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Pakistani tribal areas key to the War on Terror

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click here for the BBC articleThe young Pakistani army man shook his head in disbelief when he read in an English newspaper that Pakistan is not doing enough against terrorism. "We have pulled out 80,000 troops from the Indian border leaving a void for the Indians to fill, and what do we get? They’re saying we’re not doing enough," he says, requesting that he not be named.

The recently-foiled plot to blow up trans-atlantic airplanes has put a new focus on Pakistan’s efforts in the US-led war on terrorism. "Much has been done against al-Qaeda, but far less against domestic jihadi groups," says Samina Ahmed, South Asia project director of the International Crisis Group. "Al-Qaeda is definitely far less," agrees Talat Masud, former head of Pakistan’s secret service ISI, "but the Taliban are more, and there is a vast number of terrorists."

Pakistani security forces have arrested more than 700 terrorism suspects, but the president, General Pervez Musharraf, who under US pressure dropped support for al-Qaeda after 9/11, has allowed Islamic hardliners to flourish. Extremist parties have never been more powerful and Taliban-like militants have taken over swaths of tribal areas. "In the last three years there has been more radicalisation of the tribal belt and adjoining areas than in the whole history of Pakistan," says Masud.

Most notably, parts of the Waziristan region in Pakistan’s federal administered tribal areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan have become increasingly ‘Talibanised’ since 2003. An alliance of local and foreign militants, many of them Uzbeks and Tadjiks, have taken hold in South-Waziristan, subjecting its population to Taliban-style rule. Last December they hanged more than 20 suspected criminals on a tree in Miran Shah. Two days later they bound them behind cars and dragged them through town. Barbers are forbidden to cut beards and shopkeepers are not allowed to sell music or videos.

The militants in Waziristan also plan and carry out attacks on Afghanistan’s south, where in the Uruzgan Pervez Musharrafprovince 390 Australian troops work with the Dutch-led provincial recovery teams. "It is now becoming difficult to differentiate between the two, and yet their thinking is different. One is operating on the Afghan or Pakistan-level, and the other is operating on a pan-Islamic level," says Talat.

Misguided military actions in tribal areas against foreign militants, in which hundreds of innocent civilians have lost their lives, have infuriated the Pakistanis and driven tribal peoples into the hands of militants. "We are killing our own people. Now they hate us," says the young army man. He also says the forces are bound to their compounds in some areas of Waziristan. "To a certain extent we are hopelessly lost. We cannot seal our borders and people can easily hide here," he says.

Taliban-style rule is spilling over into the adjoining settled areas of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. Men who allow their women to go to the bazaar are publicly castigated during Friday prayers in the mosque. Cultural venues have been attacked, and the provincial government Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an alliance of six Islamic parties, has banned advertisements that depict women.

Most analysts agree that fighting terrorism is not just a matter of using military force. "The Americans are all the time out on using the military instrument. Pakistan has also been using it. By using the military instrument alone you actually create a difficult situation," says Masud, referring to Waziristan. But Pakistan’s army spokesperson Major-General Shaukat Sultan says the army has not had a choice as the tribes keep protecting foreign militants. Masud says that Pakistan has to combine military, political and socio-economic development to counter terrorism in the long-run, "but it is easier said then done."

Musharraf and AbuzaidThe spread of democracy is essential in reining in extremist views. So far Musharraf has not allowed secular opposition parties to take part in the political process. Instead, he has sided with extremist Islamic parties, such as Jamaat-e-Islami, and given them an unprecedented presence in the government. "Pakistan should move towards democracy as soon as possible. It would take a long time before we have a mature democracy but if the elections were free and fair, and mainstream political parties came back to power, and there was pluralism, many of the extremist views will get absorbed in the political system and will mellow-down," says Talat Masud.

The backing of President Musharraf by western governments, due to his willingness to engage in the 'War on Terror' has been both a blessing and a curse. Musharraf has, by remaining in power, given western democracies an ally in the region. Unfortunately, the fact that he is an unelected leader is more than a little uncomfortable—the anti-democratic nature of his regime is contrary to America's stated aim to spread democracy and, furthermore, has fomented dissent and extremism. The growth in extremism in the so-called 'wild zones' of Pakistan shows just how far there is to go before the 'War' is 'won'.

As Samina Ahmad says, "The vast majority of Pakistanis are moderate; more than 90 percent have voted for moderate, democratic parties in the past. With functioning democratic institutions, this moderate majority will be empowered. This is where international, particularly western, attention should be focused. A single-minded emphasis on al-Qaeda, and its offshoots, is shortsighted and counter-productive."



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hi suzanna how are you i hope you will be well and good and i am hafiz wazir belong to south waziristan agency wana and a well- known journalist working with reuters news agency, samaa tv plus ary news from the last eight to ten years and i am also the degree holder in Msc journalism&mass communication and i am highly appreciated your article pakistani tribal area key to war on terror which is also published on september 4-2006 but unfortunatly you will not mention any tribal person or journalists so i hope for further acknowledgment of tribal belt you will necessarily contact a well informed journalist for your guidance about tribal belt and their current situation. thanks please reply quickly

hafiz wazir a well-known journalist | 10 August 2010  

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