Monday, March 28, 2011

A Multidimensional Approach to Waziristan: Developing an Alternative to Taliban Rule

"In traditional society man accepts his natural and social environment as given. An attempt to change the society is not only blasphemous but also impossible. Change is absent or imperceptible in traditional society because men cannot conceive of its existence.’'(Samuel Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies, 1968. p. 99)

Pakistan’s tribal belt is the quintessential traditional society that Huntington talks about in the above statement. Change seems to be absent or almost inconceivable in that region, where as the rest of the country, albeit slowly, has progressed and transformed - the tribal agencies have experienced inconsequential change in their social and economic structures.

Pakistan’s tribal agencies only came to focus from their obscure existence after the events of September 11, 2001 and the preceding war in Afghanistan. Since then, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has served as a sanctuary and recruiting grounds for radical extremist groups to manipulate the poorest region of Pakistan. FATA is composed of seven agencies, Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, North Waziristan and South Waziristan.

Source: CAMP Report 2010

The tribal belt is home to various Pashtun tribes who abide by the strict Pashtunwali code. North and South Waziristan is home to the Wazir and Mahsud tribes. The name itself means, ‘the land of the Wazirs.’ Before going into the details of Waziristan, its important to clarify the Pashtunwali code, what it means and what it stands for? Pashtunwali constitutes a set of cultural values, rules and regulations, which are all intertwined with each other. It is based on five basic components, tora (courage), badal (revenge), melmastia (hospitality), nanawatee (magnanimity to an opponent asking for peace), and jirga (tribal counsel for dispute resolution). Tribal life revolves around each one of these aspects.

It was the Afghan Soviet war, which led to an influx of foreign fighters and refugees in the tribal belt. At that crucial time in history for the Pashtuns of FATA, the principles of badal, melmastia, and tora were all part of helping their Pashtun brothers on the other side of the Durand line. Similarly, after October 2001, the Allied war in Afghanistan triggered cross border movement of refugees and militants and under the tribal code of Pashtunwali, the extension of melmastia to these foreign actors was paramount obligation. Thus, Pashtunwali is everything for the tribal Pashtuns – they live and die by this code of conduct.


Waziristan plays a crucial role in the talibanization of the region – it is the birthplace of the Pakistani Taliban and one of the most radicalized agencies of the tribal belt. In 2009, it earned the appellation of being ‘the headquarters of Islamist terror.’ (Economist, Dec. 2009) The topography of Waziristan adds further to the austerity of its already complex cultural and political situation. The terrain is rugged and inhospitable and covers about 5000 square miles of mountain land.

This is also one of the poorest regions in Pakistan, with unemployment, illiteracy and infant mortality at alarming levels. The economy is mainly pastoral, with agriculture practiced in a few fertile sections, and thus the economic framework of Waziristan is limited to subsistence agriculture and small-scale business conducted on a local level. This lack of economic development has created a continued migration pattern and led to demographic changes. The impact of demographic changes, adds to the shortage of doctors, teachers and skilled workers, further compounding the socio-economic situation.



Literacy Ratio









Population per doctor



The literacy rate in FATA is 29 percent for men and a shocking 3 percent for women, in comparison to Pakistan where it is 55 percent for men and 32 percent for women. It is estimated that the literacy levels are even lower in Waziristan. About 80 percent of the boys are being educated at the madrassahs who adhere to Deobandi school of thought.

The political status of the tribal belt is similarly disarrayed. FATA is territorially a part of Pakistan, and it is represented both in the upper (Senate, 8 members) and the lower (National Assembly, 12 members) chambers of the parliament; but the laws drafted and formulated by the legislature do not apply to FATA, unless it is a direct presidential order. (Constitution of Pakistan, Article 247) Since the independence in 1947, the government of Pakistan has continued with the British policy of proxy rule in FATA. Thus, the political structure, of the region has a peculiar system of administration, and the people are governed by their local chieftains called Maliks, through financial compensation controlled by the Federal government in Islamabad and exercised by a political agent.

Likewise, the judicial system or the jirga, is homogenous to the political arrangements. Neither the Supreme Court nor the High Courts of Pakistan can exercise any jurisdiction in relation to the tribal areas. The jirga acts as the instrument of dispensing justice.

Tribal Jirga in session

Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP):

In December 2007, an alliance between twenty eight taliban groups formed a group known as the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. This is the largest taliban group in Pakistan - other taliban factions are not Waziristan based and are a mix of various jihadi groups. The central concern is the rise of the Pakistani Taliban and what led to the emergence of this group? The Pakistani Taliban today threatened the state structure of both Pakistan and affects the state building process in Afghanistan. In its initial stage, the TTP was under the leader ship of Baitullah Mahsud, but after his assassination, Hakimullah Mahsud has led it. The objectives of the TTP are resistance against the Pakistani state, and enforcement of Sharia law in Pakistan.

The TTP emerged in South Waziristan under primordial ethnic identity, along with the lack of state initiated economic and political institutions. Its member base is composed of young tribesmen who have been radicalized by the jihadi rhetoric of the Deobandi madrassahs. The U.S. war in Afghanistan further complicated the already complex structures in Waziristan and contributed in the formation of TTP. A report published by New America Foundation maintains that the security situation in South Waziristan took a drastic turn when the U.S. and NATO forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 - the Afghan Taliban, Arab Al Qaeda, and foreign fighters form Uzbekistan, Chechnya, and Tajikistan slipped into Waziristan looking for refuge. The extension of melmastia (hospitality) to these foreigners was stipulated on them, since refusing refuge would be a violation of Pashtunwali. South and North Waziristan has since been targeted the most with the U.S. drone attacks and military campaigns in the tribal region.


Drone Strikes

Non-militants killed

Militants killed




10 - 12




18 - 98




5 - 15









North Waziristan


169 - 241

418 - 590

South Waziristan


76 - 203

251 - 363

Source: New America Foundation.

Multidimensional Approach to Waziristan:

Besides other factors, there are two major constituents that have played a role into the talibanization of Waziristan. Firstly, the continuation of the British colonial policy of proxy rule by the Pakistani government led to the impediment of economic growth and political alienation of the indigenous population. Secondly, the demographic changes that took place due to high unemployment (created by the economic and geographic constraints) and the relocation of the local population of Waziristan to more accessible terrain, left the region open and available for non-state actors.

The military operation and U.S drone attacks are an extremely sensitive issue within Pakistan, as well as in FATA. Both methods have not proven to be successful in containing terrorism in Pakistan. Instead the backlash, which in the Pashtunwali terms would be badal (revenge), has had a dual effect – against the Pakistani state in which the intended target is the Pakistani army, police, political leaders and citizenry; and against the NATO forces in which the target is the torching and bombing the supply line for the forces in Afghanistan. The first target has been more costly and culminated in the loss of innocent lives in the bazaars and streets of Peshawar, Karachi, and Lahore.

The rational approach to Waziristan/FATA would involve a combination of a stick and carrot strategy. The primary tactic for the state should be to establish a social contract with the people of FATA. The nonexistence of a social contract between the Pakistani state and its citizens in FATA, is a major factor contributing to the current crisis. In this case, it is the state’s responsibility to extend security to its subjects and provide for a rule of law. The tribal belt should be fully integrated in the political structure of Pakistan. Political parties should be permitted to contest elections in the tribal areas and that would create competition for the dominant religious groups.

The transgression of state boundaries also contributed to the emergence of TTP, Hence strengthening international boundary laws on the Durand line would provide the region with some stability. The importance of the economy should not be ignored; the poverty of the region has played a crucial role in the fragmentation of civil society. Cheap religious education provided by the Deobandi Madrassah’s in Waziristan resulted in the radicalization of young tribal boys. A society cannot flourish if half of its population is alienated from the social, political and economic spheres. The lack of education for girls is an issue that needs to be addressed both by the Pakistani government and the tribal society.

To conclude on a note by John Spain, who describes Waziristan succinctly, ‘South of the smiling Kurrum valley lies a five thousand square mile tangle of hills with the sinister sounding name of Waziristan. Here Pukhtunwali is the only way of life. Here the Pathan may be found at his cruelest – and his noblest.’ The Pakistani state needs to search for the noblest Wazirs and Mahsuds, to contain the talibanization of this region.

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