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Pakistan's Waziristan challenge

Posted by BlueDrak Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pakistan's army has begun a ground offensive in the volatile tribal region of South Waziristan. The army has been massing troops near the militants' stronghold for months. But what lies in wait for the army as it finally takes on the Taliban on their home terrain?

Where is Waziristan and what is it like?

Waziristan is a mountainous region in north-west Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan.

It is part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), a semi-autonomous region where the central government exercises limited control through a political agent.

For administrative purposes it is divided into two "agencies" - North Waziristan and South Waziristan.

Winters are harsh, making large tracts of the already inhospitable terrain almost inaccessible.

The tribal society found in North and South Waziristan is extremely socially conservative with a fierce reputation as "warriors".

North Waziristan is dominated by the Wazir tribe. This tribe also extends into South Waziristan and makes up one-third of its population. The remaining two-thirds of South Waziristan's population are Mehsuds.

Can Pakistan hold on to South Waziristan?

Even if Pakistan's military is successful this time round against the militants, it will still be faced with the challenge of ensuring they do not get a foothold in the region again.

Mehsud tribesman are sometimes considered to be sympathetic to the Pakistani Taliban. Many are seen as unsupportive of the government offensive.

Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud and his predecessor Baitullah Mehsud are both of the Mehsud clan.

Analysts suggest that the army may have to maintain a significant presence in the region in order to preserve a military advantage. This would be a significant commitment of resources.

Officials from the region also suggest that this may be the time to integrate the semi-autonomous tribal areas into the rest of the country.

But Pakistan continued the British tradition of indirect government for a reason: the people of these areas feel independent in many respects.

Another way of seeking to foster stability in the area may be to pour in development and reconstruction funds.[bbcnews]

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