- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 15, 2002

Pakistan's rugged tribal areas, a near-lawless territory that has offered refuge to many Taliban and al Qaeda fighters and perhaps even to Osama bin Laden himself is known with good reason as a land of hatred, betrayal and mistrust.

By extending operations into Pakistani territory in search of elusive al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives, the U.S.-led anti-terrorist coalition has crossed the line in its war on terror, in this case literally.

On the Pakistan side of the border, U.S. advisers are helping Pakistan troops track suspected fugitives. Here, Pakistan is having some success, having arrested several hundred Taliban and al Qaeda, including a few who claim to be American citizens.

On the Afghan side of the border, about 1,000 U.S. Special Forces troops and 400 British marines have been searching for months, with little success.

Most of the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are thought to have fled into Pakistan or are operating in small groups in the border region.

The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is known as the Durand Line and has long and remarkable history.

The second British-Afghan war (1878-1880) left Britain in a position to block Afghan imports, including metals and weapons, from colonial India.

The British were afraid that the Afghans' fight for independence would serve an example for others. They pressed Afghanistan hard into signing a border-demarcation agreement.

The delegation, headed by Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, arrived in Kabul in September 1893.

According to the treaty, Afghanistan had to renounce its claims to the territories of Pashtun tribes and relinquish vast territories, including the Khyber valley, many strategic mountain ridges and passes to British India, which includes present-day India and Pakistan.

Britain in turn ceded to Afghanistan a narrow, patch of land, the Wahan Corridor, a narrow panhandle that extends to the Chinese border.

At the time, it created a buffer zone between British India and imperial Russia, which was driving through Central Asia toward "the warm seas," the Indian Ocean, the dream of all rulers of Russia since Peter the Great.

The timing couldn't have been better for the British. At the time, the situation inside Afghanistan was very shaky for King Abdur Rahman Khan. His troops were preoccupied with suppressing an uprising of Hazara tribes in central Afghanistan. A few years earlier, he had cruelly crushed an uprising of Gilzai tribes in the south and couldn't count on their support.

Facing still another war with Great Britain and uncertain political prospects at home, King Abdur Rahman had to sign the border agreement, but he refused to sign the attached maps depicting the border.

Nevertheless, the British with their maps had managed to implement a "divide-and-rule" strategy that turned a military defeat at the hands of the Afghans into a political victory.

By drawing the border, the British created a time bomb that kept local tribes fighting each other. Conflict exploded many times in bloody uprisings, taking thousands of lives and causing tensions that continue today between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

One will not find a map printed in Afghanistan depicting territory, known today as Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, as part of Pakistan.

Instead, it is marked as a "Free Tribes Zone" or even "Free Pashtunistan."

The border, called the Durand Line after the British official, cut through the Pashtuns Afghanistan's largest ethnic group often dividing the same tribes between the two countries.

For example, the Waziri tribe is divided between Pakistan's Waziristan and Afghan Paktika province. The Tanai live in Pakistan and near Khost in Afghanistan. The Mohmand tribe also lives on both sides of the Durand Line.

Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) consists of the following tribal districts: Khyber, Mohmand, Kurram, Bajaur, North and South Waziristan, and Orakzai.

All three major branches of the Pashtun tribes are represented in NWFP with the total strength of the Pashtun population more than 3 million.

The major tribes of the province are Mohmand, Waziri, Afridi, Shinwari, Khatak, Yusufzai, Kharoti and Tanai, with many others represented in smaller numbers. Each tribe is divided into a complicated structure of clans and has its own military organization, or "lashkar," of tribal fighters.

For example, the Afridi tribe with a total strength of more than 250,000 has the following clans: Malikdinkheil, Kamarkheil, Kambarkheil, Akakheil, Sipah, Kukikheil, Zakakheil and Adamkheil.

Inside the tribe, each clan has its own role and reputation. Malikdinkheil, Kukikheil and Sipah are considered to be the best fighters of Afridi; Kukikheil is also the clan of tribal aristocracy and leadership.

The Zakakheil clan has a reputation for treachery, so much so that other tribes would not accept their oaths at tribal councils.

To this day, relations among the tribes are uneasy and complicated, often erupting in bloody clashes for agricultural land, trade routes and markets, water resources, representation in tribal councils and funds allocated by the Pakistani government for development projects.

Many tribes, especially Afridi, Shinwari and Turi, are traditionally in bitter opposition to the Pakistani government.

Many times this opposition has escalated into full-scale uprisings, the most recent in 1987. To suppress it, the Pakistani government sent troops to NWFP, supported by air force, artillery and armor.

Some other tribes, such as the Tanai, are known as supporters of Pakistan's government. Smaller and weaker tribes make alliances with stronger tribes.

For example, a small Bhitani tribe, a faithful ally of the powerful Waziri, has been dubbed "the jackals of Waziris" by other tribes.

Some tribes are nomads, moving to Afghanistan in spring and returning to Pakistan with its warmer climate for winter. Their migratory route determines their unique nationality status: According to an agreement between the two countries, they are considered to be citizens of Afghanistan when on its territory and vice versa.

The central government in Islamabad has limited influence within the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Even the provincial governor appointed by the Pakistan government has to be approved by the tribal council.

The common laws of Pakistan are not implemented in NWFP, where justice is conducted by councils of tribal and religious leaders and based on a combination of Sharia, or Islamic law, and "Pashtunwalai," the Pashtun code of honor.

According to the Pashtunwalai rule of "Milmastia" (hospitality), the tribe has to protect those seeking shelter on its territory. The extradition or death of a protected guest is a dishonor for the tribe.

Other rules called "Merana" (bravery) and "Tura" (sword) require Pashtuns to answer a plea for help even if it involves risking their own lives. These rules can be easily used by al Qaeda and Taliban fighters seeking refuge with some tribes in the area.

Pashtuns in NWFP are armed, each tribe having its own weapons and ammunition depots, which can be easily mistaken for terrorists' caches. There is a flourishing weapons market, where one can buy almost anything for a price.

During the Soviet-Afghan war, weapons supplied to Afghan fighters by the United States found their way to the market, including shoulder-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.

Weapons manufacturing is also a big industry. Craftsmen combining standard and hand-made parts from different kinds of weapons produce primitive but operational pieces.

A standard mortar can have a piece of steel tubing skillfully welded to the barrel to increase the range. Or the weapons craftsmen can take a drum-shaped rocket pod and mount it on the back of a jeep, creating a mobile multiple rocket launcher.

Participation of British troops in this operation deserves special attention.

The British are more than anyone else familiar with this area. There is no doubt that all documents related to the colonial period are being carefully studied again in quiet rooms of the Foreign Office and Defense Ministry.

With memories of battles passed from generation to generation, almost any tribal fighter would be happy to crack a shot at a Briton just for the sake of old times. When his ancestors fought them in the same land, the Pashtu word for British, "englizi," became a synonym for "enemy."

Timothy Gusinov served two tours of duty in Afghanistan as an area specialist/military interpreter with Soviet troops, where his duties included negotiating with local authorities and tribal leaders. He can be reached by e-mail at timgus@rcn.com.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide