British policy toward the tribal peoples on the northwest frontier in Pakistan vacillated between caution and adventurism during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Some British viceroys opposed extending direct administration or defense beyond the Indus River. Others favored a more assertive posture, or “forward policy.” The latter’s’ view prevailed, partly because Russian advances in Central Asia gave their arguments credence. In 1874 Sir Robert Sandeman was sent to improve British relations with the Baloch tribes and the khan of Kalat. In 1876 Sandeman concluded a treaty with the khan that brought his territories–including Kharan, Makran, and Las Bela–under British suzerainty. The Second Afghan War was fought in 1878-80, sparked by Britain’s demands that Afghan foreign policy come completely under its control. In the Treaty of Gandamak concluded in May 1879, the Afghan Amir ceded his districts of Pishin, Sibi, Harnai, and Thal Chotiali to the British. During succeeding years, other tribal areas were forcibly occupied by the British. In 1883 the British leased the Bolan Pass, southeast of Quetta, from the khan of Kalat on a permanent basis, and in 1887 some areas of Balochistan were declared British territory.
A similar forward policy was pursued farther north. A British political agent was stationed in Gilgit in 1876 to report on Russian activities as well as on developments in the nearby states of Hunza and Nagar. In 1889 the Gilgit Agency was made permanent. A British expedition was sent against Hunza and Nagar, which submitted to British control. A new Mir from the ruling family of Hunza was appointed by the British. British garrisons were established in Hunza and Chitral in 1892. A formal protectorate was declared over Chitral and Gilgit in 1893.
Also in 1893, Sir Mortimer Durand negotiated an agreement with Amir Abdur Rahman Khan of Afghanistan to fix an only partially surveyed line (the Durand Line) running from Chitral to Balochistan to designate the areas of influence for the Afghans and the British. Each party pledged not to interfere in each other’s lands. This agreement brought under British domination territory and peoples that had not yet been conquered and would become the source of much difficulty between Pakistan and Afghanistan in the future.
The establishment of British hegemony in the northwest frontier regions did not lead to direct administration similar to that in other parts of India. Local customary law continued, as did the traditional lines of authority and social customs upheld by the maliks (tribal chiefs). To a large extent, the frontier was little more than a vast buffer zone with Afghanistan between the British and Russian empires in Asia and a training ground for the British Indian Army.