For Pakistan's Frontier Constabulary, Tribe Matters

  • District Officer Irshad Alam commands the Frontier Constabulary troops near Peshawar, at Shabqadar Fort. He lost nearly 80 men last month in car and suicide bombings. Irshad took their deaths hard: "Maybe it's a punishment from God."
    Hide caption
    District Officer Irshad Alam commands the Frontier Constabulary troops near Peshawar, at Shabqadar Fort. He lost nearly 80 men last month in car and suicide bombings. Irshad took their deaths hard: "Maybe it's a punishment from God."
    Jim Wildman/NPR
  • Recruits for the Frontier Constabulary are drawn from the area's vast number of tribes. The troops are trained to help keep the peace among those tribes.
    Hide caption
    Recruits for the Frontier Constabulary are drawn from the area's vast number of tribes. The troops are trained to help keep the peace among those tribes.
    Jim Wildman/NPR
  • Pakistan's Northwest Frontier includes the Mehsud, Wazir and Yusufzai tribes. Men from these groups only work alongside men from the same tribes.
    Hide caption
    Pakistan's Northwest Frontier includes the Mehsud, Wazir and Yusufzai tribes. Men from these groups only work alongside men from the same tribes.
    Jim Wildman/NPR
  • Out of respect for tribal loyalties, men are rarely sent on operations to fight fellow tribesmen. Those loyalties now complicate Pakistan's war on terrorism in the Northwest Frontier province.
    Hide caption
    Out of respect for tribal loyalties, men are rarely sent on operations to fight fellow tribesmen. Those loyalties now complicate Pakistan's war on terrorism in the Northwest Frontier province.
    Jim Wildman/NPR
  • A security official says families in the area who have any men in the Frontier Constabulary may be better off if they also have relatives in the insurgency. Otherwise, militants might threaten or kill the family.
    Hide caption
    A security official says families in the area who have any men in the Frontier Constabulary may be better off if they also have relatives in the insurgency. Otherwise, militants might threaten or kill the family.
    Jim Wildman/NPR
  • Tribal uprisings have been a vexing problem in this region of Pakistan for centuries. The British, who once ruled the area, struggled with similar violence.
    Hide caption
    Tribal uprisings have been a vexing problem in this region of Pakistan for centuries. The British, who once ruled the area, struggled with similar violence.
    Jim Wildman/NPR
  • Troops in this area's Frontier Constabulary are based at the Shabqadar Fort. It predates the rule of British India, and has never been overrun by enemies.
    Hide caption
    Troops in this area's Frontier Constabulary are based at the Shabqadar Fort. It predates the rule of British India, and has never been overrun by enemies.
    Jim Wildman/NPR
  • NPR interviewed a constabulary officer named Anayatullah who is a member of the Mehsud tribe, whose leaders have been at the heart of the rebellion. He has been on the force for 24 years.
    Hide caption
    NPR interviewed a constabulary officer named Anayatullah who is a member of the Mehsud tribe, whose leaders have been at the heart of the rebellion. He has been on the force for 24 years.
    Jim Wildman/NPR
  • Despite last month's bombing, the Frontier Constabulary still draws new recruits. Their courses at Shabqadar Fort include weapons drills and tactical training.
    Hide caption
    Despite last month's bombing, the Frontier Constabulary still draws new recruits. Their courses at Shabqadar Fort include weapons drills and tactical training.
    Jim Wildman/NPR
  • Visitors inside the gates of Shabqadar Fort are protected by a cordon of armed Constables. Troops there have been on high alert since last month's bombing. Local militants said it was payback for the death of Osama bin Laden.
    Hide caption
    Visitors inside the gates of Shabqadar Fort are protected by a cordon of armed Constables. Troops there have been on high alert since last month's bombing. Local militants said it was payback for the death of Osama bin Laden.
    Jim Wildman/NPR
  • The troops of Shabqadar Fort were rarely needed outside the gates many years ago, their commander says. Now they are "fighting terrorists all the time."
    Hide caption
    The troops of Shabqadar Fort were rarely needed outside the gates many years ago, their commander says. Now they are "fighting terrorists all the time."
    Jim Wildman/NPR

1 of 11

View slideshow i

Above Irshad Alam's desk is a wooden plaque that lists all of the officers who previously held his post.

Alam commands the Frontier Constabulary troops at the Shabqadar Fort in Pakistan's northwest tribal region. His men are paramilitary troops whose duties fall somewhere between the role of the police and the role of the army. Their ranks are drawn from local tribes to help keep the peace among them.

Though this area of Pakistan has known long periods of peace, local uprisings have frequently tested outside rule. British colonial officers first organized the Frontier Constabulary in the 1920s. That's why the list above Irshad's desk begins in 1922, with the name "Major Urskine" hand-painted in white.

District Officer Alam's name is 71st on the list.

In May, something happened to Alam's men that still unsettles him.

Hundreds of new constabulary recruits had just graduated from basic training at Shabqadar Fort. Granted leave, they streamed out of the front gate for rides home. That's when a man on a motorcycle detonated a bomb, killing more than a dozen. As comrades and others converged on the wounded to help, a suicide bomber entered the fray and detonated a second set of explosives.

Irshad says the dead and wounded were "lying there just like sheep and goats."

Later, a Taliban group in Pakistan said the attack was payback for the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

"Why are our children being killed?" Alam asked us when we met with him at Shabqadar Fort. "No Muslim or Pashtun can do these attacks."

But it's true: Area tribesmen are carrying out many of these attacks. People from the same tribes that send young men to the Frontier Constabulary also send young men to the insurgency.

Alam's own children are growing up around the killing in Pakistan's latest war. As they learn the traditions and bonds of his family's Gigyani tribe, they are also slowly inheriting the burdens of a conflict that is testing ancient tribal loyalties.

Alam wants his sons, all younger than 10, to join the constabulary one day.

They — and the rest of Pakistan's tribal sons — will have to decide for themselves which side to fight for.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.