Pakistan’s deal with FATA: a blow against the War on Terrorism

October 1, 2006 at 4:19 am (Afghanistan, History, Islamism, News, Pakistan, South Asia, The United States, War)

The Pakistani province of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) consists primarily of Pashtuns. One part of the NWFP is special administratively: the Federally-Administered Tribal Area (FATA), which is in the southwest of the NWFP and borders Afghanistan. This is basically an autonomous area, where the tribal authorities basically rule without interference from the federal government of Pakistan or the provincial government of the NWFP. This area has become significant because they harbor fleeing members of the Taliban, fleeing Afghanistan and the Coalition’s assault on and attempt to eliminate the Taliban.

At first, members of the Taliban fled into the NWFP but then concentrated their presence in FATA after Pakistani forces began trying to eliminate them in the NWFP. They thought they would be safe in FATA because no Pakistani authority had any influence or presence there. But then Pakistani authorities decided to set aside that age-old arrangement.

FATA had never been ruled by any force. Not even the British or any other invading force passing through has been able to subdue this area. As may be expected, Pakistani authorities have not had much success. In fact, Pakistan has basically given up. A treaty of sorts was signed between FATA authorities and Pakistani authorities, according to which Pakistani authorities would restore FATA’s autonomy with the condition that FATA will not harbor agents of the Taliban nor harbor foreigners nor harbor foreign entities or allow them room to operate.

But if anyone thinks FATA will turn over members of the Taliban, one would be sorely mistaken. For one thing, they can easily say: anyone who is a student is a talib-e ilm (student of knowledge); are they then required to turn over all students in every school? (“Taliban” means, literally “students”.) The other issue has to do with melamasti or hospitality. In the Pashtun code of living (called Pashtunawali), any guest has to be honored and protected, even if it is one’s enemy. A host must consider any offense to one’s guest as a serious offense against the host. (And recall how honor is restored in these societies: by violence.) As people in FATA (and the NWFP and the Pashtuns of Afghanistan) follow Pashtunawali, and is considered to be an essential and defining aspect to being Pashtun (thus, whoever does not follow it has essentially renounced his Pashtun-hood), there is no way FATA will refuse to assist members of the Taliban or surrender such members to Pakistani authorities. Furthermore, with regard to foreigners or foreign entities, many foreigners moved into the area and then married local people. If FATA were to expel these foreigners, it would have to deal with the anger and staunch resistance by families (and the tribes they belong to).

Of course, these arguments are only needed to justify FATA’s support for the Taliban. These are not exactly why FATA supports the Taliban, however. The Taliban receive substantial support (moral and materiel and otherwise) from Pashtuns—and we should remember that Pashtuns live not only in the NWFP and FATA but also across the border in Afghanistan—because they (the Taliban) are seen as a force to secure rights, resources, and institutional support in Afghanistan. Whereas members of the Taliban are Pashtun, members of the Northern Alliance are not: they’re ethnically Tajiks, Uzbeks, and so on. So Pashtuns support the Taliban because they feel if they don’t, they will be marginalized in Afghani politics. In other words, they believe that the only way to secure their interests in the region is through the Taliban. (To what degree they are right is another matter all together, about which I do not know enough about to comment.)

Pakistani authorities’ involvement in FATA has never been popular in Pakistan, seen as Pakistan attacking its own people on the order or behest of The United States, essentially doing The United States’ dirty work in Pakistan. And, sad but true, if Pakistani authorities wanted to exert authority and influence over FATA, it would need to fight a very violent, bloody civil war in that region: the people of FATA have not let Pakistani authorities succeed either. This agreement will shore up support for the government.

So, what does this agreement between FATA and Pakistani authorities mean for The United States and for Afghanistan?

This agreement is basically an admission by Pakistani authorities that they are giving up on the War on Terrorism in FATA due to inability. They are admitting their lack of success, their inability to accomplish anything. But this has become something which has angered Karzai and should concern us. This means, essentially, that Pakistani authorities have given up rooting out the Taliban and those whom they support (in other words, al-Qa’idah). From FATA, the Taliban can essentially stage a spectacular comeback in Afghanistan, having been harbored, supported, and nourished in FATA. This also means that if Usama bin Ladin is in FATA (as it has been speculated he has been, although everything under the sun has been speculated about him), he won’t be got.

The real issue now is: what will Afghani authorities and The United States do if action needs to be taken against the Taliban in FATA, operating or assisting those across the border in Afghanistan? Will The United States make good on its threat that if it spots Usama, they will send troops in (which I think they ought to expand to any senior members of the Taliban or al-Qa’idah)? What pressure will Pakistani authorities come under to renounce this deal and move in against hostile forces? How will Pakistani authorities react? Can Pakistani authorities do anything?

I do not blame Karzai for being upset with this deal. Nor can I blame Pakistani authorities for making this deal. A comprehensive and effective program for eliminating the Taliban and all other terrorist entities in that region has yet to come about: that it hasn’t shows how difficult the matter truly is. Could the War on Terrorism be doomed in Central and South Asia?

One thing is sure: the War on Terrorism is not an easy endeavor. But it is a necessary endeavor because of the vital national interests involved. We cannot afford to back down, no matter how complicated it may be. We will win only if we have the will to win.

Update: Corrected the title. Thank you, dicentra!



  1. John Werntz said,


    Hello. I didn’t see a trackback URL for this excellent post, so I just want to say that I quoted extensively from it [short of plagiarism, I hope] at Old War Dogs .


  2. John Werntz said,


    Sorry. I don’t know how this got screwed up. Here’s the righteous permalink [I hope]


  3. John Werntz said,

    I giive up. Scroll down and you’ll find it. /signed/ KLUTZ

  4. John Werntz said,

    Sorry to use your comments thread as my personal blackboard but here goes–

    This is the righteous link.

    Luckily, there is no one else around.

  5. John Werntz said,

    Good grief, wrong again. That’s the link to your post.

    This is the link to mine.

  6. Ayesha said,

    Hi ,
    there is no prove that Talban are in Pakistani areas or FATA is heping to Talban. This is just the propagand of US, This is not war against terrorism but war ahainst Muslims.

  7. zafar iqbal said,


  8. arif said,

    i request to government of pakistan please make reconciliation with the people of tribal areas.If govt want to action against extremist so please for God say take local pepole in confidence.In this way govt may be achieved its target.Unfortunately the thing is that the govts of the rest of the countries make foreign policy in the light of their domestic polisy but in our pakistn we make our domestic policy in the klight of foriegn policy.We have an example that in cold war era u.s give weapons and moral help to these taliban to fought against soviet union in the reult soviet union disintegrate in 199.Now these aliban become terrorist who fought in past for U.S,this is only U.S propaganda that taliban are there in FATA

  9. iqbal said,

    FATA could be the most dangerous place in the world and could be threath to pakistan and the whole world. the reason is that it has remained ignored and neglected since the formation of pakistan. no government has ever focused on the development of the area. the health care , education, infrastructure, industry, trade and commerce all are nill. if u see the stastistics of the above it will shock u. and if u compare it with the rest of the country again it will disappoint u. for over 3.5 population no job and no employment prospects will evevn worsen the situation. now it is for the the decision makers at highest level in pakistan and developed world to develop fata or wait for another 9/11.

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