Pakistan's Tribal Areas

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+ Kamran Khan

Pakistani journalist and special correspondent for The Washington Post

Many think, after 9/11, Al Qaeda went to the tribal areas [of Pakistan]. What you know about that?

Definitely they did. Definitely. The whole of Al Qaeda's moved into Pakistan. First they moved into the tribal areas. Pretty much they are there -- even today they are there. There is pretty strong evidence available to suggest that some of the Arabs who speak local native language, the Pashto, that wear native dresses, they look like native people. They are the guest of tribal people in South Waziristan and North Waziristan. I've been meeting people who know it for sure in their own areas -- there are Arabs living there as guests of some tribal people.

I would think that some people in the government may also know, have some ideas. But as long as these people are not creating trouble and they are just sitting quiet, the government are not ready to confront them. They don't want to create a problem for themselves.

What is it about the tribal areas? I mean, people watching this program don't know what these tribal areas are or what they represent. What is it about these places that makes them such a good hiding place for Al Qaeda?

They are often categorized as semi-autonomous areas. But for all practical purpose, before 9/11, they were autonomous areas. There was no law there. The law was gun and drugs. These people trade in gun and guns only. There was no other thing. Maybe smuggling. So it was a lawless terrain, completely out of Pakistan's control.

These people don't accept any laws. They didn't even accept the Durand Line, the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. They never had any travel documents to go into Afghanistan or coming back from there. So there are tremendous linkages there. These people have no law, no Pakistani law government.

And they're in the same tribe as the Taliban?

Yes, in most cases. There are different types, but they share the area. They share the terrain. They share the culture, and they all share a very deep, religious leanings. They consider themselves ultra-religious people. Yes, the rest would like to call them the sheer fundamentalists.

We sent someone in with a camera and a list of questions into [the tribal areas] recently. He asked questions of tribal leaders and whatnot, on the record, on camera. And they said, "No, we support the government. We are not going to harbor Al Qaeda." Why would they say that to us and say something different?

No, they are very intelligent people; don't consider them a [nave] tribesman and all. They are very intelligent people. They are talking to an American TV crew. They are not stupid.

They are serious about the business, what they are doing. There is a fire of remains and settling score with the Americans. Nobody should doubt that at all. That's why you see this activity in the east and in the south and southeast in Afghanistan. It can be that whatever is happening there is not indigenous Afghan reaction. There has to be some sanctuary across the border. There has to be some supplies from across the border. If nothing, some hideouts.

The basic thing, the bottom line with Pakistan is that they don't want to have an armed rebellion in the tribal areas. They don't want to take things to a limit where there is an armed rebellion, and there can be, because these people are armed to the teeth. They have heavy machine guns, they have got artillery, they have got light artillery, they have got tremendous amount of firepower with them. So the government of Pakistan is not really to challenge them.

So what about the war on terrorism and the coalition and cooperation with the United States?

It will continue. It will continue, but not at the cost of internal strife. Not at the cost of creating anarchy within Pakistan. Not at the cost of creating chaos within Pakistan. Not at the cost of creating the rebellion from the very strong religious lobby in Pakistan.

Mind you, this is the army is half a million, a very, very religious [faction]. I mean, these people are very religious. They cannot stand to any notion that the government or army is challenging the people who are religious people, who are religiously motivated people. So the army and the government, General Musharraf, has to be very cautious. That's why he's walking on a very tight rope.

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+ Pervez Musharraf

President of Pakistan

Let's skip to the tribal areas. After the battle of Tora Bora, it's known that a lot of the Al Qaeda fighters came across into the tribal areas. This is a part of the country that you don't entirely control. It was allowed that they could come through there, settle there, or go on and settle in your cities.

It was allowed. Who allowed them?

Well, you don't control that part of the country.

Well, these are weaknesses in the law enforcement agency, one can say, and certainly it's just not humanly possible. Any law enforcement agency cannot control a border belt which is so mountainous, treacherous. And then they're coming into the cities. Nobody's allowing them. I took a strong exception to it. Nobody allowed them. They went in unnoticed, and they went into the cities.

But it's a weakness of Pakistan that it doesn't control its territory, which allows this sort of space for Al Qaeda to find safe haven.

Yes. Can you control every terrorist act in United States? I don't think so.

Apparently not.

Everything that is happening in New York, can you control all the criminals who are killing, mugging in the United States and in the streets? Certainly not. It's just not possible. So therefore these people did cross the border. If you've seen the border, then you've been to the tribal area. If you see the mountains, it's just not humanly possible.

There are 700,000 Indian troops, in Kashmir. Are they able to control and seal off the borders? Seven hundred thousand people are unable to seal off the borders. So therefore no amount of effort put in can ensure 100 percent sealing of borders and 100 percent ensuring that nobody can trickle into our cities. So, certainly it's a possibility.

Do you have any sense yourself as to where Al Qaeda is going? They're moving through the tribal areas. They're moving into Faisalabad and some were caught. They are moving into Karachi. Some have been caught. Beyond that, do you have a sense of where they're going? Iran? Yemen?

First of all, I'm very doubtful about -- you seem to be implying that there's a regular chain and channel of people going through. I have my doubts.

No. I'm not saying that. I'm saying that we know that they have gone to these places.

Yes. Some of them.

Where are they going now? Where is your sense--

One can't say.

You're getting high-level briefings. You know where people are going.

One really can't say whether they are using Pakistan as a transit to other places. I'm not very sure. But the reports are, yes, that they may be going from Pakistan to Iran or directly into Iran, and then using Pakistan for transiting elsewhere. Now, I don't know where elsewhere. I can't say.

Certainly they'll move to places where they'll have sanctuaries, where they can have safe havens. Those are the places that they can to go to. But the figures, whether there's a constant flow now with all the action that we've taken on the border belt in the tribal areas where the army has gone in, and a civil armed forces are operating and the action that we've taken in these cities -- I'm reasonably sure that these are now small packets or small numbers who may be hiding in one of these places. Yes. Maybe in our cities. Maybe in the tribal area. Some. But large numbers I don't think are possible.

So, effectively, they've been dismantled?

Probably. It's a guess. Because one can't guess how many, what number of people were there. It's just a guess. I don't know what the population of Al Qaeda [was]. But I can only guess that because of the action and because the tribals are cooperating with the army now. Initially they were apprehensive when we moved in. But now they are cooperating.

All the tribals have reached an agreement that they are going to guide us [where] we want to go in the tribal area, and they are doing that, because the army is building roads and dispensaries and schools for them. Therefore they think that the army is doing a lot of welfare work. They have even accepted that they will get a penalty from anyone who harbors any terrorist, any non-Pakistani, any Al Qaeda. So therefore I'm reasonably sure that this is a small number who may be sympathizing with Al Qaeda.

Your government doesn't allow us, as journalists, to go in and take a look at the tribal areas to see for ourselves what's going on. Why not?

That is purely for your own security, I think.

As far as we are concerned, there's no problem. It is just that this area -- for 100 years it was inaccessible. Nobody went in. So they wouldn't accept even Pakistani army moving inside. We never went in there. For more than a century, nobody went in there. So therefore it was very difficult for them to even accept Pakistanis there. So therefore to accept a foreigner, and least of all, may I say, an American, is going to be a difficult. They are not going to like it.

Has the war on terrorism given your government an excuse or an opportunity to go into the tribal areas and take control?

Yes. Yes, it did. It did, because we moved in a little more boldly and renegotiated with them. We argued with them, and they accepted.

We filmed a bunch of it [at a] loya jirga in Jenna Park in Peshawar yesterday, and there's still a few who don't want you there.


They don't want your roads. They don't want your schools. They don't want your hospitals. But they want your free electricity.

Yes. Yes. (Laughter) You're right. Probably you met the leaders. I wonder whether you went to the lower people? If you go to their masses, they want us. It is the tribal leaders who have been gaining from this isolation. All the money used to go through them. They all use misuse all the money. They were all rich themselves, and their people were kept in absolutely state of deprivation. They are the people who don't want the army to come in. It's the elders. It is the tribal [elders]. Maybe you met them.


Yes. There's a difference between tribal [elders] and the people. People want the army there. They want education. They want help. They want roads.

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+ Ahmed Zaidan

Al Jazeera's Islamabad bureau chief

What are the tribal areas? How do you explain this phenomenon of these tribal areas to a foreigner? What are the tribal areas?

Tribal area is where there is no central government law there, that is semi-autonomous area. There is freedom to carry guns. There is freedom of everything. They have their own type of elections. It is not directly observed or ruled by Islamabad government. All of them of course are Pashtun -- one nationality, speaking one language, they have just one religion. They have very strong relation with each other.

I don't believe that wholeheartedly they are with Pakistan. If you were there, you will feel that the food is Afghani food. Psyche is Afghani, what you call Afghani psyche. The mood is Afghani mood. They are looking to Kabul more than they are looking to Islamabad. They very much care, very much worry about what's going on in Afghanistan more than they are worrying on Pakistani side.

It seems the problems will come home to roost in this area, because Islamabad has allowed this area to have autonomy. But yet Pakistan won't allow the United States to come in there and search for Al Qaeda, so it becomes a free zone much like Afghanistan was.

It is a free zone. It is not a matter of free zone after Sept. 11. It's a free zone since 200 years.

Why did the government in Islamabad not take control of this area?

Because the British troops could not take that, the rule of that country, that area when they were ruling this subcontinent. It is not an easy thing. I mean, I told you that--

There are British graveyards in the tribal areas.

Exactly. British graveyard. I'll tell you an important thing, that British divided this area. I mean, my brother here, my son is there. My cousin here, my nephew is there. So they divided it in such a way that it is very much difficult for me to accept that division.

What you're saying is, they drew borders?

Exactly. They drew borders.

You've been in there as a Pakistani, as an Al Jazeera correspondent. Give me some sense of the mood of the people.

Again, I'll telling you one thing, it is very difficult to judge this type of people. When they see, for example, American people, they will say, "Oh, we don't have Al Qaeda. We don't have any people here. We are peaceful people. We like peace and this and that."

Then they see me, for example, as a Muslim or as a Pakistani. They will say, "OK, we are Muslims. We are against American. We are this, we are that." So that's why I'm telling you it's very difficult to judge this type of people. But in generally, I think that Islamic parties are gaining ground in tribal area.

Still, even today?

Yes, even today gaining more, what you call, ground over there.

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+ Moinuddin Haider

Pakistani Interior Minister

You recently had a confrontation in the village of Janikhel.


The tribal elders said there were no Al Qaeda there. What do you say?

This has happened twice, thrice. The arrangement is that we are supposed to tell the tribal elders that we suspect that some wanted people are heading here. They go and carry out under their traditional jirga negotiations with those people. Then they take the ladies away and they allow you to search.

Sometimes, if they're sure that nobody's there, they will say there's no point to search. But this is very rare. This is very rare. But subsequently, these people I think can't run away, because we keep them under surveillance and we catch onto them. It's only a matter of time.

Were there Al Qaeda fighters there in Janikhel?

No, there's not every time Al Qaeda. There's not every time Al Qaeda. There are many people who belong to their tribe or who are from that, and they will not be so wanted people. But all the same, when we come to know that there's somebody who's wanted by anybody, we like to apprehend him, arrest him. [We] interrogate him thoroughly to establish his identity, because actually these people have several names. You're not quite sure whether they're high on the wanted list or they're one of the ordinary operators.

But the question I'm getting at is, you've deployed a lot of forces in that area?


And there have been no real arrests of any Al Qaeda leadership?

There have been many arrests.

There've been arrests of low-level fighters -- some Uzbeks maybe, and Chechens, perhaps.


But not Arab core members -- Yemenis, Saudi members of Al Qaeda -- have there?

Because they may not be in the tribal area.

They're not in the tribal area?

They're not in the tribal areas.

But there's this common notion that that's where bin Laden has been hiding out.

No, no. I don't think so. They can't find sanctuary there. They can't hide. It is not easy, because the information network will get to know.

So where are they?

Well, they may be in Afghanistan and south from a far-flung area. But those who do cross our borders through Afghanistan, through tribal area and deeper into our cities, it is only matter of time that we catch onto them. They cannot hide. They cannot fight [surreptitiously]. They may have a close group of sympathizers, but the public at large doesn't sympathize with them.

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