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Trouble in the Tribal Lands

Prepared by: Carin Zissis
November 9, 2006

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A suicide bomb targeting a Pakistani military school (BBC) has claimed at least forty-two lives in Dargai, a village in the North West Frontier Province and a stronghold of a banned pro-Taliban movement. The militant attack was the deadliest suffered by Pakistani armed forces since 2002, when they began efforts to control terrorist elements in the volatile, semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Pakistani-Afghan border. Federal Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao says the attack was likely retaliation (VOA) for last week’s bombing of a madrassa in nearby Bajaur. Although some Pakistanis speculate U.S. or NATO forces were behind the madrassa attack, President Pervez Musharraf continues to defend what he says was a Pakistani counterterrorism air strike (Dawn).

But Musharraf’s tough talk rings hollow as he appears unable to rein in militant factions in the Pashtun tribal lands of Pakistan, described in this new Backgrounder. In the years following 9/11, the deployment of 80,000 Pakistani troops along the border exacerbated rather than minimized religious extremism. As part of Musharraf’s bid to pacify tribal leaders, the two sides reached the North Waziristanpeace agreement in September 2006. The accord is regarded by Musharraf’s critics as the Pakistani army’s “tacit surrender” to militants, as explained in an analysis by Jan Cartwright of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Blogger Bill Roggio says the pact “gave the terrorists free reign over the region.” On the day of the madrassa bombing in Bajaur, tribal leaders there and Pakistani officials were scheduled to reach a similar deal to the North Waziristan agreement.

Musharraf hailed such pacts at a recent CFR meeting, saying they carried the “seeds of success” by getting tribal leaders to help identify militants. But Islamabad has given little indication of how it plans to ensure that tribal leaders stop Taliban incursions into Afghanistan. The “Talibanization” of the tribal lands will most likely continue, write Citha D. Maass and Christian Wagner of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. The region also serves as a training ground for al-Qaeda, Chechen, Uzbek, and Chinese Muslim extremists. “The [tribal area] has become a melting pot for jihadis from all over the world,” Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid tells CFR.org. The military treats foreign militants more severely than Pakistani extremists, as this Backgrounder on Pakistan’s security situation explains.

The Jamestown Foundation offers profiles of the tribal lands’ seven agencies. FRONTLINE offers a multimedia look at the region. Controlling militancy in Pakistan would require integrating the tribal agencies into the country’s political fold and Afghan recognition of the two countries’ disputed border, argues a new report by the United States Institute of Peace.

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