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Friday, November 10, 2006

The Tribal Areas of Pakistan

Council of Foreign Relations


Pakistan’s remote Federally Administered Tribal Areas (the tribal lands) have been a training ground for insurgents and a focal point for terrorism fears, particularly since the 9/11 attacks. President Pervez Musharraf finds himself squeezed between U.S. demands to control militants in the tribal lands and opposition from his own army against fighting the region's predominant ethnic Pashtuns, who have strongly resisted Pakistani rule just as they fought British control during colonial times.

Meanwhile, tensions between Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and Musharraf grow. Karzai insists Pakistan increase security and stop incursions by Taliban insurgents into his country, even though the Afghan leader refuses to recognize the disputed common border, which divides tribes of the Pashtun ethnic group on either side of the frontier. As the tribal lands continue to serve as a training base for terrorists and the Taliban, deploying Pakistani troops into the region has harmed efforts to integrate the tribal areas into Pakistan. Bill Roggio, a U.S. veteran who has written from Iraq and Afghanistan, says the uncertainty over how to handle the tribal lands “makes the problems in Iraq look like a picnic.”

What are the Pakistani tribal areas?

The semi-autonomous tribal lands consist of seven parts called “agencies”: Bajaur, Momand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, and North and South Waziristan. There are also six smaller zones known as Frontier Regions in the transitional area between the tribal lands and the North-West Frontier Province to the east. The harsh, mountainous territory of the tribal lands runs along the Afghanistan border, drawn during colonial times by British Diplomat Sir Henry Mortimer Durand as a means to divide and weaken the eleven major Pashtun tribes and turn Afghanistan into a buffer zone between the British and Russian empires. To the south of the tribal lands lies the large province of Balochistan, also divided by the border known as the Durand Line, which has never been recognized by Afghanistan and is a fluid boundary across which the Taliban make incursions from Pakistan. “There’s no border security, there’s no border guards, there’s no border control,” says Amin Tarzi, a regional analyst for U.S. financed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The tribal lands joined Pakistan rather than India after the former gained independence in 1947, but Islamabad has historically had minimal control over the fiercely independent Pashtuns.

How are the tribal agencies governed?

Although Pakistan’s constitution gives the president executive authority over the region, the appointed governor of the North West Frontier Province in Peshawar controls the tribal lands by managing the bureaus that deliver services such as health care and education in the tribal areas. The tribal lands have representatives in the national assembly, but not in the assembly of the North West Frontier Province.

However, the real power in the tribal agencies has historically rested with each of their political agents, who represent the federal government and maintain control through the colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulations. These laws “have been used as a whip to control the border tribes” for more than a century, write Barnett R. Rubin and Abubakar Siddique in a new report on Afghan-Pakistani relations for the United States Institute of Peace. The regulations allow the political agent to impose collective punishment for crimes committed by an individual and to deliver prison sentences without due process or right of appeal. The tribal lands are also rife with corruption, given that selected tribal leaders known as maliks are given economic incentives doled out by political agents in exchange for their loyalty.

Individual tribesmen have limited rights, and in a region where political agents collect and distribute revenue with little oversight, development indicators show the literacy rate is a bleak 17 percent and there are more than 8,000 people per doctor, compared to roughly 1,500 people per doctor in the country overall. Rubin and Siddique report there are only 102 high schools in all of the tribal lands, while as many as 300 madrassas, or Muslim school, operate there. The rising number of these religious schools reflects the growing power of Islamic extremists in the tribal lands.

Do religious extremists operate in the tribal lands?

Yes. “The [tribal area] has become a melting pot for jihadis from all over the world,” says Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, adding that the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban, al-Qaeda, Chechens, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are among the militants who train and take refuge in the tribal region. Furthermore, since the beginning of the Afghanistan War, the Taliban has advanced into leadership roles in some parts of the tribal lands, particularly the agencies of North and South Waziristan and Bajaur. The Pakistani government appears to take a harder stand on al-Qaeda to please the United States and a more permissive posture with the Taliban, who in turn work with other militant groups.

The rise of the Taliban has upset the political balance in the tribal areas, where there have been cases of tribal leaders getting killed for questioning the Taliban’s growing power or working too closely with Islamabad. However, the Taliban’s religious extremism is not a new element in the tribal lands. Longtime foreign correspondent and Pakistan-based author Kathy Gannon, explains “extreme tribal views are not new,” and predate the international counterterrorism operation in the region by decades.

What is the role of the Pakistani government in the tribal lands?

For the area’s tribesmen, being citizens of Pakistan is secondary to their Pashtun identity, and they regard foreigners, including Pakistani forces, with suspicion. Historically, Islamabad has exercised limited authority over the tribal agencies, but after the 9/11 attacks, the region came under the scrutiny of the United States as Taliban and al-Qaeda members took refuge there. Under U.S. pressure, President Pervez Musharraf ordered a counterterrorism maneuver involving the deployment of 80,000 Pakistani troops over the course of the operation, which took place mainly in the agencies of North and South Waziristan. But the operation backfired when the forces failed to win a decisive victory. The conflict became increasingly unpopular with the Pakistani armed forces, the core of Musharraf’s support, among which there is a sense they are fighting their own countrymen under U.S. pressure. (Pashtuns are the second largest ethnic group represented among the troops.) The Taliban also received past—and, some say, present—support from the Pakistani military and intelligence agency. On top of that, Gannon says the military’s operation in the Waziristan agencies stirred up the Pashtun desire for vengeance. “The more tribespeople you killed, the more you created a whole group who had to seek revenge,” explains Gannon. By June 2006, Musharraf realized he had to negotiate with tribal leaders to end the unpopular conflict.

What is the Miramshah Agreement?

In September 2006, the Pakistani government reached a controversial peace treaty called the Miramshah Agreement with North Waziristan tribal leaders and members of the Taliban. As part of the accords, Islamabad withdrew troops, released 165 militants, agreed to economically compensate tribe members for their losses, and allowed them to continue carrying small weapons. In return, tribal leaders said they would stop the infiltration of militants across the Afghani border and prevent attacks on the military. However, the Pakistani government has little means to force tribal leaders to hold up their end of the bargain, given the unpopularity of military intervention in the region. While Islamabad depicts the North Waziristan accords as part of its counterterrorism strategy, the deal is widely seen as defeat at the hands of militants. The Pakistani government withdrew too quickly and failed to drive a hard bargain with tribal leaders, says Tarzi. “One of the things [the Pashtuns] think is that they defeated the Soviet Union. In their mind they’ve [also] defeated the Pakistani government. Who’s next, NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization]?” asks RFE/RL's Tarzi, adding that violent incursions into Afghanistan are on the rise and the Taliban problem continues to trouble Musharraf.

What are the Bajaur accords?

Tribal leaders in the Bajaur agency and Islamabad were planning to reach a similar pact to the North Waziristan deal, but the accord has been put on hold after the October bombing of a madrassa in Bajaur killed eighty people. The Pakistani government claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the religious school was an al-Qaeda training camp. However, there is wide conjecture that the attacks were carried out by the United States or NATO forces, and claimed by Islamabad over fears of widespread protest similar to those after the U.S. bombing of a Bajaur village in January 2006. Gannon, who believes the Bajaur pact will be reached at some point, speculates that “there was this feeling that there couldn’t be an agreement without a show of force.” But militants have shown they are unafraid of striking back; in what is thought to be a reprisal for the October strike in Bajaur, in November a suicide bomber killed dozens in an attack on an army training school in the North West Frontier Province.

Are Islamabad’s agreements with these semi-autonomous areas effective?

Experts say no. Roggio says the recent madrassa attack “was designed to sabotage the Bajaur accord,” given its similarity to the “repeatedly violated” Miramshah Agreement. Rashid agrees, calling the Waziristan pact “one-sided.” “I think what is important to understand is these agreements are extremely dangerous because they leave the Taliban in place.” He suggests a better course of action would be to round up Afghani Taliban leaders and send them to Kabul. A 2004 agreement with Pakistani Taliban led by Nek Mohammed in South Waziristan also fell apart. In North Waziristan, after reaching the September accord Taliban factions opened offices in Miramshah, began levying taxes, and created new crimes punishable by fines. In this manner, the Taliban erodes the influence of the political administration as tribesmen turn to the Taliban to settle disputes.

What does the future hold for the tribal areas?

Experts agree that resolving the complex political issues in the region will take a long time. Gannon concedes that “it’s not as easy as just providing infrastructure” in a region where people have a longstanding code of behavior, but suggests that building roads and providing services can function as one step to draw tribal leaders “into the system.” Roggio says he is not an advocate of putting U.S.troops into the tribal lands, but says security in the region could be boosted by offering Pakistan counterinsurgency training and providing intelligence. The best hope would be to hold an informal meeting between Karzai and Musharraf to resolve how to control the tribal area on both sides of the border as well as the movement of insurgents across it, says Tarzi. But, he warns, “I think the winner here will be the terrorists, unfortunately.”
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