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Friday, 14 December, 2001, 17:28 GMT
Analysis: Pakistan's tribal frontiers
Pakistani tribal troop poses with Afghan warlord on the border
Tribal bonds dilute the Pakistan-Afghanistan border
By the BBC's Rahimullah Yusufzai in Peshawar

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) have again become the focus of attention.

There have been reports that Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda followers could seek refuge there now that Afghanistan's Taleban regime that harboured them has been ousted.

Pakistani soldier guard the tribal frontier
Islamabad must respect tribal autonomy

Such speculation intensified in the wake of unconfirmed reports that Bin Laden had been sighted in the Tora Bora area in the Spinghar (White Mountain) range.

This range serves as a border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The FATA, or tribal areas as they are commonly known, are located on the Pakistan side of the 2,400 kilometres long and porous border.

(Click here to map of tribal areas)

The border is named the Durand Line after the British official who oversaw the demarcation of the 19th century boundary.

Autonomous agencies

The tribal areas had a population of 5.7m according to the 1998 national census.

There are seven tribal areas : Khyber, Kurram, Orakzai, Mohmand, Bajaur, North Waziristan and South Waziristan, all inhabited by Pashtun tribes.

The tribal areas, or agencies as they are called, were created by the British to serve as a buffer between undivided India and Afghanistan.

The British devised a special system of political administration to govern the freedom-loving Pashtun tribes who resisted colonial rule with a determination unparalleled in the subcontinent.

Pakistani policeman displays multi-barrelled rocket launcher seized on border
Much of the border is awash with weapons

The tribal people were granted maximum autonomy and allowed to run their affairs in accordance with their Islamic faith, customs and traditions.

Tribal elders, known as Maliks, were given special favours by the British in return for services such as maintaining peace, keeping important roads like the Khyber Pass open, and apprehending anti-state and anti-social elements.

The system of administration has not changed much even 51 years after Pakistan's independence despite demands by the educated and enlightened sections of the tribal population.

The tribals were granted universal adult franchise in 1997 but political parties are still outlawed there.

Earlier, only a few thousand tribal elders were allowed the right to vote and contest elections to the parliament.

Ancient traditions

The limited franchise led to widespread sale and purchase of votes.

The Pakistani courts and police have no jurisdiction in tribal areas.

A unique set of laws called the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) enforced in the tribal areas since 1947 empowers the government to arrest anyone without specifying the crime.

Political activists term the FCR a black law because the accused cannot get bail in such cases.

Successive governments in Pakistan have been promising reforms in the tribal areas but to no effect.

Low literacy ratios, scarce development funds, fallout of the instability in neighbouring Afghanistan and rigid traditions have held the tribal areas back in terms of socio-economic development compared to the rest of Pakistan.

(click here to return)
See also:

29 Sep 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Powerful cross-border bonds
21 Nov 01 | South Asia
Pakistan jails Islamic leader
25 Sep 01 | South Asia
The wild border town of Quetta
19 Nov 01 | South Asia
Pakistan detains Islamic 'army leader'
08 Nov 01 | South Asia
Road to Pakistan's troubled borderland
10 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Pakistan's fault lines
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