Irksome and Unpopular Duties: Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, Local Security Forces, and Counterinsurgency
The growing role of irregular security units such as the Afghan Local Police (ALP) has sparked fresh interest in the subject of community-based defense forces and counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. Seeking lessons that seem applicable in the Afghan context, analysts are exploring cases ranging from the Civilian Irregular Defense Group in Vietnam, to the Sons of Iraq. Policy specialists are also examining potential roles for state-sanctioned but less-structured local forces in addressing emerging security challenges in settings beyond Afghanistan.
However, a particularly relevant case has received relatively little analytical scrutiny. Across the border in Pakistan, government authorities have, since the late 19th century, organized, trained, equipped and paid Pashtun tribesmen to provide local security. The Frontier Corps (FC) is the most prominent of these groups. Under the British, the Frontier Corps was an instrument in a wider system of indirect imperial control. Since independence in 1947, Pakistan has employed the Frontier Corps to police the Afghan border and tribal areas and in so doing, has helped free up the army to prepare for conventional military operations. This primary purpose of this paper is to provide historical and contemporary context for analysts, practitioners, and decision-makers who focus on local security structures in conflict and post-conflict environments. This paper is divided into four sections. The first section gives a brief overview of the FC in British-controlled India. The second section considers the Frontier Corps during and after the 1947 partition of India and the founding of Pakistan.
The third section examines the contemporary roles, missions, and functions of them Frontier Corps and assesses its capabilities and performance. The concluding section presents some general thoughts on how the FC experience can help inform ongoing local security initiatives in Afghanistan. Before beginning, a note on sources: As is the case with all of Pakistan’s security forces, there is little open-source information on the Frontier Corps. Although there is a rich secondary literature on individual colonial-era Frontier Corps units and a number of useful memoirs by British officers who served along the frontier, nothing comparable exists on the Pakistani side. Given the limitations of the data, our understanding of the Frontier Corps remains incomplete.