AAS Annual Meeting

South Asia Session 381

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Session 381: Governance and Authority in the North-West Frontier: Past and Present Histories of Power and Resistance- Sponsored by American Institute of Pakistan Studies

Organizer: Robert H. Nichols, Stockton University, USA

Discussant: David Gilmartin, North Carolina State University, USA

The papers on this panel take up the north-west frontier to explore questions of colonial control, Islamic identity and resistance, and social change in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Even before the frontier districts came under direct or indirect British administration, there was a constant struggle to establish a steady and legitimate regime of command. Alternative religious identities and beliefs contested for authority. In many instances, the costs associated with controlling the frontier exceeded the financial benefits that could ever be reaped. And yet, the imperative of defending the north-west gateway to India from foreign invasion made the frontier a site of enduring political and military importance. The notion that the "wild and turbulent tribes" demanded a peculiar form of governance led to the passage of special laws for special circumstances, two of which are examined in the papers of Ben Hopkins and Elizabeth Kolsky. Sana Haroon examines the enduring Islamist vision and legacy of Sayyid Ahmed Brelvi. Taking a view from Swat Valley, Robert Nichols explores the dynamics of state power and local resistance, especially in the recent post-colonial period. David Gilmartin is discussant.

To Burn or Not to Burn?: "Murderous Outrages" and Colonial Control on India’s North-West Frontier
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In 1867, the Governor General in Council passed “The Punjab Murderous Outrages Act,” an exceptional piece of legislation designed to control the murder or attempted murder of servants of the Queen and “other persons” in certain districts of the Punjab. Generally, a murderous outrage involved the murder of non-Muslims (often British military officers) by Muslims who were interchangeably referred to as fanatics or ghazas. In 1901, in connection with the formation of the North-West Frontier Province, the Punjab Act was superseded by the Frontier Murderous Outrages Regulation. Among the many extraordinary features of the law was the provision that any fanatic killed in the act of committing an “outrage” or executed by the state would have his body disposed of as the state saw fit. Since the 1860s, the favored, culturally significant method of disposal was to burn the corpse. The logic and rhetoric that framed the murderous outrages legislation had roots in other historical contexts (including Ireland) that will be examined in this paper. In addition, I will explore the moral and political issues raised in the enactment and implementation of the law, many of which have pressing contemporary relevance. Was (is) it just to use terror to control terror? Could knowledge about the religious beliefs and customs of subject populations be effectively mobilized to design forms of punishment that would control the spread of religio-political extremism? What does the suspension of ordinary law and its replacement by extraordinary law tell us about the modern state and its rule of law?

Governing by "tradition": The Frontier Crimes Regulation and Imperial Governance in the NWFP
Ben Hopkins, George Washington University, USA

From the invention of British imperial authority along the North-West Frontier, subjects were divided between the ‘civilized’ inhabitants populating the cultivated plains and the ‘wild tribesmen’ living in the hills. The problem of governing this latter group, ‘independent tribes’ who were nevertheless considered imperial subjects, proved a vexed one for both the British Raj and independent Pakistan. The mechanism developed by imperial administrators to govern the frontiersmen was the Frontier Crimes Regulation, first passed in 1872 and still in effect along the Frontier today. The FCR was designed to exclude the Frontier’s inhabitants from the colonial judiciary, and more broadly the colonial sphere, and instead encapsulate them in their own colonially-sanctioned ‘tradition’. This paper explores the use of the FCR as an instrument of governance from its first incarnation in 1872 into the twentieth century, arguing it was key to shaping the nature of frontier rule.

Reconsidering the Legacies of the Early Nineteenth-Century Jihad of Sayyid Ahmed Shaheed
Sana Haroon, Yale University, USA

The story of Sayyid Ahmed Shaheed who led a jihad against the Sikhs in the Pashtun north-west in 1826-31 is widely known and is often referenced as a moment of unusual and transformative political organization and mobilization by Muslims, but primarily for the claims made by W. W. Hunter, entitled The Indian Musalmans in his 1872 pamphlet defining a ‘Wahhabi’ imperative as underlying Muslim militarism before and during the anti-British uprisings of 1857. Following in this trend, popular accounts of Sayyid Ahmed’s movement have remained focused on Sayyid Ahmed as a jihadi, and Sayyid Ahmed’s death on the battle field in the Pakhtun North-West is understood to be the end of his movement and the failure of his scheme. I propose an alternative to this view by considering the ways in which Sayyid Ahmed both taught the principles of mystical devotionalism in simplified and easily transmitted terms, and disassociated community based practice and the interrogation of the Quran and the hadith from the authority of ulama of Noth Indian madrassas. Thinking about the manner in which Sayyid Ahmed’s teachings intellectually rationalized and structured community-based religious practice allows us to look beyond the violence, vitriol and short life of the movement, and consider instead the ideas, pedagogies and notions of authority which it introduced.

Class, State, and Power in Swat Conflict
Robert H. Nichols, Stockton University, USA

In the literature on Swat, social and political power has been argued to rest in competing lineages and factions and in hierarchies of socio-economic status and class. The role of the state, during the Swat State period (1915-69), then later, after the merger with Pakistan, has tended to buttress established interests even as religious resistance has empowered activism among a range of participants. One argument of this paper is that evidence from the recent period supports analysis that while political Islamic agendas have motivated many, the dynamics of a wider social movement in a Muslim society best describes the mobilization of much local and regional ‘jihadi’ activism in Swat. A second argument is that deployment of centralizing state power has recently challenged previous hierarchies of lineage, faction, class, and political party.