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Pakistan's troubled tribal areas
 

A soldier of Pakistan's paramilitary force, behind barbed wire, at the Afghanistan border. Photo credit: AP
A soldier of Pakistan's paramilitary force at the Afghanistan border. President Musharraf is under pressure to stop Taleban infiltration into Afghanistan
 

Pakistan's troubled tribal areas

 

Pakistan's tribal areas, along the border with Afghanistan, have been a focus for the world media since the Al-Qaeda leadership escaped American bombing in the Tora Bora mountains and slipped into this region.

While the Afghan government sees the roots of continuing violence and terrorism originating in the country beyond its border, Pakistan denies these allegations.

The blame and counter-blame between the two countries goes on but Pakistan, analysts say, cannot deny the fact that its tribal areas, known as Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) have been fast moving towards instability and becoming a breeding ground for militancy and religious extremism.

A war of hatred

 
 
The blame and counter-blame between the two countries goes on but Pakistan cannot deny the fact that its tribal areas have been fast becoming a breeding ground for militancy
 
On the outskirts of Peshawar, capital of the North-West Frontier Province, two rival religious groups have been involved in bloody clashes for the past year; fuelled by a radio war of hatred for each other's religious beliefs. Under Pakistan's constitution, political parties are not allowed to campaign in tribal areas, but religious groups run a number of illegal FM channels to promote their views.

In South Waziristan and North Waziristan, the militants, known as the local Taleban, have banned music; they collect donations and religious taxes, and administer Afghanistan's Taleban-style justice in their 'kangaroo' courts. Last year, President Pervez Musharraf's government struck a deal with these militants, aimed at restoring peace to the area and to prevent militants from crossing into Afghanistan. But recently visiting journalists, embedded with militants in North Waziristan, were told by the militants' leader that they still cross the border to attack Afghan and Nato forces.

Many believe that drastic reforms are needed to bring the tribal areas up to par with the rest of the country. Recently, the government launched a new body, Fata Development Authority, for fast-track development. Meanwhile, human rights groups are pressing for changes to the judicial system. At the moment, people in the tribal areas have no right of appeal. Often, when an offence is committed in these areas, a whole tribe or area is punished collectively.

Scapegoats

 
According to Pakistan's political analysts a majority of tribal people want to see progress but have been made scapegoats by Islamabad's so-called policy of strategic depth in Afghanistan.

Ultimately, militancy is no longer limited to tribal areas. It is spreading. There have been suicide attacks in big cities, including both Islamabad and Peshawar.

President Musharraf is under increasing pressure at home to deal with this, and immense international pressure to stop infiltration by the Taleban into Afghanistan. His idea of fencing and mining the border appeals to no one and, now a summer offensive by the Taleban is in the offing, the West expects Pakistan to eliminate the threat. A bill in the US Congress is already under discussions which proposes military assistance to Pakistan only after guarantees that Pakistan has used all resources to cripple the Taleban on its soil and stop attacks in Afghanistan.

Musharraf's options are limited. He is keeping afloat, but troubled waters lie ahead.

Mohammad Zahid
Mohammad Zahid is a producer in BBC World Service's Pashto Service. Formerly, he was a reporter in the print media in Peshawar, Pakistan


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