More Thrills than Skills – A Half-life in Journalism, Part 80

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More Thrills than Skills: A Half-life in Journalism’, is being scheduled for publication next year.

All the tribes in these parts live according to Pukhtunwali law: nobody else’s law is accepted in the tribal territories. The British regarded the Pathans as the most noble of foes and their warlike qualities were said to be on a par with those of the Ghurkas and the Maoris. As recently as 1935, General Auchinleck found himself leading 30,000 troops against the Mohmands. For months on end, they held off the Indian Army and the bi-planes of the RAF with their skilled tactics of guerilla warfare.

The British finally admitted their inability to rule the Pathans and allowed them autonomy within the tribal areas – which also acted as a buffer zone between the British Empire and Russian interests which were even then expanding into Afghanistan. However, it was agreed that the British should retain control over the road links and especially the road up the Khyber Pass. But just one hundred yards off the road, tribal law took over. From time to time, the Brits would mount punitive expeditions after some tribal outrage . . .