Proscribed Areas

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

In the warming-up days of a Frontier campaign, John Masters says, the rules and regulations governing their actions were irksome in the extreme:

The troubled area was delimited and called the ‘proscribed area.’ Outside the prescribed area we might not take any action at all until shot at. Inside it we might not fire at any band of less than ten men unless they were (a) armed and (b) off a path. These were dangerous conditions in a country where arms can be concealed close to flowing clothes, and where paths are tracks invisible from a hundred yards. One day in this war, after a minor shooting affray, my company caught a young Pathan wandering along a goat track that led away from the recent fight. He was admiring the scenery and looked very innocent, but he had a rifle tucked inside his robes. We inspected him closely and found four empty places in his otherwise full cartridge belt, and the chamber and barrel of his rifle were dirty. Had had not had time to clean it. It was a moral and legal certainty that he had taken part in the fight and my subadar, a bloodthirsty little man named Naule, wanted to shoot him on the spot — or rather, after a small exercise in legalism. He urged me to let the young man go and, when he was a hundred yards off, fire a bullet past his ear. He would jump for cover off the goat track and would then be off a path, armed, and in a proscribed area — in brief, lawful game. I was sorry that I had to say no to this suggestion, and I still don’t know why I did. I was here to kill Pathan and look after my company, and this would have been a step towards both aims. But I sent the prisoner back under guard to the adjutant at battalion headquarters, who in turn would pass him on to the Political Agent for further questioning.

That evening I heard the sequel.  The adjutant ordered the armourers to inspect his rifle again.  Under pretence of examining it they took the weapon in a vice and secretly bent the barrel a fraction of an inch, not enough to notice but enough to cause an explosion and perhaps blow the young man’s hand off next time he fired.  They did this because they knew the young man would shortly be delivered to the politicals and, like all soldiers, they were not sure which side the politicals were on.


  1. Stretch says:

    “like all soldiers, they were not sure which side the politicals were on.”

    I’ve always considered Department of State a hostile third-world country.

  2. Steve Johnson says:

    That’s backwards, Stretch. Hostile third-world countries are State Department outposts.

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