I've always had the greatest respect for the FATA Research Centre, based in Pakistan and under the direction of former BBC radio journalist Dr Ashraf Ali. Its website is a source of unbiased and useful information on this most impenetrable area of Pakistan.
In strategic terms, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas is one of the most important pieces of real estate in the world. Largely unknown to the outside world, impossible to visit, home to a plethora of Pashtun tribes, location of the remnants of the al-Qaeda leadership and, sadly, a pawn in the hands of the Pakistan military, FATA is unlike anywhere else on earth.
Millions of people live in FATA and millions more have fled - to the Gulf, to Karachi and to the so-called 'settled areas' on its borders. South Waziristan, for example, has been forcibly cleared of Mahsuds, a tribe with a proud warrior history. Elsewhere hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people - that's refugees in common parlance - languish in forgotten camps. Thousands of young men with few prospects and even less money have been persuaded to fight on behalf of murderous gangs under the false banner of 'jihad against the West', even though many of them spend more time killing each other and innocent civilians than ever fighting 'Crusaders'.
Arab money and Pakistan's own corrupted military ambitions have seduced these young men into an endless cycle of pointless violence. Do any of the factions in FATA really know what they are fighting for, besides loot and prestige?
In amongst this mayhem, the majority of Pashtuns from the tribal areas want nothing more than to be left to live their lives. They want roads and electricity, education and development, the same things as their compatriots. They want the right to organise politically and an end to militancy. That much is clear from a detailed study of opinions in the area recently conducted by the FRC. Local support for militancy has reduced significantly, according to Extremism and Radicalization: an overview of the social, political, cultural and Economic landscape of FATA. Not surprisingly, many blame their woes on the Western presence in neighbouring Afghanistan, although this doesn't necessarily translate into a burning desire to fight across the border.
Local traditions such as jirgas to make decisions and the tribal code of Pakhtunwali, once the cornerstone of their culture, have been subverted in recent years and abused by strangers, who have treated the local youth as little more than cannon fodder. "Militant groups' lucrative offer of food, clothes, weapons, drugs and public charm of authority drive them to join militant groups", says the report. "They are pushed into a deep desire of revenge against US and Pakistan Army, as revenge is one of the important components of Pakhtoon code of life."
FRC is one of the very few groups trying to make sense of what is happening in FATA. We should all support its efforts.
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