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.”
The Pakistani Tribal Areas
The semi-autonomous tribal lands consist of seven parts called “agencies”: Bajaur, Mohmand, 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. It is 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 historically has had minimal control over the fiercely independent Pashtuns.
Governance of the Tribal Agencies
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 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 eight thousand 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 three hundred madrassas, or Muslim schools, operate there. The rising number of these religious schools reflects the growing power of Islamic extremists in the tribal lands.
Extremists 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, members of the Taliban have 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.
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 Musharraf ordered a counterterrorism maneuver involving the deployment of eighty thousand 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.
Peace Deals with Tribal Areas
Since 9/11, Musharraf has been trying to control militancy in the tribal areas through various peace agreements. But so far, these deals have brought negligible success. 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. Also, the peace agreements have been widely criticized for strengthening militancy and are perceived as the central government’s defeat at the hands of the militants.
In 2004, the Pakistani government reached a deal with Pakistani Taliban led by Nek Mohammed in South Waziristan whereby the militants agreed to live peacefully and not use Pakistani soil against any other country. Hailed as a breakthrough, by late 2007 the deal was regarded as a failure.
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, in July 2007, militants renounced the deal and cross-border operations surged.
In March 2007, the government signed another deal with pro-Taliban militants and tribal leaders in the Bajaur agency. The tribesmen and the militants agreed not to give foreign militants safe haven in the area and the government pledged not to make arrests without consulting tribal elders. But bombings and attacks on government property in the area followed, prompting renewed government efforts in August 2007 to negotiate with tribal elders and the militants. The militants insisted they were not responsible for the new violence while at the same time demanding the release of fellow militants arrested by government forces.
In August and September 2007, the government also signed peace treaties with different tribes in Mohmand agency, in which the tribes made similar promises of not sheltering any foreigners or supporting the militants. But journalist Rashid says, “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.
Looking to the Future
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 long-standing 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.
SOME MAJOR PUKHTOON TRIBES ALONG THE PAK-AFGHAN BORDER
S. Iftikhar Hussain Shah/ Edited by M.Y. Effendi,
Area Study Centre (Russia, Central Asia, and China), University of Peshawar and Hanns Seidel Foundation,
Germany, 2000, pp. 252.
Some Major Pukhtoon Tribes along the Pak-Afghan Border by S. Iftikhar Hussain Shah is a 2000 publication of the Area Study Centre, University of Peshawar and Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany. It is one of the Ph. D theses published by this center in the year 2000. The study has focused on an important subject of the day, i.e. the Pukhtoon tribes living along the Pak-Afghan border (The Durand Line), and in the Tribal Agencies of Pakistan. The writer, however, has not discussed all the tribes and the agencies. He has taken a sample of Afridi, Mohmand, and Wazir tribes and the areas they live in.
Introducing the Tribal Areas of the Pukhtoons, the author says that the Tribal Areas of the North Western Frontier Province of Pakistan have always served as the crossroads of many ancient cultures, dating back to more than 10,000 years. Before the arrival of the British in this region, there had been no special system for dealing with the independent Pukhtoon tribes. The British, in order to enhance their hold over the then Indian N.W. Frontier, established the Khyber Agency in 1879 for the Afridi Tribe, headed by a Political Officer. The Kurrum Agency was created in 1892 one year before the demarcation of the proper Indo-Afghan boundary, the Durand Line. In the year 1895-6, three more agencies, Malakand Agency, North Waziristan, and South Waziristan were also established. These agencies were directly administered by the central government through the political officer. In 1901, the then Viceroy, Lord Curzon, changed the title of ‘Political Officer’ into ‘Political Agent’ and introduced further administrative changes along the Indian North-Western Frontier.
After the creation of Pakistan three more agencies were established. These are the Mohmand Agency in 1959, and the Orakzai Agency and Bajaur Agency in 1973. Besides these seven agencies there are some small tribal pockets as well called the Frontier Regions. These are administered by the district administration of the contiguous district. These include Frontier Region Peshawar, Frontier Region Kohat, Frontier Region Bannu, and Frontier Region Dera Ismail Kahn. Some tribal pockets are kept under the provincial administration as well. These are called the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas. For example Malakand Agency, which now is under the provincial administration.
In the second chapter, the author has discussed the salient features of the Pukhtoon Society, which is mainly dominated by the Pukhtoons’ traditional code of life called ‘Pukhtoonwali’. It is an unwritten sort of constitution of the Pukhtoon tribal society and is keenly observed by those living in the Pukhtoon tribal areas. Its injunctions and sanctions have not been affected with the passage of the time. Basically, as the author brings out in his study, the edifice of Pukhtoonwali is built upon four pillars: Milmastiya (hospitality), Badal (revenge), Paighour (taunt) and Nanawatay (begging for pardon or protection). The violator has no place in that society. To get a true picture of the Pukhtoonwali Code, the author suggests that one must live in the midst of the Pukhtoon society for a sufficiently long time. The British did so during their rule over India.
He says that a true Pukhtoon always keeps his door open for his guests and feels pride in serving guests and strangers. To a Pukhtoon entertaining a guest with food or drink is real Islam and he considers it his moral as well as social duty. Taking revenge for some wrong is one of the fundamentals of the Pukhtoon code. It is always in reaction or retaliation against a wrong or an insult. It is considered a social obligation not to let the offender go unpunished, but at the same time not to exceed the limits of the actual wrong done. Taunt is considered a curse in the Pukhtoon society. Some commissions or omissions lead to taunts, which ultimately end on bloodshed. Usually it happens when someone is taunted for not taking, or being unable to take revenge, or not paying back his enemy in the same coin. When a person realises his wrong, whether injuring or insulting another person, he goes to the Hujra (guest house of that family), house, or mosque of the aggrieved party and throws himself at its mercy, confesses his fault and begs for pardon. Usually no Pukhtoon refuses such request. The elders, influential and religious leaders always play a prime role in all these matters.
In the third chapter, the author discusses the main Pukhtoon tribes living along the Durand Line. The Afridis live entirely within the Pakistani side of the Pak-Afghan border, mainly in the Khyber agency. Afridis inhabit the most important geo-strategic point of the border, the Khyber Pass. This pass has remained and is an important gateway to the Sub-continent. In all historic movements to and from India the Afridis have played a decisive role. They have eight large clans: Malikdin Khel, Kuki Khel, Qambar Khel, Sepay, Aka Khel, Adam Khel, Zakah Khel, and Kamar Khel. The tribal chieftains hierarchy has been divided into two groups according to their status and influence in their respective clans. These are Muwajib and Lungidar. At present there are 779 Muwajibs and 2493 Lungidars in the Khyber Agency. The number of the Muwajib elders is fixed while that of the Lungidars keeps varying. The former is by succession, while the latter is by nomination. They all are called ‘Spin Giree’, or the white beards and they act as a bridge between the Tribal Political Administration and their respective tribes.
The area inhabitted by the Afridis stretches from the eastern spurs of the Sufaid Koh to the northern half of Tirah and from the Khyber Pass to the west and south of Peshawar. Besides the Afridis, small pockets of Shinwari, Mullagori, Mohmand, and Shalmani tribes also live in this region. Some of the Afridis are very well off, but the majority is poor. They come down to the plains in order to find means of earning, mainly by labouring. They are very strict in their religious beliefs, which is blended with the Pukhtoowali, and some times they have no hesitation in following practices which go far into antiquity. The author has quoted a British writer, Major Ridgway, in this regard:
‘The tribes of the Frontier are generally ignorant of everything connected with their religion beyond its elementary doctrine. In matter of religion they confine themselves to belief that there is a God, a Prophet, a resurrection and a day of judgment. But their practice is un-Islamic. Though they believe in one God, but they almost invariably prefer to worship some saint or tomb. Indeed, superstition is a more appropriate term for the ordinary belief of the people than the name of religion.’
Further he has discussed the local sites, customs and traits of the Khyber Agency.
In the fourth chapter, regarding the Shinwari Tribe, the author says that, by and large, they inhabit the Afghan side of the border. However, a significant number of them live on the Pakistani side as well. The Loargi sub-tribe of Ali Sher Khel Shinwaris inhabits along the Kanda ravine–Landi Khana section of the Durand Line. Durand Line has bifurcated the Afghan and Pakistani Shinwaris into two nation states. They, however, conduct cross-border social and trade interaction, and have always stood steadfast against every invader. The British, however, used them against the Afghan government in the 1920s. They are also superstitiously religious like the Afridis and hold great respect for Pirs, Faqirs, and Mullahs. A great number of them are engaged in the profession of transport sector throughout the country. Agriculture is their second major profession.
Another larger, powerful and important tribe, the Mohmand, is discussed in the chapter five. In the north of the Mohmand Agency, there is the Bajaur Agency, and some portion of Kunar province of Afghanistan. On the west is the Kunar Valley and the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. The Khyber Agency is in the South while the Peshawar District is towards the east. The Mohmands are an influential tribe and are divided into two sections: The ‘Kuz’ (lower) Mohmands and ‘Bar’ (Upper) Mohmands. The Kuz Mohmands live in the plains, in the south-western corner of the Peshawar District, mainly in the Kotla Mohsin Khan, Bahadur Kalay, Kagawali, Landi, and areas around them. The Bar Mohmands inhabit the network of hills between the Kabul and Swat rivers. Their main concentrations are Lalpura, Kama, and Gosha, along the Pak-Afghan border. They are mainly divided into eight clans: Khawezai, Baezai, Halimzai, Tarakzai, Aka Khel, Burhan Khel, Dawezai, and Utmanzai. A small pocket of Safi Pukhtoon tribe also lives in their areas.
According to the author, clerics and sufis have a strong hold over the Mohmands and they seek the advice of the clergy concerning even mundane affairs. Over a number of occasions, they have fought wars against their enemies under the leadership of their Mullahs and Pirs. Another characteristic of theirs is that they mostly resolve their disputes through jirga, instead of taking law into their hands. Their major occupation, like that of the Shinwaris, is transportation. Other occupations are agriculture, sheep breeding, and trading firewood. Their areas have enough water but their lands are not plain for proper agriculture.
In chapter six, the author discusses the Wazir Tribe. Wazirs are the most important tribe in the tangle of mountains that runs southwards, beyond the Kurrum Agency and Dera Ismail Khan, and finally form the western border of the North-West Frontier Province with the Zhob District of the Balochistan Province. This area is commonly known as Waziristan. Administratively it is divided into two agencies: North Waziristan Agency and South Waziristan Agency. In the north, the North Waziristan agency is bounded by Paktia Province of Afghanistan, and Shawal tribal region of Pakistan in the west. The Birmal area of Afghanistan and the South Waziristan Agency of Pakistan in the west, and the Frontier Region of Bannu District in the east. The North Waziristan Agency is to the north of the South Waziristan Agency, Zhob District of Balochistan in the south, Katawaz area of Afghanistan in the west and Dera Ismail Khan District in the east.
The Wazirs are further divided into the Utmanzai and Ahmadzai clans. The former live in the North Waziristan Agency, while the latter live in the South Waziristan. Besides the Wazir, Mahsuds, Baitanis, Urmars, and Daurs also live in the Wazirsiatn region. There are 1424 Muwajibs and 66 Lungidars in the North Waziristan Agency, while 1028 Muwajibs and 137 Lungidars in the South Waziristan Agency respectively. The Wazirs are considered true lovers of Sharia and they follow Sharia orders in their Jirgas. Jirga decisions are binding upon the parties concerned. They are also very conservative and adhere strictly to their traditional tribal ways of life. Like other Pukhtoon tribes they also have great respect for and are influenced by Pirs and Mullahs. The Wazirs’ main occupations are agriculture, sheep breeding, and trade. They often resort to kidnapping, and usually kidnap visitors and government officials, and seek ransom in return.
In the last chapter, the author has discussed some non-Pukhtoon tribes living along the Pak-Afghan border in and around the Chitral area. These are the Wakhi, Khow, Kirghiz, Tajik, Kalash, Sarikuli, Yedgha, and Brushgali. Almost all of them have a Central Asian origin and live in small pockets.
Since the book is based on a selected sample of the tribes, it has not touched upon many other large and important Pukhtoon tribes living along the Durand Line. For example, the Yusufzai, the largest Pukhtoon tribe living in and around Bajaur Agency in the extreme north-west of the Durand Line; the Mahsuds, another large and influential tribe of the South Waziristan Agency; the Durrani, Achakzai, Kakar, Popalzai, Nasir, etc. in Balochistan as well as the Daur, Sherani, Burki, Bangash, and many others in Waziristan. The author has covered the facts on historical events, local customs, local heroes, poets, writers as well the administrative and economic developments about the Afridi, Mohmand and Wazir tribes and their respective agencies.
The book is a useful sociological account of the tribes discussed in it, and provides an informative guide for those who intend to work in the Tribal areas of Pakistan.