1920-1939 | Burning villages | Pakistan | Punitive operations



A British led punitive force on the North West Frontier. c. 1917-20.
© IWM (Q 52641)

[ 6 April 1920 ]

On 6 April 1920, the British Army’s high command on India’s North West Frontier (close to today’s Afghan-Pakistan border) initiated punitive military operations against Waziri villages along the Baddar Toi Valley. The inhabitants had failed to surrender the demanded quota of rifles and other collective fines imposed on them.  The first day’s objective for the troops was the burning of the ‘villages and towers of Sine Tizha,’ followed the next day by ‘punitive measures against the villages and property of the Abdur Rahman Khel.’1 The fires generated huge clouds of dense black smoke which, despite the surrounding mountainous landscape, could be seen many miles away, and were a clear warning to any villagers in the nearby valleys of the consequences of defying British rule.

The official army report of the operation explained the reasoning behind these harsh measures of collective punishment, noting that ‘most of the tribes now began to make genuine efforts to collect and pay in their shares of the fine and their proportion of tribal and Government rifles, but certain sections, especially those further removed from our line of advance, made little or no effort. The worst offenders were the inhabitants of the upper valleys of the Baddar Toi who believed themselves out of reach of our troops. These people were well known recalcitrants and as no troops had penetrated into their country for many years it was decided to punish them.’2 That is, punish all the inhabitants indiscriminately, even if only a few had been suspected of hiding rifles they had possessed for centuries for hunting and village defence. It was not just a ‘harsh punitive lesson,’ as the British termed it, but also a grave, if by British standards fairly routine, war crime.


  1. General Staff Army Headquarters, India, Operations in Waziristan, 1919-9120, Superintendent Government Printing, Calcutta, 1921, p. 143.
  2. Ibid.

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