Northeast Frontier,
the Kenyan frontier with Somalia and elsewhere. The replication of the Frontier Crimes Regulation meant that frontier governmentality which produced it was likewise replicated around the world. As importantly these practices of frontier governmentality carried within them certain understandings of power and assumptions regarding its exercise formed at the limits of imperial authority
which conditioned the state’s view of itself and we can see other examples of how this underlying idea of frontier governmentality is replicated around the British Empire. The system of indirect rule employed by Frederick Lugard in Northern Nigeria relied heavily on the innovations of British Indian frontier administrators, most notably Robert Sandeman.
Indeed Lugard himself spent nearly nine years in British India most of it actually in Peshawar with his regiment the 9th foot, the Norfolk regiment, during the 1870’s and 1880’s. So he was in a place to see the workings of this frontier governmentality and administration first hand. Likewise, the parallels between the systems of frontier administration in British India and the Cape Colony are striking.
Undoubtedly this was at least partly a consequence of imperial careering. Sir Bartle Frere, formerly governor of Bombay, subsequently the governor of the Cape Colony, whose ill-fated plan for union was at least partly responsible for the Zulu War of 1879 and 1880, had previously served as the Commissioner of Sindh responsible for the Upper Sindh frontier and I will say in my research this is probably my weakest point.
My hunch is that Frere is going to have some correspondence in which he says ‘here’s what I did in British India, of course it applies to South Africa.’ While I have been able to find that with Lugard, while I have been able to trace that with the Frontier Crimes Regulation, Frere’s and the Natal and Cape Colonies are proving a little bit more difficult. I am not finding that smoking gun, at least not yet.
Yet I would argue that the regulation and the idea of frontier governmentality which it represents has a broader implication and a broader reach. Indeed the Frontier Crimes Regulation exemplifies a way of governing frontier spaces and peoples not specific to the North-West Frontier of British India or indeed even to the British Empire. The regulation corralled the frontier’s tribesmen into discreet physical spaces where they could be
blockaded and encapsulated in their own tradition. The British call these spaces “tribal agencies” yet what they are in fact are reservations and when termed in this discourse, framed in this way, the experience of the tribesmen of British India’s Northwest assume a hue familiar to many other inhabitants along the peripheries of empires in the late 19th century. Indeed the first iteration of the regulation in 1872 occurred at the same moment
variance of such reservations were becoming constructed on other frontiers such as in the American West. What we have here are tribal agencies in which sovereign independent peoples, indigenous peoples of the Americas, are to essentially be governed by their own traditions and customs overseen by the operations of an agent of the federal government just like a deputy commissioner. Likewise we see the same on the Argentine pampas.
The US government treating Indians as independent nations, made treaties with these people and forcibly place them on reservations where they could live by their own traditions. However in so doing they destroy the previous life-ways making indigenous people dependent on government aid distributed through the local agent.
What we see as well on the North-West Frontier of British India is that the agents of the tribal agencies become extremely important in terms of dishing out as it were goodies, tribal subsidies, from the British Indian government just like as in the American West. By corralling the tribesmen into reservations, rhetorically conditioned as independent and sovereign, the expanding Westphalian states
of the late 19th century excluded them from an enlarging body politic in which they could have been rendered subjects of the queen or alternatively citizens of the republic but no such thing happens. Instead they remain as indigenous peoples, tribesmen of the frontier or of the reservations. Now to take the story large globally then I’d like to turn my attention to where I’ve spent the last seven months doing some archival research and that’s to Argentina.
Apart from both starting with “A” you might be scratching your head, ‘why the connection between Argentina and Afghanistan?’ Fear not, there is one. Argentina provides a fascinating case study of this phenomenon of frontier governmentality and governance. Though neither formerly part of the Anglo-sphere nor the British Empire, Argentina was the pre-eminent example of Britain’s 19th century informal empire,
indeed there’s a lot of work from the 1970’s that talks about how it really is centrally important to Britain’s informal empire and we can see that as well with some of the individuals involved with the expansion of the Argentine state in the late 19th century.
This man here is a very interesting character. His name is Ignacio Hamilton Fotheringham, born in Sussex, he actually joins the East India Company a merchant marine. He is assigned as a cabin boy and works his way up to a steward on what then becomes a Royal Indian Navy ship in Bombay, writes a memoir in which he talks about I believe of the Karg campaign in 1856, talking about how much he enjoyed killing Asians.
After doing that there was some family carfuffle that basically ensured he got kicked out of the Indian navy around 1863, I think it was his record of service I found, and immigrates to Argentina where he becomes a key player in the expansion of the Argentine frontier. So we have a kind of an example of imperial careering with Fotheringham. He is a very important person,
he becomes a governor of one of the northern provinces, the Argentine Republic later. At the same moment that British Indian frontier administrators constructed veritable reservations as spaces of exception in which to encapsulate violent tribesmen in their own traditions, the Argentine government undertakes a similar course of action. In 1879 Julio Roca who is in the foreground, that man right there,
and will become the Argentine President in 1880, launches the Conquest of the Desert, la Conquista del Desierto, which aimed to tame and integrate the vast pampas for the newly unified republic. The conquest assumed the language of civilization and barbarism authored by Domingo Sarmiento, a previous president of the republic and one of its foremost political thinkers.
The ostensible aim was to defeat the roving hordes of indios and their caciques, or chiefs, who were not indios amigos or “friendly Indians.” The fate of the defeated Indians varied greatly. Some were forced into what the Argentines referred to as colonias which were essentially reservations, at least in theory. Others were imprisoned and turned into waged labor for settlers on the frontier.
The language of the conquista was different than that we see in British India, in that Indians were instead of being rhetorically encapsulated, rendered citizens of the republic. So there are important differences but similarities as well. This language of rendering citizens of the republic was an outgrowth of the liberal project of the nation, itself not far removed from the liberal project of empire
that people like Uday Mehta have written about. Now, Argentina’s attitude towards the frontier, what’s really interesting as well is the economic requirements of this Conquest of the Desert. This is the Argentine 100 peso bill which is the most widely circulated currency in Argentina, as you can see the picture on it is of the Conquest of the Desert.
There is some really interesting politics around that because the current president has decided this is an offensive picture and is replacing it with a picture of Evita who is probably the most controversial political character of 20th century Argentina but I can talk about that more later. Argentine attitude towards its frontiers and indigenous inhabitants of the space mirrored those of similar situated settler colonies in the 19th century.
More pointedly the Argentine political class looked both to the US and British India as examples of the perils of the frontier and their governance and it’s this area right here, the pampas, that are really part of the Conquest of the Desert and I give you that map and then move on to a more detailed map. Buenos Aires is up in the upper left hand corner with some of the main Indian tribes as they would be called Indios de Namuncura
in the center and the Pais de las Manzanas down below. Now it’s understandable why the Argentines would look towards the American experience and indeed looking at the papers of Roca who becomes the President after the conquest in 1880, I found this great file from the Secretary of the Interior in the United States which just translates everything that the United States is doing on its western plains.
Interestingly following that file was a translation of all the news reports from London about the Second Afghan War and actually whereas Roca is looking like the other Argentine elite to the American experience of how we govern these people, he is looking to British India why we govern these people in the first place? And what he actually says is,
“Our move into the Argentine pampas to control these people is very much like the British invasion of Afghanistan in the Second Afghan War, just as the British are going in to preempt Russian ambitions and interventions, we need to go out onto the pampas in order to preempt Chilean expansionary visions.” So they are very aware of this kind of global discussion that’s going on.
What’s striking then, and here’s a picture of some of the troops involved in that, what’s striking then is not simply the Frontier Crimes’ inter-imperial spread throughout a geographically diverse and culturally Catholic empire, but its replication in similarly situated and similarly conditioned spaces.
These frontiers of empires presented a common set of challenges for imperial administration and were in large part commonly conceived as liminal spaces whose inhabitants were imperial objects as opposed to colonial subjects or indeed national citizens. Yet these spaces were not inherently such, rather they were constructed to be so. The similar cultural dispositions, social institutions, and administrative challenges
that colonial, or neo-colonial state as we might consider Argentina and the United States to be, found in these locals were not the consequence of a lack of modernity or common tribal past, instead they were for the production of the processes of imperialism, which rendered these places as peripheries. The economic dislocations caused by European imperialism, the corpus of colonial knowledge which actively constructed and maintained
these people as tribal and the administrative calculus that they would simply be too expensive to govern combined to exclude these frontiers from the colonial enterprise while nonetheless binding them to the imperial project. Thus they become these liminal tribal reservations or agencies. In these cases state authorities opted to govern the people through their own institutions, purposely occluding them from the structures and spheres
of state administration. At the same time they thicken the web of ties binding these people to the colonial economic order and thus the emerging global imperial economies. In so doing these people were created as objects to be acted upon, devoid of the obligations latent in the status of subject or indeed citizen. And what’s interesting, this just does not like me today, is the reactions of some of these people, how they viewed themselves in relation to these expansionary states.
The Argentine chiefs or caciques are particularly interesting. This is one of the most famous caciques, Namuncura, after the fall of his kind of governmental area, it’s discovered that he has a archive written in Spanish with a bureaucracy who had been there archiving for the past 10 to 15 years of over 2000 volumes. He actually had been mimicking structures of the Argentine state so his political imagination is one of equals.
Sayhueque who is another important cacique is very interesting, signs all his correspondence to the President of the Republic as “Governor” of this area called the Pais de las Manzanas, or the “country of the apples.” So the imaginary is as part of the Argentine body politic and we can perhaps see that easiest with Casimiro who, I love this photo because he’s got of course the republican hat and this is the seal of Argentina
which of course, you know, goes back to the French Revolution, the republican hat, and yet there he is, you know, ‘this is who I am, yes I am a cacique, yes I am an indigenous person but my imaginary of my role here is as part of the republic’ and in the Argentine case that’s actually not going to work out. Now in addition to the regulation’s imperial life, it is long, it has had a long lasting post-colonial afterlife,
in modified form as I have already mentioned it remains enforced today in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the FATA of Pakistan along the Afghan border which are composed of the formal tribal agencies of the Raj. It also applies to some of the provincially administered tribal areas the PATA such as Malakand. These areas are still run by political agents charged with roughly similar duties and powers as their British predecessors.
It has been revised most notably in 2011 but essentially unchanged. Its creations of peoples as objects has carried over in the post-colonial setting of the Pakistani state. Indeed a number of critics charge that a significant part of the problem is Pakistan’s continued treatment of the people of these areas as second class citizens with limited rights and access to normal judicial and administrative apparatus of the Pakistani state.
Pakistan’s continued administration of the region under a modified Frontier Crimes Regulation indicates its inability as well as its unwillingness to extend its formal administration to the area of the tribal agencies. And indeed the violence over the past few years combined with the low esteem in which many of the tribesmen hold the Pakistani state does not bode well for a future peaceful integration of these areas.
Yet it is an imperative to integrate the colonial origins of the frontier and its governance. The colonial constructed understandings of local society embodied by the regulation have over time become a definitional part of the local social ecology through the nearly century and a half of the regulation’s operation.
The FATA is not unique in this regard, many of the areas the regulation or its equivalents were enforced upon are highly unstable. The Kachin Hills turned into Kachin state which has been essentially out of the control of central Burmese, now Myanmar, authorities sense independence in 1978 or 1948. Here we have the Kachin independence army or indeed the Kenyan frontier with Somalia
which has recently come into the news with the mall attack not to mention the violence that is going on in Northern Nigeria. Boko Haram went in yet again into a college hostel I think last week killing a number of students in Northern Nigeria.
It is not by accident that such geographically removed regions face challenges to state authority in playing similar rhetoric and in many cases similar strategies and in many ways resulting from a similar set of underlying circumstances thus the colonial past continues to structure the post-colonial present. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, this is Ayesha Jalal for the record, for a fascinating talk. I have two sort of questions. One is sort of conceptual clarification. To what extent, I mean you talk about ‘exception’ I mean the frontier as governance or the frontier as exception, to what extent was this exception intrinsic to the exercise of sovereignty rather than the obvious? That’s one question.
It seems to me that that would be a very important way of understanding what was being attempted. The second question relates to your international sort of trajectory of the FCR and you take us across the globe with this idea and I think it’s again the question of the intrinsic exceptional extent to which the treating the frontier as exceptional becomes an intrinsic part of sovereignty, an exercise of sovereignty,
but surely the effects would be different, I mean the frontier, I mean you know if it is a model I think it’s a very interesting sort of model given what’s happening on across the Durand Line, I mean between Pakistan, Afghanistan along FATA, but in terms of its impact I mean the origin may be similar but the effects surely would be very different which have to do with a much broader question of sovereignty exercise by very different kinds of states.
So if it is a question of treating the frontier as an exception but one that is intrinsic to sovereignty, the results would be quite different so I just want to understand that a little bit better in the narrative.
As one would expect from Professor Jalal, an extremely, profound and difficult question but I’ll take a stab at it, I mean in a, to take your second one first, the consequences, as it were, of taking this model and applying it in different places, I mean just the examples I talked about, there are some similarities but there’s fundamental differences.
Obviously, the North-West Frontier is not a settlement frontier as we see in Argentina or the American West, there are also, the British Indian frontiers also not a national frontier as we see with the American West and Argentina. So there are definitely differences which are going to affect and in part account for the differential outcomes. I guess what caught my attention and what I find is interesting is there’s this moment in the 1870’s where,
and it is earlier in some places and later in others, they’re all having the same reaction to what they conceive to be a similar problem and I wonder as I was saying to you earlier is it because they are reading the same stuff? Not finding that. Is it imperial careering? They are traveling around and it’s the same people doing the same thing,
British Empire we can see that to a certain extent. But there is a broader phenomenon going on and I think it goes to your first question which is this issue about sovereignty, its exercise on the frontier and how they relate to one another. I mean certainly you know I start out by saying the frontier is someplace beholden to and a creator of myths and one of the myths about it is its exceptionality.
I think really if I was to say what the deeper question involved in this research and in this project is, it is about our understanding of the state itself and what sovereignty means to the state and rather than the unitary idea of the Westphalian sovereignty which finds itself under attack by political scientists as well as historians, I think it opens a can of worms to a state that is not only Janus-faced but I mean even more multiply faced than that.
You know, on the North-West Frontier I do honestly think that some of these frontier administrators thought they were observing tribal tradition and were just acting upon that, so I don’t think there is some master plan they’re going to say ‘we are going to use this form of suzerainty when looking towards the Afghans and a form of sovereignty when looking back on to the Gangetic plain.
But I think it does create serious questions about the nature of the colonial state which then will carry onwards into the nature of the post-colonial state because if we start to think about ‘hmm what does this tell us about the colonial state?’ That it’s not really a sovereign state, not only in making, it’s not trying to be a Westphalian state as European states are themselves in the process of being made,
that’s not even part of its ambition nor its definition. The colonial state is something fundamentally different. Then what does that tell us about the nature of post-colonial states which we then assume will act like this Westphalian state model and when they don’t, we get this narrative of state failure.
So I think, I think there is a huge can of worms to be discussed there and that’s what kind of excites me about this project is it keeps coming back to me asking these questions about the nature of the state and the nature of its understanding about itself and how it affects these other areas.
I have two questions as well and I am Kris Manjarpa from the History Department. The first question relates to the term imperial object versus colonial subject, I like the contrast at least at the kind of rhetorical level but I wondered whether the idea of the imperial object is really doing enough analytical work for your argument and in some ways when I think of your excellent book on Afghanistan you make an important point
about the genealogies that are being envisioned in the Elphinstonial model of Afghanistan and this idea of tribes as what the importance of thinking tribes and brotherhoods and genealogies and imagining groups not as objects which is actually quite an inorganic term but rather as bloodlines and as trees of somehow of genetic material and so I wondered, or biological materials,
so I just wondered on that sense if it’s not so much the idea of the imperial object but it’s really the imagination of the genealogy that you may want to bring in or what your thinking is in investing in this concept of the imperial object. I understand the rhetorical difference but conceptually is that really capturing it? And then the last question is the idea of this kind of space as serving a role in the state is obviously so important.
Now what are the many possible roles that this space is playing? One role I think came out very clearly which is the idea of creating a buffer zone particularly against the perceived state or the kin, a state of kindred power, the British versus the Russians for example, as you make the point in your book. I wonder about other possible uses of the instability that is somehow perpetuated through these spaces so one very concrete question
would be about the kickbacks that various administrators may receive because the state is not able to quantify or to see in the way that it would technically or usually want to see if it had integrated these regions formally, so what kinds of informal transfers are perhaps taking place? Do we have any evidence about that and are there ways in which the state wants to use the fear of instability on its frontiers in terms or
in pursuit of a kind of internal politics of terrorizing citizens, if one wants to take it to that extent, giving them a sense of how bad things could be if one were like those strange tribes, ‘thank goodness we are inhabiting this social contract.’ So I just wondered about the different ...
what is the tool kit that in fact these colonial administrators are using in order to benefit from the space beyond the kind of “cordon sanitaire” argument which I think you very beautifully presented.
Thanks for some wonderful and thoughtful questions Kris and thank you for giving me the chance to expand on something I didn’t really get to talk that much about in my discussion today which was this rhetorical distinction between a colonial subject and imperial object. Really interesting the track you’re taking on it because I think that one really is speaking much more towards local sensibilities of identity and communal solidarity
but if I can go back and maybe expand on this issue of the imperial object. I think it’s a little bit more than the just the rhetorical division because really what I am trying to ... I guess the starting point I am thinking of there is this weird space on the frontier, if I can back up as it were, there’s this very odd space on the frontier... these tribal areas. This is a map from the Imperial Gazetteer in 1909
showing the administrative divisions of the North-West Frontier province which was of course created in 1901. Interestingly, I have never really been able to find a map that clearly delineates the frontier agencies. And so my staring point is this question, there is this odd space, they know that the Durand Line, at least conceptually, is the imperial limit of power.
On the other hand there is the colonial limit of the authority which stops with the settled areas. This is where colonial law applies and then there’s this weird space in between which are the tribal areas and which the Frontier Crimes Regulation is designed to deal with. And so I think there’s this nether world as it were where the border of the frontier is not a clear line but it’s about a recession of colonial and then imperial power
over a space and the reason I use this idea of imperial objecthood to talk about these people goes to something that I made reference to in this paper but did not fully talk about and that is the economic character of the Frontier Crimes Administration and more broadly the way that this space is governed. I really think that what is going on here is that the colonial state is essentially trying to integrate the inhabitants of this space
into a global economic order dominated by the British and the way they do this is through the collective fines that they use in the Frontier Crimes Regulation. This is largely a unmonetarized economy and then all of a sudden you start using fines as the primary punitive punishment for people here, it’s going to have certain effects then on bringing money into this space. Money is injected through the participation of these individuals
in colonial militias, in tribal militias, which are part of the Sandeman system and becomes spread along the frontier throughout this period and Sandeman is all about basically ‘a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work’ so this again monetizes the frontier. We have the longer standing practice of monetizing the frontier through giving subsidies to tribes through the maliks, through the khans. But we also in the late 19th century
in particular and I made a fleeting reference to Robert Nichols' wonderful work on this, these people are engaged in practices and migrations of labor that span throughout British India but become globalized because of British India centrality in that system. So especially with the entrance of the railroad beginning in Baluchistan in Pashin in the 1870’s with the Second Afghan War, we see a move towards monetarizing these people’s labor
and bringing them in to this global economic order that’s dominated by the British Empire. So on that note I really think they are objectifying economically these people and dragging them into that system and that’s why I use that term “object.” But at the same time they are creating these linkages of economic dependence upon the Raj and its economy.
They are also creating these barriers to participation politically which you would expect from the Raj of course they’re not going to say participate politically but judicially as well and all kinds of other ways, they are essentially kind of rendering these people as somebody acted on mainly through this either punitively or economically so that‘s where I would go with the imperial object. Your second question which was really good, but eludes me. Can you remind me?
… uses of this space…
Oh. Yeah, yeah, the various uses of this space. I mean, you know, there’s been a lot written, not so much on this particular space but on the space of frontiers. Robert White wrote a really important book in 1992 about North America and how previously
it had been imagined to be empty and yet what’s actually going on is it’s full of these competitive impulses of European powers imagining themselves in competition there. So he is talking about the late 18th century and I think you especially see that obviously with the rhetoric of the Great Game imagining these kind of, you know, barbarians beyond the frontier, be they tribesmen or caciques, again talking about Argentina.
Roca says, you know, basically ‘if we don’t go in the Chileans are coming in’ so I think there’s this fear of the fact that others will put their imprimatur on the blank spaces of the map unless you do. I think as well that each one of these administrators, be British India, the American West or whatever, do as you indicate use that rhetoric to gain advantage in essentially bureaucratic politics.
I mean in my previous work I talk about how essentially Calcutta plays London with this idea that the Russians are coming when really they are not. I think at the same time we see that going on with particular administrators on the British Indian frontier, the one example that comes first and foremost to mind, that Professor Jalal has talked about, are the Wahhabis. This becomes, you know, not the center of the tribal breakouts
that Bayly talks about at the 18th century, but the center and continues to be today of the crazy Muslim fanatics. So actually for instance, we have the Frontier Crimes Regulation of 1872 preceded in 1867 by the Murders Outrageous Act, which is about these murders on the frontier by Wahhabi fanatics.
And of course the Wahabbi trials in Patna, you know, trace this lineage of conspiracy and sedition up to the frontier which is complete bunk and nonsense, but I do think the colonial state uses that to activate both fear within its bureaucratic circles on one level and fear within indigenous peoples on another.
[…] I am a PhD student in the History Department. You were just talking about the frontier governmentality of the colonial state and the way that the colonial state was codifying laws in these regions, I was just wondering how were the inhabitants of these regions relating and responding to the transformations or the changes that were taking place in the, I mean was there a resistance to it or were they embracing these changes? I mean if you could just elaborate on it.
That’s a great question. I mean the partial dodge is very difficult to access those voices. What we do have are, I talked about how the DC’s are required to put annual reports out and so we do actually have the annual reports that the deputy commissioners put out and they go into great detail about local reactions and stuff. I mean you do have outbreaks of violence on the frontier that get wound up with these issues about how they are being treated,
though the language and rhetoric of these rebellions on the frontier generally take understandably a religious hue. I mean Professor Jalal has written about that in Partisans of Allah, I have written some articles on that elsewhere. It’s really interesting about every 15 years these same places kind of explode, Swat is one of the best examples. You can trace Swat, it’s almost like on the dot every 15 years, something is going to happen in Swat.
So, you know, right now we have got about, what 12 more years to go before something happens in Swat. So there’s the obvious resistance that goes on. What I didn’t get to go into but I made reference to is how many of these people become really canny and use the avenues that are created, though limited, the avenues that are created by the regulation to access, for instance, the colonial judiciary.
So the best one I remember is two Pathans in I think it was in Dera Ghazi Khan and they are having a property dispute and this gets shoved to a jirga, a council of elders because even though they are in a city which is really interesting that even though they are in a city they are subject to this tribal custom over a property dispute, right. Well, the parties are dissatisfied
with the outcome of that jirga and so they both agree to turn around to the deputy commissioner and say ‘this is going to be a blood feud,’ and so all of a sudden the doors to the colonial courts are opened up and there’s this really interesting case about then how the colonial court is used to adjudicate this property dispute. So they become very adept at, all this is is jurisdiction shopping. right?
And it is something that they are complaining about going on in the Gangetic plain and other parts of South India. And I think that’s important, the timing of this because, you know, they try and encapsulate these people in their own tradition, in part because of the specificity of the frontier, but I also think that they are a little bit annoyed but also aware of the increasing politicization of the Bengalis,
right, that are happening in the late 19th century and they see the access to colonial courts as on the one hand overwhelming, ‘these tribal are very basic, they don’t understand what the hell is going on, at the other hand they are wily Indians so they are able to jurisdiction shop.
If we allow them into the courts that also creates not only a judicial space but potentially a political state where these people can mobilize and we don’t want to do that.’ That’s kind of my hunch but I’m kind of making a hunch there.
…I’m a PhD student in the History Department. So, I have two questions. The first question is the prevailing historiography on law has looked at law either as a tool for imperial domination or it has seen the use of law and rights for resistance movements. So you elude to both of these points because at one point you say that the people of FATA became imperial objects
but at the same time they are using colonial courts through the adultery provision to go jurisdiction shopping, as you say. So, I was wondering if you could maybe talk a little bit more about the conceptualization of the rule of law on the frontier and if this is different than it would be in other places in colonial India? And my second question deals with changes in political economy brought on by the FCR.
So you have talked about monetization and how there are subsidies given to different tribes, but I was also wondering if there’s any extraction going on from the colonial state through the FCR, if they are changing property rights or if they are extracting resources.
Thanks Amna. Those are, again, great questions. Yeah, I mean like I said at the beginning, the 1872 version of the regulation is based off the Hazara Settlement Rules which itself is from the Revenue Department, right. So this is essentially I think part of a larger move that we see elsewhere in the Raj where, you know, we need to define property rights
and once we start defining property rights we need to start defining these other kinds of rights because what is law fundamentality about? And this where my Marxist hat comes out. It’s fundamentally about the protection of property. So if you start defining property then you start defining crimes against property and how the colonial state is going to intercede there. I mean, you know, essentially what is going on with the regulation
is that they make the economic calculus, ‘this is a poor area, it’s a resource drain, and so what is the cheapest way to govern it?’ And setting up the bureaucracy of the imperial state is not because you are not going to get out of it what you put into it which is why they essentially farm out colonial governance here to indigenous institutions.
So I think economics are very closely tied up with that. In terms of your first question, can you repeat it just for me quickly? Sorry.
Yeah, the conceptualized rule of law.
Well I think, you know, contemporary frontier administrators conceptualized it very loosely, first of all. You know, it’s very interesting you have C.L. Topper’s multi-volume work on customary law in the Punjab appearing in the 1860’s and what’s interesting with Frontier Crimes Regulation is there, and the frontier itself, is there’s no equivalent encyclopedia of customary law on the frontier. There’s no equivalent of Riwaj.
There is Topper’s big piece you know definitional dictionary of the Punjab but it doesn’t really include the frontier which I think is interesting. So one has this emphasis on orality which also makes the regulation requiring district commissioners to write their judgment down really interesting. Two, I think it’s embedded in contemporary colonial understandings or conceptualizations of these tribesmen,
that they are inherently violent, there is just something about them that is violent. The punitive actions of the colonial judiciary are too slow and essentially don’t work. Being executed by the colonial state, or so colonial judicial officials say, is actually like a badge of honor for the frontier tribesmen so that’s not going to work, so what do we do instead, well we fine them because that has a different take.
And three, apart from the inherent violence on the indigenous peoples, I think there is an attempt, honest or not, to at least utilize what they think are pre-existent structures of rule in this space and you know some of those I think are because of imperial economy, some of those are I think they believe it’ll just be easier to rule these spaces. I mean the thing I think we also need to remember about the colonial state
and its regulation here, and this goes back to something I was talking about with Professor Jalal, is you know the colonial archive has this great collection of annual reports from all the DC’s that give us a statistical break down of what crimes are tried, the number of convictions by jirgas, etc. etc. They give you this very solid idea of an invasive colonial state that’s in control and the fact of the matter is
that probably 95 to 99% of the stuff going on on the frontier is going on out of the ambit and awareness of the colonial state at all. What the colonial state is able to police and bring in its net is a very small fraction of everything going on up there and I don’t think that’s unique to the frontier.
Hello my name is Chau and I am a graduate student at the History Department too. This might be a dumb question but anyway, when I come to see the term “frontier” I think there are two aspects to it. The first is the geographical aspect which reminds me of borderland, the edges, the rim of a political entity. The other aspect is that it is, it refers to something that is contested, it has a tremendous amount of ambiguity and as you said,
it’s a place of imagination and it refers to something that is unexplored or has a certain elements that is unexplored or unfamiliar to the norm. I think there’s a certain kind of tension between these two aspects and especially when we consider the concept of ‘border’ it reminds me of Bayly’s book, The Birth of the Modern World, which has the argument that the birth of the modern world is to a large extent the story
of the emergence of uniformity and national borders is definitely a uniformity that has been accepted in the 20th century especially post-war, post-colonialism world. I think if we connect these together I have this question that how do we really get to know these borders in a context of frontier which is ambiguous and unexplored and unfamiliar to the norm, to the colonial state,
and how does the colonial state decide these borders initially and how is this particular uniformity of border and frontier established in the context of British colonialism especially if you look at British India alongside other colonies worldwide. Thank you.
Thanks for that question. Short answer is we don’t. I mean the border especially for Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier, first of all I’d say for any graduate student looking for anything to do nobody has written a history of the Durand Line and that has yet to be written and not only the Durand Line but all of the Afghan borders because Afghanistan has a very interesting border history.
The second is that, you know, this idea of turning the frontier in to a border up there is almost always an aspirational one. I mean the Durand line as agreed in theory in 1893 but you know the British are having survey parties still working along the frontier in the 1930’s and getting shot at by Afridi tribesmen and stuff.
You know we still have disputes between Pakistan and Afghanistan, of course Afghanistan doesn’t actually recognize the Durand Line because they argue that Pakistan is not the successor state to the British Raj and therefore the Durand Line doesn’t exist. So I would say in brief that the issue of borders here is one aspirational but that is partly what peaks my interest as I kind of mention to Kris and also mentioned with regard to this map,
you know, here we see a delineation topographically of the frontier, the Durand Line. One, we need to recognize in 1909 it’s not been wholly surveyed and two, what we don’t see on this is that while we see an international border we don’t see the administrative frontier separating the tribal agencies all of which had been established by 1909 and I think that’s quite important.
It goes to this character of in particular the British Raj that we would like to think of it as this modernizing, uniforminizing, if you can use that word, entity with shared ideas of sovereignty like we were talking about earlier, but actually it’s not. It’s much messier than that.
This is Sugata Bose. This was a wonderful paper about the global dispersal or dissemination of frontier governmentality but I would like to step back a little and talk a bit more about you know the making of these kinds of frontier regulations and that’s where the discussion seems to have been sort of veering. Now, I‘m still not sort of entirely clear how deeply interested the British imperial administrators were in what they saw
as the peculiar characteristics of the inhabitants of these frontier regions versus a number of threats that they imagined were emanating from these regions which came from peoples who were not you know the tribal peoples of these areas. So, for example, first of all there is this sort of discourse about the rebels from the heartland of the British Indian Empire going out into the frontier and creating trouble and you made reference to you know
the Wahhabi sort of trials and so forth and if you think about W.W. Hunter’s discourse in The Indian Musalmans, it’s the rebels from the heartland who are going out there and finding refuge but also stirring up trouble in the frontier so there’s a sort of key relationship between what’s going on in the heartland of empire and the frontiers. The other of course is the external sort of threat. So, in the case of North-West Frontier you know
what is the imagined or the real sort of Russian threat. So the question that I am asking you is that in the actual making of frontier regulations and these sort of and also what you are talking about frontier governmentality, at one level you might think that it’s intrinsic to these people because as you said it’s the Hazara Settlement, you know, rules that form the basis of the frontier regulations.
On the other hand there is in play something that’s outside of what’s actually going on in this frontier, sort of zone. So I just want you to give us a sense of what’s working much more on the minds of those who are, you know, framing the rules of frontier governmentality and there’s one other question that I want you to consider and sort of try to compare for us a bit you know what was going in the North-West Frontier and the Northeast Frontier.
This is a very particular moment in sort of imperial history. I mean it actually in some ways resurrects some of the older ideas of the new imperialism where European balance of power rivalries have a major role in, you know, the partitioning and the carving up and the drawing of borders all over the world from Africa to Southeast Asia. But if you think about 1885, 1886 and the Third Anglo-Burmese War
I mean there was a brief moment when there was a sense that Burma might actually be thought of as an Afghanistan in which case the tribal peoples of the Northeast Frontier would have actually been the ones that we today consider the tribal peoples of the northeast of India but in fact what happened of course was that Burma got annexed as a province not surprisingly because there was a powerful sort of somewhat centralized kingdom there
for the previous 100 years but even there if you think about Jim Scott’s work, I think what’s going on in the heartland of the province or the kingdom is of critical importance because as the way that Jim Scott tells the story is that these hills or these sort of tribal frontiers are where the rebels from the heartland are escaping,
they are going and so there is a very key sort of dialectical relationship between, you know, what’s going on in the heartlands of states and empires and what’s being done in the frontier areas.
Thank you Professor Bose for some wonderful questions. I mean every point you make is great. If I can start with your first one about the kind of influences that are marking, as it were, the British official mind or the colonial official mind, you know, you make a reference to Hunter. He’s a good point to start at because Hunter we have this scare with the Indian Musalmans coming out, just after the Patna trials.
Now I’ve written elsewhere about this and what I think is really interesting with and really is indicative of a wider issue is that if you look at Hunter and this scare of the Wahhabi trials and the frontier’s role in that, that the official mind as it were is marked if anything by cacophony. I mean that, you know, Hunter writes The Indian Musalmans when he is on leave, it’s published by a private press in London,
the official response, Syed Ahmad Khan’s book, is actually written or published by I think Lahore Government, it’s the medical school press and if you read the correspondence, people like Mayo, they basically say, you know, ‘these people are bunk, we really don’t care about these people,’ there’s some great correspondence that I’ve written about elsewhere in which these Wahhabis on the frontier, cause that’s always what they are called,
you know, there’s one set like Edwards who is the chief judge in the Patna trial is saying, ‘these people are crazy, they are seditionists, they are doing all these things’ and yet Mayo is actually saying, ‘if any of these Wahhabis (who are of course mainly peasants from Bengal who have been brought up to the frontier through these seditious networks) if any of them want to go back make sure they have enough travel money,
tell them to register with the police, and don’t bother them again’ which I think is indicative, this idea that we often assume the official mind has at least a unified voice and really what the archives tells us instead is the cacophony of voices that are going on. Threats are depicted differently by different interested parties and I think in part it’s just bureaucratic politics. In terms of the relationship
and whether this is driven by interest in the local people versus maybe these geopolitical issues, I think it depends on who you are talking to. You know, with the eclipse of the Punjab school of frontier administration and the regularization of frontier bureaucratization then yeah, I think there is less of an interest in the inner workings of these frontier peoples and the classic example of this debate between how we should rule these people
is between Robert Sandeman and his superior Merewether who is the commissioner of Sindh and, you know, there’s a big back and forth that go on between Merewether and Sandeman because Merewether wants a much more punitive approach, especially to Baluchistan and yet we know in the end that Sandeman wins. He puts together the Sandeman System which is then, as Christian Tripodi has written about, subsequently altered
and actually ignored so I think the ups and downs of a particular policy are reflected both of geopolitical external workings from the frontier, personalities in part bureaucratic chance, whose more skillful at the bureaucratic fighting. I mean Merewether essentially just pissed off the governor general because, or the viceroy, because it was Lytton that decided that he was going to go with Sandeman and Sandeman was a captain at the time,
Merewether was a colonel. He should have gone with Merewether but Merewether was just kind of a cranky old man so he said ‘no you are going to be commissioner of Sindh, go down to Karachi and Sandeman we’ll give the ball to.’ So I think there is a lot of different elements that go with that. I seem to be forgetting second questions of everybody.
Yeah, not to worry. But what your answer has suggested is that there is such sort of intricacy and sort of variation depending on personalities and so on and yet of course, at another level of analysis there is sort of a kind of a shared or common global story to be told and that was the main message of your paper and maybe these can be reconciled because it seems to me that so far as European empires were concerned and I would possibly include sort of
the United States and Argentina in that sort of category but also the British and the French and the Dutch and the Germans in Southeast Asia and Africa. They seem to have come to a common understanding both in terms of sovereignty, centralized unitary Westphalian in the heartlands of the empires and sort of frontiers and this you see in Eric Tagliacozzo’s work who has spoken in this series because you know, between 1865 and 1915 gradually
you know a rather messy frontier where there’s a lot of smuggling, etc. going on, you know that becomes defined sort of not quite in the form of a Durand Line but a line of some sort, you know, along the Straits of Malacca between the British and Dutch sort of empire. So there are certain common understandings I think that emerge on both sovereignty and frontiers and what Ayesha was saying is that I think it is very important to keep in play
both sovereignty and frontiers as concepts, sort of, you know, and the relationship between the two and how it sort of plays out in the latter half of the 19th century, the beginning of the 20th century is the crucial sort of story which gives a certain kind of a uniformity despite there being key differences when it comes to actual policy in particular tribal areas where there’s a lot of contestation and contention involved.
And I completely agree with that. I mean, in ways the frontier and sovereignty, at least for this story are mutually constitutive. And to go back, I recall as you were saying that, your question about Scott. My problem with Scott’s work is that, you know, Scott basically depicts the hills, the frontier, or whatever as places of retreat where kind of the centralized state or rebels from the centralized state go to retreat and that these are places of anarchy,
thus the anarchist history. And I think that what Scott ignores is something that I talk about in my previous work which is that these are not places of anarchy, these are not Hobbes’ Leviathan where, you know tribesmen are eating these children. There are maybe not effective, maybe not recognizable forms of government and governance, but there are indigenous social solidarities that provide social and governmental structure
and that often these are much more important than anything that is brought up from the heartland. I mean, to go back to the earlier point about the frontier being a space of retreat which Professor Jalal has worked on so well, that’s true from Syed Ahmad of Rae Bareli all the way up to the Hijrat Movement all the way up indeed to today. There is much the same kind of rhetoric going on about many of the people who retreat to the frontiers—
the Chechen fighters and the Islamic movement in Uzbekistan or in the FATA as this is the Dar al-Islam where you can retreat and do your thing and the problem with that is it just totally ignores the local sensibilities and how they influence the sensibilities of these low landers, as it were, who come up there. But I think you are precisely right about the issue of frontiers and sovereignty and I think they mutually inflect one another.
I would say that, you know, while we do in the late 19th century see the coalescences of a global system where basically the kind of general form of what sovereignty means and how it’s delimited are broadly agreed upon. For me the interesting part is, you know, what is the specificity of that story because I think there is an enormous number of exceptions. For instance, in the United States today you know what we think of as the classic Westphalian state
as it were what more nations state do you have than the United States? There’s over 325 sovereign Indian reservations. What does that mean? Especially since the Department of Interior recognizes them as sovereign with a treaty relationship. There was a great thing on NPR about how a lacrosse team from one of these Indian reservations
tried to travel on UN passports claiming their sovereignty and you know that’s when the road meets the tire, as it were, and of course the immigration customs were like, ‘nope, you can’t do that,’ yet we are still going to use this rhetoric of sovereignty.
If I may again, this is Ayesha Jalal, to push you further since Sugata also followed up on what I was trying to get at about sovereignty. So the way of governing the frontier is in fact a modality of sovereignty, a particular way of exercising sovereignty and I am a little puzzled with your frequent references to reservations in the United State of America and FATA and also you said in the course of your talk that the British actually brought
their experience of managing the frontier, whichever way they did, to the later sort of to the princely states which chronologically sort of raises some questions, but I do have another comment and I’ll stop there. You pointed out that the Durand Line, there’s been no history of Durand Line but that’s really the paper principal. There is no line, in fact. So the practice of this actually is what people have actually studied of what really goes on
on the frontier because if one was to do a study of it’ll just be the discussion of the colonial officials, but the question here is the practice of sovereignty and so it is that practice of sovereignty which I am saying which might seen to be indicating kind of a limitation or an exception is in fact intrinsic to the way in which the British intended to sort of monitor the frontier or manage the frontier, something that has persisted
in the post-colonial period with obviously very major qualitative shifts over a sort of period of time but really what I am trying to get at is that at this peculiar frontier that we are talking about, which you say becomes a kind of a template to be not just used elsewhere in the imperium but within India in terms of,
I mean that puzzles me and I’d like to understand why the British would want a rather sort of fluid or really absent frontier which suited them, to bring that into defining princely India.
Right. That’s a great question and that’s something I have to work on further. It doesn’t make sense but I think there is a discursive going on. I think it’s a discursive about what “sovereignty” means because, you know, I would argue that British India is not defined by sovereignty at any point, even in 1947. It’s defined by paramountcy and what paramountcy means is different compared to different circumstances.
So, paramountcy which I think is just a stand-in for suzerainty is different when we are talking about Gwalior versus when we are talking about the tribal areas or the princely state of Kalat which is the closet one to a princely state that is actually is applied to in that, you know, in princely states we have a recognized sovereign, suzerain who has this paramount relationship.
But I think what it drives to is one, obviously a big hole of one of my arguments that I am making or assertions I’m making, but I think it also drives to this issue that really maybe the language of sovereignty you know maybe we can go to multiple sovereignties but really the language of sovereignty that we conceive of in regards to Westphalian state is inappropriate with regard to the colonial state.
Maybe we want to use paramountcy, maybe we want to use suzerainty, maybe we still want to use sovereignty.
We need to go beyond that. We need to go beyond Westphalian. We need to know the practice of this.
I totally agree and hopefully that’s maybe just an introduction or vignette into it.
I think again it’s sort of reconcilable, I tried to make an argument in a book that I wrote some time ago, 100 Horizons, that you know we really have to think in terms of you know two definitions of sovereignty and at least two definitions of frontiers and by that what I meant was
of course that this is a period when sovereignty is becoming sort of more unitary, it’s being defined in monolithic terms in directly ruled provinces of British India but you know it’s exactly there’s another kind of sovereignty that is being ascribed to the Gulf sheikhs for example when sort of Carson goes there or even the Malay sultans and it’s, you know, not all that different from the kind of sovereignty that you might talk about
in terms of you know even US reservations even though there may be some key distinctions and so far as frontiers are concerned I think I mean there is some mileage to be got from in some ways the distinction that you are making not the one that Kris referred to about colonial subjects and imperial objects but in terms of, you know, imperial frontiers and colonial frontiers because you know there is an imperial limit that is at least
conceptually demarcated in the form of a line, let’s say the Durand Line and other lines that are then sort of drawn in other parts of the world but then there is this sort of the colonial you know frontier which has to be seen as somewhat different from that sort of imperial limit because it also means that internal sort of frontiers and what you draw in terms of the limits of some degree of quote, unquote “tribal sovereignty” or princely state sovereignty and so forth.
Yeah, and I would completely agree. Just two kind of final thoughts on that. I remember reading a speech in the Hansard collection of Lord Lansdowne who was then Secretary of State for India talking about the independent sovereign tribes of the frontier and then he, you know, kind of leans back in the House of Lords, in the footnotes, ‘but we know they are not really independent and we know they are not really sovereign.’
You know we think of that in terms of a civilizational, or that’s how he is going to be thinking of it, tied up with tribes and tribal and such, but just to flip it back out to you as well, you know, okay we have an imperial versus a colonial frontier making a distinction here but then you know we can return to something like A.G. Hopkin’s work on Argentina as the imperial frontier of British capital because the third document that I then found
after the translated stuff from the Department of Interior of the US, all the news clippings about the Argentine war was then the list of all the companies owned by foreigners operating in Argentina in 1880 and you know three quarters of them were British capital, indeed the Conquest of the Desert is really interesting because it is actually not paid for by government funds, there are stocks sold on the Argentine Bolsa.
There’s a thousand stocks sold and the main recipients or the main buyers of the stocks are British sheep farmers, they are the ones actually pushing out the frontier because of the technology of the sheep farming which is arriving to the pampas from the 1860’s forward, so that part of the imperial frontier being pushed out
and I think there we have different types of sovereignties or paramountcies or suzerainties. We can discuss the word but, yeah, I think there’s different types of power in the relationship that are being displayed there.
Well, thank you very much for an excellent talk. Is this sort of on? Thank you so much Ben. I think we have all really benefitted from this exchange and I think we will continue our discussion over dinner.