The NorthWest Frontier Province National Congress

This diary is about the mountainous region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which Sen. Obama has identified as being the central front in the war on terror.  This region is called NWFP: the North West Frontier Province.  It is a troubled is a land without hope.

It was not always so!

And, in order to understand the current problems, it behooves us to go back and visit the era when these problems were created, and to the era when this land had hope, and to when this hope was extinguished.

The Durand line

The genesis of modern problems can be traced back to the Anglo-Afghan conflicts of the late 1800s.  The British had managed to conquer India with relative ease, but had been massacred in their initial attempts to conquer the Pashtuns (only 1 British solider, from about 15000 survived the first battle).  Thus, the British settled on a policy divide, and rule by proxy.. ultimately leading to the imposition on the Afghans of the Durand line... which deliberately and meticulously separated the Pashtuns into two.  The British portion of the Pashtun land became known as the NorthWest Frontier Province.

The Government of India Act of 1935

The act created a central parliament in Delhi, with two chambers.  In both chambers there were elected and appointed members.  The elected members were all Indians.  Of the seats, 250 were reserved for Indian constituencies and 125 for the Indian princes.

India was divided into 11 provinces, each of which had a legislative assembly and a provincial government.  The provinces would control almost all policies, with the exception of defence and foreign affairs.  The Leglistative assemblies would be mostly Indian.

Each province would have an appointed governor, who retained the power to act in an emergency, for example to protect the interest of minorities, or maintain alw and order.

The viceroy would still be appointed by the British government at Westminster and would be responsible for defence and foreign affairs.  But the viceroy would have to follow the advice of an executive committee (a committee of adviers), the members of which were mostly Indian.  

The act kept the idea of communal represenatations, and so some seats were reserved for Muslims and other groups.  Altogethre, 938 seats out of 1525 were reserved for minorities.

In early 1900s, the nationalistic movement in India was led by the Indian National Congress.  Fearful of an eventual democracy that would, undoubtedly, be led by Hindus (who formed the majority), the Muslim League demanded various concessions for minority rights.  These demands (called the 14 points of Jinnah) was mostly accepted by the British in the Government of India Act of 1935 As a result of this act, elections were held under a system of "separate electorates" ~ everyone voted for one set of legislators, and whereby Muslims voted for Muslim representatives who were to be no less than 33% of all legislators.

Interestingly, the Muslim league did well only with the Muslim electorate in regions where the Muslims were a substantial minority within a Hindu majority.  In regions with a large Hindu majority, and in regions with a large Muslim majority, the Indian National Congress (which represented the "nationalistic" movement for a secular India) did well.  Overall, the Congress won a majority of all seats, and a majority in 7 out of the 11 provinces ~ even though it did not contest the Muslim seats.

And, within that list of provinces won by the Congress was... the NorthWest Frontier Province.

In 1937, the NWFP had hope, and it embodied those hopes by voting for the party of Gandhi.  The first Chief Minister of NWFP was an ally of Gandhi and shared his hopes and dreams.  All that ended in 1947, when the NWFP ended up in Pakistan as a result of partition.


So what caused the famous partition of 1947 ?

The government of India Act of 1935 had gone as far as possible in granting local power without granting complete Home Rule.  The Indian National Congress, however, rejected the act because of the provision of separate electorates.  It considered the principle of a "joint electorate" on par with a truth that is so self evident that it does not require any justification.

The Congress won a working majority in 7 out of 11 provinces.  The Muslim League won only 5 percent of the total Muslim vote, and only 22 percent of the seats reserved for Muslims.  Thus, the Muslim league was not in a position to form a government anywhere, and it was hoping for a "coalition government" with the Congress party.  The Congress, however, was in no mood for a coalition with the Muslim league ~ after all, the Muslim league had failed to win even the Muslim votes.  Secondly, the Conress party wanted to create a strong, and unified India...whereas the Muslim league was for a weak federal state where minority could rule provinces.

The Muslim league was not given any cabinet positions.  This rejection was the genesis of Pakistan.


Sen. Obama is up against a mountainous a mountainous region that has been tossed asunder by history several times.  It's last best hope was when it voted for Gandhi in 1937.  That hope was crushed in short order.

I do not believe Sen. Obama can conjure up anything comparable to 1937!

Tags: NWFP, pakistan (all tags)



Oh, I forgot to include this bit..

The party that won the NWFP elections was actually called the Frontier National Congress... it was allied with the Indian National Congress.

by SevenStrings 2008-07-30 04:09PM | 0 recs
Re: The NorthWest Frontier Province National Congr

Another excellent informative diary.

However to this point.

I do not believe Sen. Obama can conjure up anything comparable to 1937!

My question given what you've written and my admitted limited knowledge of he region. Could anybody conjure up anything to give us or the region hope?

by jsfox 2008-07-30 04:22PM | 0 recs
Re: The NorthWest Frontier Province National Congr


The region needs a lot of time, and a lot of space.... mere mortals like us are incapable of accelerating the pace of history !!

by SevenStrings 2008-07-30 04:28PM | 0 recs
Some additional comments, sources

The region and its history is fascinating.  Alexander the Great even had an impact on part of the area.  The Durand line and Britain's interests in this area were related to providing a buffer between greater India and the states within Russian control.  The struggle for control between the two world powers is sometimes referred to as the Great Game.  An interesting detailed read on this is by Peter Hopkirk.

Note that the Brits did not even want greater India (incl. the future Pakistan) to border Russian controlled states in the highest mountains.  So Afghanistan has a peculiar appendix in the NE that borders China.

The Durand line cut through the heart of the area heavily populated by Pashtun speaking tribes.  Sometimes people speak of a cultural area or an area of political aspiration - Pashtunistan.

The first chief minister of NWFP was not only an ally of Gandhi but his younger brother Abdul Ghaffar Khan was also a leader of a non-violent resistance movement among the people around NWFP.  He was also known as the Frontier Gandhi.  The suffering his followers endured was often much more brutal than what Gandhi's movement suffered.  There is an excellent book, short and very readable, that helps understand the history and culture of these people, A Man to Match His Mountains.

By siding with Gandhi's party, many Pashtun leaders like the Khans spent time in prison in the new Pakistan.

And now, while the Taliban don't exactly hold a siege on Peshawar, the people of that city are feeling the pressure.  Many working professionals who never had much use for weaponry feel now compelled to buy AK-47s.  Peshawar is one of the major cities of Pakistan and the one that is on the route to Afghanistan.

The NYT describes a little of the problem.

by Satya 2008-07-30 06:59PM | 0 recs


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