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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 07:14 GMT 08:14 UK
Tribes resent al-Qaeda search
border at Chaman
The Afghan-Pakistan border is often easy to cross
test hello test
By Owais Tohid
BBC correspondent, Peshawar
Tension is running high in Pakistan's tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, as more than 4,000 Pakistani troops - both army and paramilitaries - step up their search for al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters.

The troops have taken positions in the "sensitive" tribal areas of North and South Waziristan - bordering Afghanistan's eastern provinces of Paktia and Paktika.

We will prefer to die but we will not let goras [white men] search our area

Maulvi Hyat Ullah, religious leader
Both regions were significant strongholds for Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network from the moment they arrived in the area until the overthrow of the Taleban last year.

Official sources say a ban has been imposed on the display of arms in tribal areas, where local men have traditionally been fully armed.

Regional allegiance

The resentment of the locals began when Pakistani paramilitary troops raided a madrassa founded last month by Jalal Uddin Haqqani - the Taleban's former army chief.

Now the operation is in the town of Miran Shah - headquarters of North Waziristan, where troops and paramilitaries stand guard in newly-built bunkers.

Paramilitary troops patrol in armoured vehicles in the town where bearded and turbaned tribesmen roam around the streets, witnesses said.

Al-Qaeda cannot regroup in Pakistan and we will not let it happen

Rashid Qureshi, Pakistan Government spokesman
The livelihood of the tribesmen depends on goods coming from the other side of the border. Smuggled vehicles and electronic appliances from Afghanistan could be clearly seen.

The lives of the people here - sharing Afghanistan's culture and traditions for centuries - have always been influenced by the cross-border changes.

Religion took a political and militant shape during the 1980s, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. At the time, the area was swamped with hordes of Muslim militants from different Islamic countries.

The main Afghan fighting groups had set up their military recruitment centres and established seminaries in these hilly and inaccessible areas.

US unwelcome

It is the first time since the creation of Pakistan in 1947 that such a huge number of Pakistani troops have been deployed in this area reputed for the locals' obstinate opposition to federal rule.

Furthermore, the tribesmen are enraged at the alleged involvement of United States troops in raids and search operations alongside the Pakistanis.

Pakistani soldier in the border region
Pakistan has sent more troops to the border region
Last week, two missiles were fired at buildings where locals believed US troops were staying. Nobody was hurt.

"They have involved the Americans in the raids. We will prefer to die but we will not let goras [white men] search our area. This is against our tribal traditions. We will continue our protest and will resist," an influential religious leader, Maulvi Hyat Ullah, said.

Pakistani officials say there are no US troops in the area - apart from a few intelligence and communication experts.

"We cannot let the remaining al-Qaeda and Taleban activists slip into our territory. We have sealed the difficult territories along the porous border with Afghanistan and now we cannot afford to relax," Pakistani Government spokesman, Major General Rashid Qureshi said.

"Al-Qaeda cannot regroup in Pakistan and we will not let it happen," Mr Qureshi said.

Winning hearts

Although Pakistani officials sound very optimistic about the operation, many believe it will not be an easy task.

Observers say that the success of any operation against al-Qaeda and Taleban activists in tribal areas would mainly depend on the mutual co-operation between the tribesmen and the government.

"The tribesmen are the only ones to know the presence of strangers in their area. And Pakistani forces have to rely on their information.

It is going to be a difficult task," analyst Mohammed Riaz said.

"Making them angry is not the solution. Solution lies in gaining their confidence."

See also:

18 May 02 | South Asia
Musharraf confirms US troops in action
12 May 02 | South Asia
Pakistan steps up security measures
11 May 02 | South Asia
Pakistan rocket attack on US troops
14 Dec 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Pakistan's tribal frontiers
14 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Pakistan
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