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Guarding the frontier

October 20, 2012

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.