History Of Pakistan's Tribal Zones Many of the U.S. military's most wanted are believed to be hiding in a swath of rugged mountains in Pakistan, just over the Afghan border. President Obama has called the tribal region "the most dangerous place in the world." Pakistani Journalist Imtiaz Gul explains to Steve Inskeep what Pakistan's federally administered tribal areas actually are.
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History Of Pakistan's Tribal Zones

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History Of Pakistan's Tribal Zones

History Of Pakistan's Tribal Zones

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What are the origins of these zones that we describe as the tribal areas of Pakistan?

IMTIAZ GUL: It was created after several futile efforts by the British to conquer these areas. They didn't succeed so then they created these special zones called Federally Administered Tribal Areas - at that time was part of India.

INSKEEP: And basically they were governed by the British but not really governed by the British.

GUL: Not really.

INSKEEP: Is that right?

GUL: It was a quid pro quo. The British entered into an agreement with the tribes that inhabit this area, saying that you can do whatever you want on this piece of land - it's 27,200 square kilometers. And in return you would allow us safe passage up to the border with Afghanistan. So here, you know, you have a route running through this area, 50 feet both sides of the road...


GUL: ...way down(ph) to the federal government. The rest belongs to tribesmen and they will do whatever thought was fit: drugs, smuggling, crime, people would take refuge there, criminals, fugitives. And the same system then we retained after Pakistan came into being in 1947.

INSKEEP: And there are seven of these tribal zones?

GUL: There are seven tribal zones.

INSKEEP: And there are federal officials in each of these seven tribal areas, right?

GUL: The way Pakistan government controls these areas is through an administrator, which is called the political agent. He's the link between the federal government and the tribes living in those areas. And those tribes are now represented by the tribal chiefs. There are about 35,000 of them in the seven tribal zones.

INSKEEP: So there's not any kind of democracy, even in times when there's democracy in Pakistan.

GUL: There's no democracy, no. It's the legacy of the colonial rule and it continues to date. And the common man in these areas doesn't have a sense of justice. And the genesis of the militancy, the Islamist movement, also lies in the absence of a legal justice system in these areas.

INSKEEP: Because that encourages people to look for some other kind of justice - Islamic justice in some cases.

GUL: Yeah, for them the Islamic justice is their shortcut. The justice delivery is very, very quick. Here you have a complaint. The judge is sitting there - the so-called judge. He adjudicates the matter in a day or two and there you have it.

INSKEEP: If we go back 20 or 30 years, what happened that caused this very loose governing system to start to fall apart?

GUL: Both Pakistan and the United States began using this area for training Mujahedeen...

INSKEEP: To fight in Afghanistan...

GUL: To fight...

INSKEEP: ...against the Soviets.

GUL: ...against the Soviet Union. And that gave birth to a new breed of people, which is called Mujahedeen or the militants or the Taliban. What we are dealing with now is a second generation of jihadis, who really believe in jihad for whom not only was the Soviet Union a devil but also the United States and its allies. And they turned this area into their launching pad, their training ground for their jihad against the United States.

INSKEEP: How sympathetic do you think the people of the tribal areas are to that jihadist point of view?

GUL: Not the majority. It's a small minority. But when you are dealing with armed bands who are using religion and tradition to dictate their terms, common people become helpless.

INSKEEP: As you know very well, the Pakistani military has now spent quite a lot of time going into certain tribal zones, flooding areas with troops, and have made announcements that in some cases they've cleared out tribal zones. What if anything is actually changing in the tribal areas as this happens?

GUL: At the moment nothing is changing. It's just the military which has gone into those areas. It's cleared many regions of militants, but it's not a lasting solution. At the moment, there is no civilian authority...

INSKEEP: Because the...

GUL: ...because...

INSKEEP: ...civilian system we described has collapsed. Is that what you're saying?

GUL: The civilian - the moment the army went in, nine years ago, the civilian system simply collapsed. They simply rendered the civilian administration as ineffective.

INSKEEP: The Pakistanis have said we'll get around to it. Do you think Pakistan is serious about that?

GUL: I think Pakistan is serious about that and also being considerate about its own limitations. It's a question of capacity. Pakistan is not the United States. It doesn't possess enormous human and financial resources to open so many fronts at the same time. And I think one consideration is that if they cracked down on these crooks in North Waziristan, their allies on mainland Pakistan could hit back at the state of Pakistan.

INSKEEP: Oh, meaning that if the army moves into North Waziristan, this remote tribal zone, a bomb is going to explode in the big city of Lahore, for example.

GUL: This is what has been happening. We saw the military campaign that was conducted in May 2009. Pakistan was on fire. There was more than 36 suicide bombings.

INSKEEP: One other thing about these tribal zones that you've traveled in on and off for many years. What's it like to travel there?

GUL: It's not easy to travel into these areas. When I first went into these tribal areas, I thought I had come to an area set back in 300 years. The drive time from Islamabad to one of these tribal areas is about 12 hours.

INSKEEP: And it's not very far on the map at all.

GUL: All these people moved from mainland Pakistan into the tribal areas to plan from there. And they also then hooked up with al-Qaida, with Afghan Taliban. That's how this nexus came about.

INSKEEP: I love how you describe it as the tribal areas and mainland Pakistan, almost as if they were off on an island somewhere. But it's that remote, isn't?

GUL: To a certain extent it's that remote. People don't have a sense of belonging to Pakistan.

INSKEEP: Imtiaz Gul is author of "The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan's Lawless Frontier." Thanks very much.

GUL: Welcome.

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