The men who made North-West Frontier By Charles Ailen

Soldier Sahibs, The Men Who Made North-West Frontier is an interesting book by John Murray Publications Ltd first published in 2000. This book has 384 pages and is an interesting read.  The author has made an outstanding attempt to understand the extraordinary yet short life of his distant relative amidst most testing times for the British Empire in India. The author has well narrated the tale of the conquest of the wild North West by young men under the remarkable Henry Lawrence.  The reader can feel a deep sense of romanticism as he discovers the life of a lone Victorian hero, surrounded by hordes of wild tribesmen.   During the Victorian era the British after having a series of guerilla wars with Sikhs eventually captured the areas which are today Pakistan’s Punjab and Khyber Pakhtoon Khwa.  The Bengal regiment was one of the three regiments of the army of the British East India Company.  The rise of the Bengal regiment in terms of strength and man power had been pivotal in this conquest.  The East India Company as a result of this conquest was further encouraged to prepare for the Great Game in the late 1840’s. The officers of the Bengal Army not only conquered and subdued the locals with brute force but at times also facilitated them with excellent governance and statesmanship. During this time the officers attempted to build a smooth executive system based on peace and justice to create a sense of attachment with the local population.  John Nicholson, Herbert Edwards, Harry Lumsden and James Abbot were young experienced soldiers with a sense of purpose under the influence of Henry Lawrence. James Abbot become endearing to the people of Hazara region consequently the city of Abbotabad was named after him. This young man organized the Hazara tribes and encouraged them to fight and defeat the Sikhs in the region.  James Abbot received so much love from the locals that his high officials in Lahore thought that he had become a native of the region.  Similarly the protagonist of the narrative young John Nicholson was the first deputy commissioner of Peshawar who strived hard to ensure peace and justice in the region.  He being a disciplinarian was exactly the perfect man to understand the psyche of the Pathan tribes.  While reading his narrative the reader gets the impression that the wild soul of young John Nicholson had lodged in the hearts and rugged minds of the Pashtoon tribesmen. There are moments when the reader discovers that he loathed the tribesmen. Conversely there are incidents where Nicholson seems to be admiring the tribesmen just like the father of a spoiled teenager.  Nicholson’s despite being accurate in looking after the state of affairs had a heavy handed style which eventually acquired him the status of a saint. One particular Hindu sect began considering him a saint and therefore at one point in time he had to stop members of this sect from worshiping him.  The fact that these young men were not evangelicals had been overlooked in others books focusing on that particular era. Despite being men of strong Christian faith they did not undermine people of other faiths. John Nicolson and others from the North West proved their mettle at the time of the mutiny of the Indian army in 1857.  These men came to the rescue of the leading British rag ta by hastily organizing troops consisting of not so recent enemies like Sikhs and Northern Muslims. John Nicolson and Major Hudson came across some of the most competent, ruthless and brutal British commanders. These commanders through their personal strength and character led the British through the critical phase of mutiny followed by the recapture of Delhi by the British army.  Therefore John Nicholson was indeed a man who had the ability to face crisis.  Nicholson and his fellow deputy commissioner gave foremost importance to the welfare of the citizens subjected to the British rule regardless of their creed or cast.  In short the British colonialism despite of all its austerity had a strong touch of parental concern towards the citizens subjected to the British raj (rule).  This book is indeed highly informative and well researched being a perfect read to understand dynamics of the region with regards to the current geopolitical situation of the tribal areas.


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