Counter-Terrorism: Pakistan and the al Qaeda Base Area


April 1, 2007: Pakistani officials are claiming success for their counter-terrorism strategy in the tribal areas along the Afghan border. That's because, for most of March, tribesmen have been fighting non-Pakistani al Qaeda gunmen, killing at least 130 of them (and losing about 30 tribal fighters in the process). There are believed to be about a thousand of these non-Pakistani Islamic radicals in the tribal areas. Most moved in after fleeing Afghanistan in late 2001. Many of these men have since taken local wives, but this did not established the good tribal relationships that everyone expected. The foreigners are Islamic radicals originally from Central Asia, North Africa, the Middle East and Chechnya.

The government has signed agreements with several of the tribes (who basically run their own affairs), whereby the tribes will shut down Islamic terrorists and prevent the Taliban from recruiting in Pakistan, using bases in Pakistan, and moving across the border into Afghanistan. In return, the Pakistani government will not carry out military or police operations in the tribal areas without the permission of the tribal chiefs. In addition, bribes were paid (it's traditional.) Since this policy began last year, there has been an increase in Taliban activity, coming from Pakistan, in southern Afghanistan. Islamic conservatives have become more active in the tribal areas as well. This has upset the tribal chiefs, but many of the tribesmen support the Taliban, and Islamic radicalism in general. The fighting this month was largely the result of long simmering anger at banditry and bullying by the foreigners, who are well armed, and not reluctant to use force. So one could describe the recent fighting as payback for that, not a crackdown on al Qaeda activity. However, all those dead Islamic radicals has created more bad feelings between the tribes and Islamic radicals everywhere. The foreigners tend to have a low opinion of the tribesmen (who are mainly Pushtuns, who comprise 40 percent of the Afghan population, and Baluchis, who dominate southwestern Pakistan.) The tribesmen pick up on this and, well, you can see where that sort of thing leads in a region where most adult men have guns.

The United States has been pressuring the Pakistanis to do something about the growing power of Islamic radicals in the tribal areas. While the recent fighting has reduced the number of foreign Islamic radicals, it has not diminished the influence of Islamic radicalism in the area. The United States wants Pakistan to crack down on the religious schools that basically indoctrinate tribal youth (and students from other parts of Pakistan, and the world) to become Islamic radicals and terrorists. The government is attempting to do this, as the schools tend to be in urban areas, where the tribal leaders have less authority. But the schools are still numerous and in operation. These tribal areas have become the new home base for Islamic radicals, who can operate freely here, train their terrorists and plan new attacks.




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