Tribal Leaders in Pakistan Warn the U.S. to Keep Out

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 6 Apr 2002 11:56:27 +0100

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, March 24 - Tribal leaders from the treacherous
mountainous areas along the border with Afghanistan have an unambiguous
message for American commanders who have suggested that they might enter
the region in pursuit of Al Qaeda fighters: Don't. One tribal leader,
wagging his finger for emphasis, said that tribal elders saw America as
the enemy and that his people would sacrifice their lives to keep
soldiers off their land.

A more moderate leader, a well-educated man, said more calmly that no
foreigner may go into the tribal areas without permission. That warning
must be taken seriously; ages ago, Alexander the Great was turned back,
and for the last 53 years, until December, no soldiers, not even
Pakistanis, were allowed in.

In separate interviews, the tribal leaders, Pashtun Muslims, expressed
other views the Bush administration would certainly find discouraging:
that the core of American policy is a hatred of Muslims and that Osama
Laden was not responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

Such sentiments portend great turbulence for Washington and for
leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who has cast his lot with the United
and the war on terrorism.

The war in Aghanistan will drag on for a long time if the tribal areas,
which share a porous 450-mile border with Afghanistan, become a safe
for Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters to rest and regroup. This is exactly
what American officials believe the fighters are doing, with some
because men from those regions poured into Afghanistan to fight early in
the war.

Last week a senior American commander in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Franklin
L. Hagenbeck, raised the possibility that American forces might cross
Pakistan in "hot pursuit" of fleeing Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

American officials have raised the possibility of such an operation with
General Musharraf, and when General Hagenbeck's remarks were reported
here, there was no denial or reaction by the government, a tacit message
of assent.

But the dangers lurk. Politically, General Musharraf, who faces vocal
violent opposition to his alliance with Washington, cannot afford unrest
in the tribal areas, Pakistani political observers say.

The Federally Administered Tribal Area consists of seven defined tribal
agencies, home to some five million people, in northwest Pakistan. The
agencies have their own councils, courts and law, and the rule of the
leaders is absolute. On Friday, an elder who dissented from the ruling
the grand council of the Orakzai tribe had his house burned down as

It was only after intense negotiations and promises of substantial
of development money (and other money that is not publicly discussed)
the tribal councils even allowed the Pakistani Army to enter the region,
in December. Pakistan now has 12,000 troops patrolling the border,
concentrated on a 50-mile stretch of mountains overlooking a region of
Afghanistan where American troops have been engaged in some of the
fiercest fighting.

"We have completely sealed off the border," said an army spokesman, Maj.
Amir Uppal. There is "no possibility" that Al Qaeda soldiers are hiding
the area, he said in an interview.

Few take that claim seriously. While it is easy to patrol the major road
crossings (there are only a handful), the mountains hide thousands of
trails, worn by men, women, families and donkeys over centuries. A
diplomat in Islamabad noted that the United States, with all its trained
law enforcement officials, ditches, canals, fences and sophisticated
sensors, could not seal the relatively level border with Mexico.

The border may be harder to cross now than four months ago, but it is by
no means impossible.

Ibrahim Khan, 19, said he crossed on Friday. Standing beside mud huts in
refugee camp where horses pulled wooden carts loaded with firewood, he
said that at one point he and two friends were spotted by Pakistani
soldiers, who fired on them with machine guns. They found easy cover in
the mountains and, when it was safe, they finished their journey.

Another man, in the central market here, said he and his family had been
able to cross after paying Pakistani soldiers. Before he could continue,
man selling shoes and T-shirts told him he should not speak about such
things. Other refugees fleeing Afghanistan have said that the going rate
is $200 a family.

Men have been crossing the border to fight in Afghanistan for years.
the United States began bombing the Taliban, men from the tribal areas
again went over to fight.

"Unfortunately, we did not have the means and resources to fight such a
large and sophisticated army like the Americans," said Shakirullah Jan
Kokikhel, a chief of the 100,000-member Kokikhel tribe.

Tribal people are famously proud, tough and self-confident, and Mr.
Shakirullah, 69, with a grizzled beard, is all of those. He is no
political neophyte. For 20 years, he fought for adult suffrage in the
tribal areas, where until 1997 only the tribal chiefs could vote, and on
Saturday he was headed to Islamabad to march in a demonstration against
General Musharraf.

"Listen to me," he said, pointing his finger and switching from Pashtu
English. "There was a time, when Russia was in power, we liked
Indeed, when the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan, men from the tribal
areas joined the guerrilla army that was backed by the United States.
we hate Americans. Under our tribal rules, we designate an enemy.
is now the enemy."

Under tribal rules, once the elders have spoken, everyone falls in line.

His views, however harsh, are widely held in Pakistan and throughout
Muslim Asia and Southeast Asia.

"We don't hate individual Americans, like yourself," he went on. The
problem is the policy of the American government. "It is against
he said several times, categorically.

As proof, Mr. Shakirullah cited East Timor, where the United States
a referendum on independence "because they are Christians." The United
States does not demand the same in Kashmir, he said, because they are

Mr. Shakirullah insisted that there were no Taliban or Al Qaeda forces
his area. But what would happen, he was asked, if the American forces,
believing that, entered the area?

"There is already hatred of Americans among our elders," he answered,
"among our women and children, but then that hatred will reach its peak,
and then we will fight them."

What about the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon? Was Mr.
Laden responsible? "Our research has shown that the Jews did it," he
without any doubt.

In a far milder way, Ajmal Khan agreed with Mr. Shakirullah. A leader of
the Maddakhel tribe, Mr. Ajmal, 50, was in Peshawar to meet with the
provincial governor, a meeting that shows he is far more amenable to the

Like Mr. Shakirullah, Mr. Ajmal, dressed in an immaculate white, loose
fitting waistcoat and trousers and a large turban, said there were no Al
Qaeda or Taliban fighters in his area. If the Americans had evidence to
the contrary, they should share it with him, and he and the elders would
round them up.

Asked who was responsible for the World Trade Center attacks, Mr. Ajmal,
university graduate, former military officer and former minister of
grew uneasy. "It must be the Jews," he said.

He said he knew that President Bush had convinced General Musharraf that
Mr. bin Laden was responsible for the attacks, but "he didn't convince

Source: New York Times

You can choose whether you prefer to receive regular emails or a weekly digest 
by visiting


You can subscribe by sending an email to request@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx with the word 
"subscribe" (without quotes) in the subject line, or by visiting

You can unsubscribe by sending an email to request@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx with the 
word "unsubscribe" (without quotes) in the subject line, or by visiting

You are welcome to submit any relevant news story to submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

For regular Islamic cultural articles by email, send email to 

Other related posts:

  • » Tribal Leaders in Pakistan Warn the U.S. to Keep Out