Waziristan 1936-1937: The Problems of the North-West Frontiers of India and Their Solutions

By Lieut. Colonel C. E. Bruce


To a people, like the Pathan tribes, always prone ‘to despise you for your weakness rather than admire you for your benevolence’ and of whom it has truly been said that ‘anything which can be interpreted as weakness encourages those who are sitting on the fence’ were there not a thousand and are things which they could only interpret as weakness?
C.E. Bruce

Long ago a father and his son, R. I. Bruce and C. E. Bruce, respectively, spent a combined total of 70 years in India’s border region adjacent to the border with Afghanistan. The father spent most of his time working with Baluch tribes while the son was involved with the more unruly Pashtun—or Pathan, as Bruce called them—tribes. Between these two men, a wide variety of recommendations were recorded in their two books. They both believed that the way to successful management of the tribes involved the engaging of the tribes in their own governance, or "control from within," and this remains excellent advice for anyone working with the Pashtun tribes during the 21st Century.
The father, Richard I. Bruce, served as a political agent in Baluchistan and during his lengthy service among the tribes, he saw numerous opportunities for making progress. He wrote about one important observation:
"…the forward movements on the Northern frontier appear to lack the essential principle, the carrying of the tribes with us."

The senior Bruce appears to have defined the major problem facing American and Coalition forced now caught up in the heavy labor involved in trying to stabilize Afghanistan. Like Richard Bruce, the newly involved are discovering that the tribes, once again, have not been carried along with their efforts.
Bruce’s son had the benefit of his father’s great amount of experience along the Afghan border and built on this with 35 years of his own among the tribes. His book on Waziristan provides excellent insights into the difficulties involved in dealing with the unruly Pashtun tribes that were arguably far more difficult to manage than were the Baluch tribes in his father’s experience. The younger Bruce realized that there were major differences between the two large tribally-based ethnic groups and provided some good advice in 1937.
First, the Baluch and Pashtuns accepted governance differently. In the case of the Baluch, the elder Bruce could always find someone who was a natural leader within each tribe or subtribe with whom he could approach and negotiate—or threaten with military reprisals for misbehavior. His opposite number in often tense negotiations was frequently a natural leader with the authority to speak for, if not actually command obedience, the entire tribe. In the case of the Baluch tribes, the people accept rule from a single ruler in a "top-down" form of rule that is not encountered within the more egalitarian Pashtun tribes.
The Pashtun ethnic group’s tribes are very different when compared to the Baluch and are governed through a "bottom-up" arrangement in which village elders are involved in the governing of the tribe. The tribe’s "chief" is actually more a "first among equals" who governs through the assistance of a jirga, or tribal council, where decisions are made by groups of tribal elders who are frequently supported by some form of internal tribal militia force. The younger Bruce encountered far more difficult situations with the warlike Pashtun tribes that, as often as not, fought among themselves instead of against external enemies in feuds sanctioned by the "badal," or revenge, component of their social code, Pashtunwali.
The problems for political agents like the younger Bruce were compounded dramatically when a tribe’s low-ranking mullahs were able to convince their "congregations" that "outsiders" were becoming a threat to the entire tribe’s security and were an equal, if not greater, threat to Islam, itself. The tribal wars that resulted were difficult to prevent and harder to negotiate endings once started as there were few key secular leaders, the maliks, available with authority that outweighed the emotional control established over tribal lashkars, or war parties, by the charismatic mullahs.
After 35 years of experience that was combined with what was learned from his father’s time on India’s frontier, C. E. Bruce was well-prepared with recommendations. Some of the key observations in his book are worth a close review:

This is excellent advice for those now involved in the latest chapter of the Great Game that is being played out in Central and South Asia.

                                    2013 - Tribal Analysis Center

Bruce, Richard I. The Forward Policy and Its Results. London: Longman, Green, and Company, 1900, p. 5.