The Philadelphia Inquirer
January 17, 2006
porous Pakistan-Afghan border has sheltered international outlaws
colonials created the border separating Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1893.
But the semiautonomous Pashtun tribes who live along the frontier have
never fully recognized that the barrier applies to local residents.
While Afghanistan and Pakistan maintain
official checkpoints along the 1,470-mile border, local tribesmen can
freely move across the border along the hundreds of unguarded livestock
trails and smuggling routes that traverse the rugged mountains. Many
Pashtuns claim citizenship in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, as suits
The porous region provides a haven to
international outlaws. After the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001,
Osama bin Laden is believed to have narrowly escaped across the remote
paths to Pakistan, where he is thought still to be hiding with his top
lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
American soldiers fighting in
Afghanistan express frustration at being unable to pursue Taliban fighters
who retreat into Pakistani tribal areas such as Waziristan. The harsh
reaction in Pakistan to last week's CIA-directed missile attack in the
village of Damadola illustrates the political risks the Americans face by
carrying out actions in Pakistan.
The border area is a land of extremes.
The stark, high desert is frigid in the winter, scorching in the summer,
and largely devoid of trees. Outsiders are unwelcome. Pakistan requires
foreigners to obtain a permit to enter the zone, and visitors must be
For most of Pakistan's modern history,
the tribal areas were off-limits even to the military. Under pressure from
the Americans to exert more control over the tribal areas, Pakistan's army
has conducted recent operations against suspected terrorist bases. But the
missions are often well-telegraphed; the key targets frequently escape.
While Pashtuns barely tolerate
outsiders, they are fiercely loyal to those who win their respect. Bin
Laden operated in the area during the war to oust Soviet occupation forces
in the 1980s. Many of the Taliban leaders who governed Afghanistan in the
post-Soviet era were Pashtuns from the region. The bonds are deep.
Pakistan's Wild Frontier
Known as the Federally Administered
Tribal Areas, the mountainous region covers about 10,500 square miles - a
little larger than New Jersey.
* The population
is estimated at three million to six million, mostly Pashtun tribesmen
with historical ties to Pashtuns in Afghanistan.
* Seven "agencies" make up the
Federally Administered Tribal Areas - Khyber, Kurram, Orakzai, Mohmand,
Bajaur, North Waziristan and South Waziristan. The U.S. air strike last
week was in the Bajaur agency.
* About 3 percent of the population
lives in towns. The economy is chiefly pastoral - sheep and goats. Farmers
grow some crops in the region's few fertile valleys, including poppies;
the region has been a major center for opium production and trafficking.
* Few of Pakistan's federal laws are
enforced in the tribal areas. Tribal councils of men - not women - govern
through consensus deeply rooted in tradition.