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Guarding the frontier


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The fascinating and indomitable people of Fata have been beautifully described by Lt. Gen. Sir George Macmunn in his book The Romance of Indian Frontiers. “There is such colour and romance, such love and lust, such tragedy and glory as would fill 10,000 volumes.”

Bound by a common language, Pakhtu or Pashto with different dialects, yet a single code of honour and culture called Pakhtunkwali, the inhabiting tribes remain fiercely resistant to change and outside interventions and hence an enigma to the outside world.

Having largely remained what they are since Pakistan’s inception in 1947, both politically and administratively, the tribespeople inhabit seven tribal agencies over 22,407 square kilometres, much of it trudging along the borders with Afghanistan. While the rest of Pakistan moved on, the tribal agencies mostly remained impoverished and backward with the lowest socio-economic indicators in the country.

Proud to be the unpaid soldiers and defenders of Pakistan’s borders, the tribals feel that their areas have been treated as the country’s backyard, abandoned and forgotten.

Sharing the long and porous border with Afghanistan and tribal linkage meant that events and turbulence in the neighbouring country would impact the tribal areas. So the US invasion of Afghanistan barely two decades after the Soviet invasion, followed by the aftermath of 9/11 caused an upheaval that rattled the tribal structure and brought the already tenuous government control to nearly nothing.

As a result of our national ignorance and indifference, little effort was made to get to know the people inhabiting Fata.

Khyber: Comprising 991 square kilometres, with its agency headquarters in Landi Kotal, Khyber sits on the so-called international highway linking it with Afghanistan through Khyber Pass. Its three sub-divisions, Landi Kotal, Jamrud and Bara are inhabited by the Afridi, Shinwari, Shalmani and Malagori tribes administered through the offices of the political agent in Peshawar. Afridis being the predominant tribe, further divide into eight sub-clans occupying Jamrud and Bara sub-divisions. Shinwaris are the smallest tribe living in and around Landi Kotal on the border with Afghanistan. Khyber borders Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province.

Bajaur: Stretching over an area of 590 square kilometres and originally a sub division of Malakand,  it is situated along the Hindu Kush range. Bajaur gained its federal tribal agency status in 1973. Inhabited mainly by the Utmankhels and the Tarkanris, the former being the major tribe whereas the Tarkanris of which Salarzi is a major sub-tribe inhabit the relatively greener Salarzi, Mamud, Nawagai and Charmang areas. The headquarters are in Khaar which borders Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province.

Mohmand: Spread over an area of 2,296 square kilometres, Mohmand agency was created in 1951. Because of its congruity with Peshawar, until 1951, it was directly administered by the deputy commissioner in Peshawar. The agency headquarters are in Yakkaghund. The major tribes being the Mohmands, Safis and Utmankhels.

Kurram: Established in 1892, Kurram which borders Nangarhar, Khost and Paktia provinces of Afghanistan is the second oldest tribal agency after Khyber. Spread over an area of 3,380 square kilometres, Kurram is one of the most sensitive tribal regions, owing to its Sunni and Shia population. The agency headquarters is in Parachinar and is Shiite, while Sadda is predominantly Sunni. It is inhibited by 15 tribes including Turis, Mangals, Bangash, Massouzais, Paras, Chamkanis, Alisherzais, Zaimukhts, Maqbals, Jajis, Jadrans, Ghiljis, Hazaras, Khushis, Kharotis and Lasianis. The Turis are the largest tribe bordering Afghanistan’s Khost province.

Orakzai: Formerly part of Frontier Region, Kohat, Orakzai was declared a tribal agency in 1973 with its headquarters in Hangu. Out of the seven tribal agencies, this is the only one that does not share borders with Afghanistan. Spread over an area of 700 square kilometres, it is inhabited by Orakzais and Bangash tribes. Mostly mountainous with thick forests, it has two sub divisions, Upper and Lower Orakzai.

North Waziristan: Spread over an area of 4,707 square kilometres, it borders the Khost and Paktia provinces of Afghanistan and has three main sub divisions, Miramshah (the agency headquarters), Mirali and Razmak. Inhabited by Utmanzai Wazirs, Dawars, Saidgis, Kharsin and Gurbaz tribes, it has a volatile history as the inhabitant tribes fought the British until 1947.

South Waziristan: Spread over an area of 6,619 square kilometres, the largest agency in Fata was established in 1895 with Wana as the regional headquarters. The three sub divisions, Wana, Sarwekai and Ladah are inhabited by the Mehsuds and the Waziris. The former gave the British a hard time and suffered several punitive expeditions. Both tribes spearheaded the Afghan army and restored King Nadir Khan to the throne in Kabul in 1929.

Comments (22) Closed

suneel Oct 21, 2012 02:33pm
For those people who like your comment; Do they realize the cost of having arms in the hands of common public? Yes, sometime these people will fight with foreigners, but most of the time they will kill their own people.
DrTK Oct 21, 2012 05:52pm
Your love can't pay thier bills!!!
ck67 Oct 22, 2012 06:25pm
Stop injustice, favoritism start treating everybody as human and your citizen in your country. Not like muslim/non muslim -shia/sunni- punjabi/Sindhi -rich/poor. 50% of your problems will be solved.
N.Usmani Oct 21, 2012 12:58pm
In this write up there are no figures on population, poverty level, distribution of money, education level and their source of income (economy). Why FATA people are not willing to change as rest of the world in changing to live a better life? Why they are so proud to be poor, uneducated and ignorant? If they are so independent then why they don't have their econoimcal plans to uplift their societly.
T, Nawaz Oct 21, 2012 10:16pm
they are not asking you for money.
mao Oct 21, 2012 06:33pm
Pakstan need to treat all its people equally
kamran Oct 21, 2012 09:54am
they are all our defenders, defenders of pakistan! they should be treated with utmost respect. these are the people who could never let alexander, and chengiz khans and the britishers, russians, ever cross the borders. we love you FATA people. Just do not let the foreigners enter our land...peace with you and peace with pakistan..
suresh Oct 22, 2012 05:57am
Appreciate your love for FATA people - also I like the comments of DrTK (love will not foot the bills), however, everyone has the right to live the way they want to live, and sometimes it is best that you let them live their own way, else you can see the results what happened to Russians and now Americans. If they wish to live life of nomads so be it, who are we to ask them to change. They have already seen the effects of corruption, nepotism indulged by so called educated masses especially politicians.
Pashtun voice Oct 21, 2012 11:36pm
I am sick and tired of this whole Pukhtunwali concept. It is time that we leave all that folklore to someone else and focus on creating a better society.
Shakeel Oct 22, 2012 03:56am
They don't pay bills
Israr Khan IsmailZai. Oct 22, 2012 02:28am
You probably don't know the Pakhtoon culture, they can live without food but not without a gun. And the only time they are at peace is when they are at war.
SAnnam Jon Oct 22, 2012 02:30am
Beuracracy do not want to change the status of FATA and FR (Frontier Region) and the condition of tribal people because it serve as golden eggs giving hen. FATA administration has special position in GDM group of beurocrates. The Political Agent has undisclosed amount of money for administration which he can spend without audit. Due to the Afghan transit trade rout the tribal area is a heaven for Customs, political administration, and FC officers. These officers have to pay millions of rupees to get posting in FATA and they recover that amount in a couple of months. The only looser in this game are the poor tribal people.
Tariq Oct 21, 2012 01:04pm
The people of Fata region are our brethren but it is also vital that they need to catch up the 21st century! And that means educating their present and future generations of both male and females, which would only bring prosperity to the areas and it's inhabitants. As the Quran states it sunnah for both men and women to seek worldly knowledge!
faraz Oct 22, 2012 03:05am
This whole paranoia with defending frontier against enemies needs to end. Why make Afghanistan and India attack us. This is middle age thinking that unless you defend your border you will be conquer. this is 21st century and this area should be part of Pakistan in same way as rest of places. No "safe heaven" should be tolerated and there should not be any room for war lords.
Hasnain Haque Oct 21, 2012 08:39pm
Totally agree with you Mr Usmani. there is no pride in being poor, uneducated and backwards. I think the answer is that their rulers have deliberately kept them susbservient so that they could exercise control over them.
John luding Oct 22, 2012 03:19pm
Are you kiddig baby? you know its 21th century,have u ever heard of Biological war,Atoms, and so on. True father of our Pakistan(England) and False mother of our Pakistan(US) just using us pretty like woods to keep fire goes on. You Pakhtooon brother, keep your traditional cultrure!
Syed rizvi Oct 22, 2012 01:33pm
Thanks to dawn for providing such historical details and structure of Fata. I uggest the government, particularly the atmy should understand and take notice of the hidtorical facts of FAtaforbetter-adminstration of this area.
zain Oct 22, 2012 04:24am
from where i will get this book in pakistan???
OZ Oct 22, 2012 03:12pm
Are you out of your mind? How do you expect them to catch up with no access to modern education - majority of them want change, but the taliban occupying or controlling the areas would not let them - they blow up schools, colleges, mosques and whatever that does not fit their bill. The West & Russia have been playing their game on our land for a long time - one gives money, the other sells the weapons and the middle man (warlord) makes the money. I do seriously think that having a walled boundary, as iran did, is a solution to cross border infiltration of these talibans- who are convieniently moving between the borders.
Ahmed j Oct 21, 2012 04:34pm
Very brief first lesson for fellow countrymen who do not know about this land and their customs. Burki tribe also need your attention.
Ali Khan Oct 21, 2012 03:16pm
You forgot Americans
Oz Oct 21, 2012 10:44am
I am ashamed that as a Pakistani, I did not know the geography of FATA... this article has educated me so much about FATA. Thank you! This aside, it is entirely correct that FATA has been forgotten when it comes to development of all sorts. However, the cities have suffered the same forgetful attitude of past governments as well.... they only look FULL OF LIGHTS because of private investments. I feel in Pakistan we should drop all Provinces - Have ONE unified federal government, with empowered Local Councils (like UK) so everyone can have EQUAL rights. Sadly, I know its never going to happen because the mega rich politicians will never let it be - its in their interest to have a divided country.