Author Describes Pakistan’s ‘Wild West’

BY Dan Sagalyn  June 15, 2010 at 10:30 AM EST


Pakistan’s tribal areas. Graphic by Michael Harry.

Pakistan’s border region with Afghanistan is a rugged, mountainous area that has attracted militants and insurgents — and become a target for Pakistani military operations and U.S. drone attacks.

A number of terrorists who have plotted against the United States and Great Britain trained in these border areas of Pakistan, known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the Northwest Frontier Province, including Faisal Shahzad, who is accused of trying to set off a car bomb in Time Square in New York City in May; Najibullah Zazi who admitted last year that he was planning a series of suicide bombings in the New York City subways; Zazi’s partner Zarein Ahmedzay; and the perpetrators of the bombings in London in 2005.

“It’s the wild west of the 18th century,” says Imtiaz Gul, Pakistani journalist and author of “The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan’s Lawless Frontier.”

“People are like the old time Wild West, adventurous creatures who grew up with guns, who grew up with a lot of adventurism and who are pretty partially alien to the culture of United States, or for that matter even the culture of Islamabad.

“Originally the locals welcomed [the militants] as heroes, as crusaders against the United States because they’d been living with them in the 1980s as the anti-Soviet Union jihadists, so for them it was no surprise and they extended all sorts of hospitality and assistance to these people,” said Gul.

Because the area is so remote, efforts to develop and rehabilitate the region have not been easy, he continued. “The machinery required to reconstruct, to rehabilitate and also develop these areas is still missing. They can’t go in, and that’s why a lot of developmental and rehabilitation schemes have been on hold so far.”

Gul discusses more about how these tribal areas became a draw for militants in this Reporter’s Podcast: