North-West Frontier Province - Encyclopedia

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NORTH-WEST FRONTIER PROVINCE, the most northerly province of British India, created on the 25th of October 1901. Roughly it may be defined as the tract of country N. of Baluchistan, lying between the Indus and Afghanistan. More exactly it consists of (1) the cis-Indus district of Hazara; (2) the comparatively narrow strip between the Indus and the hills constituting the settled districts of Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan; and (3) the rugged mountainous region between these districts and the borders of Afghanistan, which is inhabited by independent tribes. This last region is divided into five agencies: Dir, Swat and Chitral, with headquarters at Malakand; Khyber, Kurram, Tochi and Wana. The province lies between 31° 4' and 36° 57' N., and 69° 16' and 74° 7' E. The approximate area is 38,665 sq. m., of which 13,193 sq. m. are British territory and the remainder is held by tribes under the political control of the Agent to the Governor-General. On the N. it abuts on the Hindu Kush. To the S. it is bounded by Baluchistan and Dera Ghazi Khan district of the Punjab, on the E. by Kashmir and the Punjab, and on the W. by Afghanistan.

Table of contents

1. Hazara District

The district of Hazara extends northeastwards into the outer Himalayan Range, tapering to a narrow point at the head of the Kagan valley. The mountain chains which enclose Kagan sweep southward into the broader portion of the district, throwing off well-wooded spurs which break up the country into numerous isolated glens. Approaching Rawalpindi district the hills open out, and rich plain lands take the place of the terraced hillsides and forests of the more northern uplands. The Babusar Pass at the head of the Kagan valley marks the most direct approach to Chilas and Gilgit from the plains of India. (See Hazara).

2. The Settled Districts

The tract between the Indus and the hills consists of four open districts, Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan, divided one from the other by low hills. The vale of Peshawar is for the most part highly irrigated and well wooded, presenting in the spring and autumn a picture of waving cornfields and smiling orchards framed by rugged hills. It has, however, an evil name for malarial fever. Adjoining Peshawar, and separated from it by the Jowaki hills, lies the district of Kohat, a generally hilly tract intersected by narrow valleys. The largest of these traverses the district from Kushalgarh on the Indus to Thal on the Kurram, narrowing in places, but usually opening out into wide cornlands and pastures dotted with the dwarf palm. This district affords striking contrasts of scenery, from the sheltered fields of Miranzai to the barren desolation of the salt mines. The southern spurs of the Kohat hills gradually subside into the Bannu plain. Where irrigated from the Kurram river, especially round Bannu itself, this tract is well cultivated and forms a great contrast to the harsh desolation of the Kohat hills. But beyond the sphere of irrigation, where the land is dependent on the rainfall, there is much rough stony ground broken by great fissures cut by flood-water from the border hills. To the east this gives way to the broad level plain of Marwat, which in favourable years presents a uniform expanse of rich cultivation extending from Lakki to the base of the Shekh Budin hills. These hills consist of a broken range of sandstone and conglomerate dividing the Bannu plain from the cultivated flats of Dera Ismail Khan.

3. The Country of the Independent Tribes. - Turning to the mountainous region between the settled districts and Afghanistan, to the extreme north lies the agency of Dir, Swat and Chitral. Chitral itself consists of a narrow valley enclosed between rugged mountains. Below Chitral are found the thickly timbered forests of Dir and Bajour, and the fertile y valles of the Panjkora and Swat rivers. Between this agency and the Khyber Pass lie the Mohmand hills, a rough country with but little cultivation, under the political control of Peshawar. West and south-west of the Khyber again is the country of the Afridis and the Orakzais. The boundary of the province here follows the line of the Safed Koh, which overlooks the Afridi Tirah and the upper Kurram valley. Dotted with towered hamlets and stately chinas groves the valley of the Kurram runs south-east from the Peiwar Kotal (below the great peak of Sikaram), past Thal in the Miranzai valley, through the southern Kohat hills to Bannu. South of the Kurram is the Tochi valley, separating it from Waziristan, an isolated mountainous district bounded on the south by the Gomal and the gorges that lead to the Wana plain. The lower ridges of the frontier mountain system are usually bare and treeless, but here and there, as in the Kaitu valley, in northern Waziristan and round Kaniguram in the south, are forest clad and enclose narrow but fertile and well-irrigated dales. In places, too, as, for instance, round Shawal, the summer grazing ground of the Darwesh Khel Waziris, aria on the slopes of Pir Ghol, there is good pasturage and a fair sprinkling of deodars. The valleys of the Tochi and Wana are both fertile, but are very different in character. The former is a long narrow valley, with a rich fringe of cultivation bordering the river; the latter is a wide open alluvial plain, cultivated only on one side, and for the rest rough stony waste. South of the Gomal the Suliman Range culminates in the famous Takht-iSuliman in the Largha Sherani country, a political dependency of Dera Ismail Khan district. The Kaisargarh peak of the Takht-iSuliman is II,300 ft. above sea-level.

Mountain Systems

The mountains of the Hindu Kush running from east to west form the northern boundary of the province, and are met at the north-east corner of the Chitral agency by the continuation of an outer chain of the Himalayas after it crosses the Indus above the Kagan valley. From this chain minor ranges run in a south-westerly direction the whole length of Bajour and Swat, till they merge into the Mohmand hills and connect the mid-Himalayas with the Safed Koh. The range of the Safed Koh flanks the Kurram valley and encloses the Kabul basin, which finds its outlet to the Indus through the Mohmand hills. The Suliman system lies south of the Gomal unconnected with the northern hills. To the east the Safed Koh extends its spurs into the Kohat district. The Salt Range crosses the Indus in the Mianwali tahsil of the Punjab, and forms the boundary between Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan, merging eventually in the Waziri hills. The chief peaks in the province are Kaisargarh (11,300 ft.) and Pir Ghol (11,580 ft.) in Waziristan; Shekh Budin (4516 ft.), in the small range; Sikaram (15,621 ft.) in the Safed Koh; Istragh (18,900 ft.), Kachin (22,641 ft.) and Tirach Mir (25,426 ft.), in the Hindu Kush on the northern border of the Chitral agency; while the Kagan peaks in Hazara district run from 10,000 ft. to 16,700 ft.


With the exception of the Kunhar river, which flows down the Kagan valley to the Jhelum, the whole drainage of the province eventually finds its way into the Indus. The Indus enters the province between tribal territory and Hazara district. After leaving Hazara it flows in a southerly direction between the Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province, till it enters Mianwali district of the Punjab, from which it emerges to form again the eastern boundary of the province. From the east it is fed by three or four rivers of Hazara district (see Indus). At Attock the Kabul river brings down to the Indus the whole drainage of Kafiristan, Chitral, Panjkora, Swat and Peshawar district (see Kabul River). The Kurram river rises in the southern slopes of the Safed Koh, and after leaving the Kurram valley passes through the Kohat hills and enters Bannu district. Three miles below Lakki it is joined by the Tochi or Gambela, which carries the drainage of North Waziristan. The Kurram then empties itself into the Indus. From this point until it leaves the province the Indus receives no tributary of any importance. The Gomal river drains a large area of central Afghanistan and forms the most important povindah (or Kafila) route on the frontier.

The Pathan Races

The North-West Frontier Province as now constituted may be described as the country of the Pathans (q.v.). The true Pathan is possibly of Indian extraction. But around this nucleus have collected many tribes of foreign origin. The whole have now become blended by the adoption of a common language, but remain tribally distinct; all alike have accepted Islam, and have invented traditions of common descent which express their present association. For centuries these tribes maintained their independence in the rugged hills which flank the present kingdom of Afghanistan. In the 15th century they began to settle in the plains. The 16th century saw the Pathan tribes established in their present homes. The spirit of independence which always characterized them soon brought them into collision with the Mogul empire. In the 17th century, after a long struggle, the settlers in the plains wrested from Aurangzeb terms which left them almost as independent as their brothers in the hills. The invasion in 1738 of Nadir Shah, who traversed the province from Peshawar to Dera Ismail Khan, is a landmark in the history of the frontier. From his death to the rise of Ranjit Singh, the frontier districts remained an appendage of the Durani empire. Little control was exercised by the rulers of Kabul, and the country was administered by local chiefs or Afghan Sirdars very much as they pleased. The Sikh invasions began in 1818, and from that date to the annexation by the British government the Sikhs were steadily making themselves masters of the country. After the Second Sikh War, by the proclamation of the 29th of March 1849, the frontier districts were annexed by the British government. From that time until the creation of the North-West Frontier Province the settled districts formed part of the Punjab, while the independent tribes were controlled at different times by the Punjab government, and the government of India. Their turbulence still continued, and since 1849 they have been the object of over fifty punitive expeditions. The chief tribes, under the political control of the N.W. Frontier agency, besides Chitralis and Bajouris, are the Utman Khel, Yusafzais, Hassanzais, Mohmands, Afridis, Jowakis, Mullagoris, Orakzais, Zaimukhts, Chamkannis, Khattaks, Bangashes, Turis, Waziris, Battannis (Bhitanis) and Sheranis. These tribes are referred to under separate headings.

Creation of the Province

The North-West Frontier Province differs from the older provinces of India in having been artificially built up out of part of a previous province together with new districts for a definite administrative purpose. The proposal to make the frontier districts into a separate province, administered by an officer of special experience, dates back to the viceroyalty of Lord Lytton, who, in a famous minute of the 22nd of April 1877, said: "I believe that our North-West Frontier presents at this moment a spectacle unique in the world; at least I know of no other spot where, after 25 years of peaceful occupation, a great civilized power has obtained so little influence over its semi-savage neighbours, and acquired so little knowledge of them, that the country within a day's ride of its most important garrison is an absolute terra incognita, and that there is absolutely no security for British life a mile or two beyond our border." The result of this minute was that a frontier commissionership, including Sind, was sanctioned by the home government, and Sir Frederick (afterwards Lord) Roberts had been designated as the first Commissioner, when the outbreak of the Second Afghan War caused the project to be postponed. It was afterwards shelved by Lord Ripon. Twenty-three years elapsed before the idea was revived and successfully brought to completion by Lord Curzon, whose scheme was on a more modest scale than Lord Lytton's. It omitted Sind altogether, and confined the new province to the Pathan trans-Indus districts north of the Gomal. The purpose of the change was to subject all the independent tribes from Chitral to the Gomal Pass to the control of a single hand, and to ensure a firm and continuous policy in their management. The administration of the province is conducted by a chief Commissioner and Agent to the GovernorGeneral.


In the census of 1901 the operations were extended for the first time to the Kurram Valley and the Sherani country, trans-frontier territories containing a population of 66,628 souls, which had not been previously enumerated. The military cantonments and posts in Malakand, Dir, Swat and Chitral were also enumerated, as were those in the Tochi Valley (the Northern Waziristan Agency) and in the Gomal (the Southern Waziristan Agency), the former figures being included in the census returns of Bannu district, and those of the latter in the returns of Dera Ismail Khan. The total population of the province was 2,125,480; but this figure omits the great majority of the frontier tribes. The province is almost wholly agricultural. The urban population is only one-eighth of the total, and shows no tendency to increase. There are no large industries to attract the population to the towns; these, except Peshawar and Dera Ismail Khan, are either expansions of large agricultural villages or bazaars which have grown up round the many cantonments of the province. The great majority of the population are Pathan by race and Mahommedan by religion. The predominant language is Pushtu. The conquered strata of the population speak servile Indian dialects, called Hindki in the north and Jatki in the south, while Gujari is spoken by the large Gujar population in the hills of Hazara and north of Peshawar.

Crops and Climate

The area under cultivation represents an average of 1.3 acres per head of thy total, and of nearly 1.5 acres per head of the rural population. Tile limit of profitable cultivation has almost been reached. It is therefore from an improvement in the methods of agriculture rather than to an extension of the area under cultivation that recourse must be had to supply the needs of a rapidly increasing population. The Pathan, however, is a slovenly cultivator and slow to adopt any new methods which involve increased effort. The principal crops are - in the cold weather, maize and bajra; in the spring, wheat, barley and gram. Rice and sugar-cane are largely grown on the irrigated lands of Hazara, Peshawar and Bannu districts, and the well and canal irrigated tracts of Peshawar district produce fine crops of cotton and tobacco. In the trans-border agencies the valleys of the Swat, Kurram and Tochi rivers yield abundant rice crops. The province is mainly a mountainous region, but includes the Peshawar valley and the broad riverain tract of the Indus in Dera Ismail Khan district. The climatic conditions are hence extremely diversified. Dera Ismail Khan district is one of the hottest areas in the Indian continent, while over the mountain region to the north the weather is temperate in the summer and intensely cold in the winter. The air is generally dry, and hence the daily and annual range of temperature is frequently very large. There are two seasons of rainfall over the province: the monsoon season, when supplies of moisture are brought up by the ocean winds from the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal; and the winter season, when storms advancing eastwards from Persia and the Caspian districts occasion winds, widespread rain and snowfall. Both sources of supply are precarious, and instances are not infrequent of the almost entire failure of either the winter or the summer rainfall.


Canals are the main source of irrigation in the province, and fall under three heads: (I) Private canals in the various districts, the property of the people and managed on their behalf; (2) the Michni Dilazak and Shabkadar branch in Peshawar, constructed by the district board, which receives water rates; and (3) the Swat and Kabul river canals, which were constructed by and are the property of government, and are managed by the irrigation department.

About 20% of the cultivated area is irrigated by canals, 2% by wells and 3% by perennial streams. Throughout the province the area in which well-cultivation is possible is extremely limited, and the field has already been covered. In Kohat and Hazara any considerable extension of canal irrigation is out of the question, but in the remaining districts much can still be done to promote irrigation.


The railways of the province are mostly intended in the first instance for strategic purposes. The main line of the NorthWestern railway runs from Rawalpindi to Peshawar, whence it has been extended 9 m. to Jamrud at the entrance to the Khyber Pass. From Nowshera a frontier light line, involving a break of gauge, is carried to Dargai at the foot of the Malakand Pass. From Rawalpindi again another branch extends to the Indus at Kushalgarh. A bridge has been built at this point, and the railway continued through Kohat to Thal at the entrance of the Kurram valley.

See North-West Frontier Province Gazetteer (Calcutta, 1908); Sir Thomas Holdich, The Indian Borderland (1901) Paget and Mason, Record of Frontier Expeditions (1884). (T. H. H.*)

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