Hostages on the Indo-Afghan border in the later nineteenth century

Beattie, Hugh (2015). Hostages on the Indo-Afghan border in the later nineteenth century. Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 43(4) pp. 557–569.



This paper look at some of the strategies employed by British administrators to control the highly independent Mahsuds, one of the principal tribes of Waziristan, during the later 19th century. It focuses in particular on an innovative scheme introduced in 1873 for keeping a number of hostages in British territory. The British hoped that, as well as giving them more influence over the tribe, this would persuade them to adopt more peaceful ways. In 1878 it was replaced by a plan to settle some 200 Mahsud families in British territory. This was not a success, and the hostage arrangements were revived in a modified form in 1882 (this time an effort was made to use the hostages as a kind of tribal police), before being finally abandoned towards the end of the decade. The paper shows how Macaulay’s hostage schemes accustomed the British to the idea that each year money should be spent on the Mahsuds, so presaging the later distribution of allowances to the tribe as a whole. Keeping the hostages did help the administrators to manage the Mahsuds more effectively, but failed to persuade them to adopt the customs and values of Britain and British India. The hostage schemes were nevertheless good examples of the kind of ‘cultural agility’ advocated in recent years by counterinsurgency experts.

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