For Pakistan's Frontier Constabulary, Tribe MattersPeople from the same tribes that send young men to the paramilitary unit also send young men to the insurgency. Children growing up around Pakistan's latest war are learning the traditions and bonds of their tribes, and slowly inheriting the burdens of a conflict that is testing ancient tribal loyalties.
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."
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.
Pakistan's Northwest Frontier includes the Mehsud, Wazir and Yusufzai tribes. Men from these groups only work alongside men from the same tribes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Despite last month's bombing, the Frontier Constabulary still draws new recruits. Their courses at Shabqadar Fort include weapons drills and tactical training.
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.
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."
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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.