National Geographic : 1946 Apr
South of Khyber Pass BY MAYNARD OWEN WILLIAMS With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author NEAR the northern tip of kite-shaped India is Khyber Pass, through which culture, conquest, and commerce came to Hindustan. To the west are mountains and deserts. To the east the Himalayas, "abode of snow," stretch like a wall. Through the famous Pass camels file between awakening Asia and its most populous peninsula, India. Border geography is confusing because neither Afghanistan nor the Government of India usually asserts its authority in tribal territory. Starting from settled areas on the Indian side, one can pass into and through tribal territory over four main roads, along which the laws of India are enforced. The first-the famous Khyber Pass-is based at Peshawar and reaches to Landi Khana, near the Afghan border. The second, based at Kohat, extends to Thal and the orchard valley of Parachinar. The third stretches from Bannu to Miram Shah and Dattakhel; the fourth, from Dera Ismail Khan to Tank, Jandola, and Wana. South of Khyber Pass the laws of India are enforced in the four frontier districts of Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu, and Dera Ismail Khan.* In each of these districts the princi pal town has the same name. Mortised into these settled areas, along saw-toothed lines set by crag and valley, armored-car route and ambush rock, are the Political Agencies of Khyber (Tribal Areas), Kurram, North Waziristan, and South Waziri stan, where the King's law is enforced on the highway, tribal law in the hills. Threats of Invasion At times India could not control the routes, and invading hordes have poured in. During World War II, when India was again threatened with invasion, the British strengthened their border forces. They also successfully overcame the influence of profes sional agitators using Axis funds to spread unrest along the border. In a settled area, an adventurous visitor may walk through the fields. In a tribal area he sticks to the King's Highway or is con sidered an outlaw. Naturally, the authorities do not encourage reckless wanderings across this stern stage. From the Khyber to South Waziristan, I watched the thrilling game of nerve and pa- tience between Civil Service experts and tribal chiefs, not from the side lines but in the thick of it. My route through the North-West Frontier Province, large as Kentucky, led from Pesha war up the Khyber and back, thence south to Kohat, Bannu, Miram Shah, Razmak, Jan dola, Wana, and Tank. These are meaning less names to many, but outposts of empire for which many a good Britisher has given his life. A Keeper of the Peace Few maps show which regions are tribal territory and which are settled areas. But when a tribesman enters a settled area he parks his gun. If the men I met off the high way bore guns, I was a fair target and a burden on the conscience of His Excellency Sir George Cunningham, K.C.S.I., Governor of the North-West Frontier Province, on whom be peace! For years he has striven for that end. But for him, this tale could not be told. The Durand Line,** which separates India from Afghanistan, does not separate Indians from Afghans.t It is the stony backbone of a Pushtu-speaking area, north of which the tribesmen are loosely grouped as "Afghans" and south of which their tribal cousins are loosely called "Pathans." A border which neither government can ade quately defend, this artificial frontier favors shifty tribesman more than it does ordered government. Afghan or Pathan can follow his enemy across the line and try to kill him. If the fighting gets too tough, he can retreat into home territory in the hope of avoiding pursuit. I heard no hint of extradition. Europeans live in cantonments, inside a perimeter of barbed wire. In the native bazaars, dark-eyed hillmen listen for gossip of rich cargoes that may pass where a man with a well-trained trigger finger can take his toll (page 487). Nine miles beyond Peshawar, where plain * See Map Supplement, "India and Burma," in this issue of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE. ** In 1893 a British mission to Kabul, headed by Sir Mortimer Durand, set up by direct negotiation with the Amir the political boundary between India and Afghanistan. Details were later worked out by a joint Anglo-Afghan Commission. t See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Afghanistan Makes Haste Slowly," by Maynard Owen Williams, December, 1933.