The Neglect and Abuse of Pakistan’s Tribal Areas

Umar Farooq in the Boston Review:

ScreenHunter_1585 Dec. 25 16.38Kabir Afridi gingerly makes his way through the bustling bazaar in Jamrud, past hawkers offering everything from cheap cell phones and fresh fruit to heroin and American military boots and flak jackets. Located in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), along the highway between Peshawar and Kabul, the bazaar offers, among other things, items pilfered from the stream of trucks carrying supplies to American forces in Afghanistan. Few of the thieves are caught. And then there are the chronic militant attacks.

FATA has earned a reputation for chaos. President Obama, justifying more than 400 drone strikes that have hit the region, describes a “remote tribal” territory where Pakistan “cannot or will not effectively stop terrorism.” Academics and media organizations have taken to calling it a “lawless” place.

This characterization is false, though, as Afridi can attest. There is law, if not stability.

One morning last fall, Afridi was in the bazaar buying vegetables when his phone rang. “I got a call from a relative saying there had been an attack in our area,” he recalls. Gunmen had assaulted two tankers carrying fuel for American troops. Two drivers were killed and the trucks set ablaze. It was the third attack in a week on the same stretch of highway.

Soon an officer from the Khasadar—a militia commanded by an Islamabad-appointed official known as a “political agent”—sought out Afridi, a bearded man wearing a flowing white tunic and a tightly wrapped turban. “There are orders from inside,” the officer told Afridi, as he brought him to a cell in the agent’s office. Within a few hours, Afridi was joined by twenty-five other members of his Tor Khel tribe. Afridi, who denies ever participating in violence, has been arrested four times for attacks on NATO trucks and three times for attacks on government officials.

He laughs when I ask if his case is unusual. “There are thousands like me,” he replies. “Every time something happens, the political agent arrests us, holds a press conference to show he is taking action. Then our elders pay a fine and we are released.”

More here.