The Talibanization of the North-West Frontier

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 12

In a bid to cope with the worsening security situation in North and South Waziristan agencies, and to contain the expanding wave of Talibanization from the tribal areas to the settled areas, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has appointed a new governor to the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). Lieutenant General (Retired) Ali Mohammad Jan Orakzai was sworn in as the new governor on May 24. In the past two years of the insurgency in the tribal areas, he is the third governor to take the leadership helm. Prior to Orakzai, Lieutenant General (Retired) Iftakhar Hessian Shah and more recently Commander Khali-ur-Rehman held the post. The quick succession of governors shows the importance that the federal government places on controlling the situation in the tribal areas, particularly in North and South Waziristan.

Prior to the start of military operations in the tribal areas, the NWFP governor was at the helm in running the administration of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) through a carefully woven network of political agents, assistant political agents and subordinate staff (each tribal agency is headed by a political agent). During the last two years of military operations, however, the corps commander of Peshawar has assumed a more important role by managing the security situation on the western border up to Balochistan (the army consists of twelve corps).

New Governor Faces Daunting Task

Ali Mohammad Jan Orakzai is facing a daunting task and great expectations are being attached with his appointment to this position because Orakzai is a tribal man, hails from FATA’s Orakzai Agency and understands tribal psyche and norms. Additionally, he was the corps commander of Peshawar from October 2001 to 2004 and retired from that same position. Orakzai was born in 1947 and was commissioned in the army in 1968. He is a graduate of the command and staff college in Quetta and has also attended military courses in the United States. Before becoming the governor, he served as secretary of defense of the production division, putting him in charge of the departments that manufacture weapons (The Nation, May 23).

Some analysts are skeptical about the success of the new governor, arguing that while he was the corps commander of Peshawar in 2002, Orakzai was the first person to deploy government troops to the tribal areas (BBC, May 24). During this time, he never admitted to the presence of al-Qaeda or the local Taliban in the area. Since Orakzai is considered a hardliner, as compared to former governor Khali-u-Rehman, the new appointment gives the impression that the federal government, instead of pursuing dialogue with the militants, is sticking with the military option.

The restoration of peace in North and South Waziristan will be a great challenge for Orakzai. The dilemma is not only that the local Taliban in North Waziristan are not ready to speak with the government, but they also disallow anyone else in the region from speaking with the authorities. In these troubled areas, political agents are seen only in their official functions and troops are limited merely to forts and bunkers. In this context, it is a big question whether the civil administration—responsible for development work, law-and-order and political and administrative tasks—can be activated again in FATA.

Attempts to Revitalize the Political Administration in FATA

Prior to the appointment of the new governor, the federal government was examining ways to revitalize the political administration in FATA. On May 23, The Nation published a detailed report which said that the federal government was considering the replacement of presently posted political agents in the troubled agencies with more competent ones to improve the administration of FATA. Sahibzada Imtiaz, a retired bureaucrat, has been assigned by Musharraf to make proposals in this regard and to suggest the names of competent officers who can carry out the assignment. Sahibzada has already prepared a reform package to improve the situation in the FATA area.

Changes will take place as soon as the proposals reach Islamabad. The president has also endorsed another proposal by Imtiaz to bring the Frontier Constabulary—primarily a border security and paramilitary force, but also one that maintains law and order elsewhere in the country—back under the administrative control of the political agents. Until 1996, the Frontier Constabulary was working under the political agents; after 1996, however, the inspector general of the Frontier Constabulary had been given the administration of the paramilitary forces guarding the 1600 kilometer border with Afghanistan and Iran. The government also has decided to strengthen the “levies” (tribal militia forces) in FATA to minimize the deployment of the armed forces in the area. Presently, the levies are only active in Kurrum Agency, Khyber Agency and Orakzai Agency; the government is considering the establishment of levies in North and South Waziristan in order to reduce the deployment of regular army forces.

An additional change involves the manner in which political agents are selected. Political agents are normally selected from the District Management Group, a group of civil service members who run the different district-level governments; it was previously considered an elite group due to its extensive powers, but has been weakened recently as a result of the decentralization of authority program undertaken by Musharraf. Under the new arrangement, competent officers from other federal services could potentially be appointed as political agents.

The political administration in the tribal areas certainly needs positive changes if the government sincerely wants to normalize the situation. For a long time, the tribal masses have protested against the way the political administration has treated them. Maltreatment by the political administration and political and economic backwardness drives tribesmen to the local Taliban. A former officer of the Pakistani Army and elder of the Mehsood tribe, retired Brigadier Malik Qayyum Sher, said that the local Taliban have their own agenda and are faithfully acting upon it, and that announcements of development programs by Musharraf will not have any effect on their actions. While speaking to the BBC, he revealed that the Pakistani Army itself maintains contacts with the local Taliban and that local people have sympathies for them. He admitted that he himself was in contact with the local Taliban and did not find any harm in maintaining this contact. He believed that military operations were not the solution and that the government would have to reach a settlement with the local Taliban (Islam, April 27).

Local Taliban Continue to Establish Control

The local Taliban in North Waziristan does not seem to be in a mood of reconciliation with the government. Rather, they are busy undertaking actions that include the investigation of the 18 tribal chiefs who met Musharraf and violated the ban prohibiting contacts with the government (Daily Times, May 23). For the past two months, these meetings between tribal chiefs and government officials have been occurring in Rawalpindi and in Peshawar. Musharraf is now frequently consulting every relevant quarter about the situation in the Waziristan agencies. Abdullah Farhad, a spokesman for the local Taliban, told reporters that a shura council would decide the fate of two tribal chiefs, Mir Sharof Ederkhel and Nawab Khan Borakhel, who had met the president. “Sharof and Khan have admitted meeting the president was a mistake and pleaded for mercy,” said Farhad. Sharof confirmed contacting the government, saying he had attended the meeting to plead for the military’s withdrawal from the tribal regions.

The local Taliban is concerned with not only the enforcement of Sharia law, but also the waging of jihad against intruders (i.e., U.S.-led coalition forces) in Afghanistan. Haji Omar, one of the leaders of the local Taliban in South Waziristan agency, told the BBC that jihad against foreign troops will continue until U.S. and other foreign soldiers completely withdrawal from Afghanistan. He threatened to increase the attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan and said that there would be no negotiation with intruders. He explained that the Taliban have no enmity with the Pakistani Army, but if the military carried out operations against them, they would have to defend themselves. He accused the Karzai government of sending spies into Pakistan’s tribal areas to detect the presence of al-Qaeda elements. Haji Omar said that a number of such spies have been captured and killed (Mashraq, April 22).

Some members of the media are doubtful that the government will once again apply the obsolete method of using the political agent system to control the worsening situation in Waziristan where military operations have already aggravated the conflict and hollowed the foundations of the political administration system. After controlling North and South Waziristan, the Talibanization movement is stretching to the southern parts of NWFP which include Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu and Tank. The Taliban have destroyed the authority and traditional tribal system by killing tribal elders (Khabrain, May 12).


Musharraf stated that military operations in the tribal areas will continue until the total elimination of foreign terrorists. While addressing a special meeting to review the situation in FATA, he proposed that if tribes were to expel or hand over terrorists to the government, the operations in the region would be stopped. He said that he would expedite the developmental work in the tribal areas and finalize the schemes of industrialization with the cooperation of the United States. Musharraf said that these industries would provide immense employment opportunities for local youth (Nawa-i-Waqt, May 10). Musharraf seems sincere in implementing his designs, although the success of the entire process needs to involve all sections of tribal society (Nawa-i-Waqt, May 13).

Indeed, after being sworn into office, the new governor unexpectedly spoke about peaceful resolution of the conflict in North Waziristan. Orakzai said that he would prefer using peaceful means instead of force to restore law and order in the tribal regions. In his first remarks after taking the oath of office, he said, “Eventually all problems are resolved through talks.” The governor said it would be his endeavor to tackle issues through peaceful means: “I am confident that we will succeed in resolving all issues through mutual consultations and talks.” He said that law and order was the most important issue before him and he would strive to restore normalcy in the tribal region. Orakzai said that as a native of the tribal region and as the corps commander of Peshawar for two and a half years, he had observed that tribesmen were peace-loving people. “But some of them who are misguided would be put on the right path,” he remarked (Dawn, May 25).

It is believed that the tribesmen can be dealt with only by those who have a true perception about tribal norms and values. The British, when they ruled the region, successfully followed this principle and consequently introduced the system of local political administration, which mainly banks upon the tribal jirga system comprising tribal elders. Governor Orakzai himself hails from a pure tribal family and is also a retired general. He is the most qualified person available at the moment to tackle the worsening situation in the tribal areas by applying military tactics and extending the political process.