IMAGE: Tribal guards stand alert at a checkpoint in Wana in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal region Friday.
Reuters file
The people of Waziristan have not conceded control to outside military forces in hundreds of years, including those of the Pakistani government.
updated 3/19/2004 4:05:59 PM ET 2004-03-19T21:05:59

The region where Pakistani troops were engaged in a fierce battle this week is deep in the rugged frontier where conservative tribal culture holds sway and the people have long resisted outside interference.

The North West Frontier Province — particularly the tribal regions of South and North Waziristan — is an area with strong sympathies for the strict Islamists of the Taliban regime, which was driven from power in neighboring Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

Its tribes have been accused of harboring Taliban militiamen as well as Osama bin Laden and fighters of his al-Qaida terror network.

Until it was pressured by Washington to move into the tribal areas, Pakistan’s army had never patrolled that part of the Afghan border, which runs 2,050 miles through forbidding territory stretching from the Himalayas in the north to the desert of Baluchistan in the south.

The frontier is largely undeveloped; poverty and illiteracy are the norm. Residents of Waziristan follow tribal law enforced by elders. Its people have not conceded control to outside military forces in hundreds of years — not by the former British rulers and not by the Pakistani government.

Rife with weapons, deadly feuds
It is never a welcoming place for outsiders.

Nearly all men carry AK-47 assault rifles or other weapons, and most women are dressed in body-shrouding burkas. Turreted mud fortresses owned by tribal elders and smugglers rise out of the hills. Feuds are common between families and clans, and they often turn deadly.

The government of Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, may have stopped supporting the Taliban and joined the U.S. war on terrorist groups, but many in the tribal areas still back the Islamic militants. Some fought alongside the Taliban during the U.S.-backed war that drove them from power.

During a rare visit to the region by Associated Press journalists last fall, tribesmen voiced strong mistrust of Musharraf’s government. They also said it would be unconscionable to turn over men like bin Laden, whom they view as Muslim holy warriors, to infidel Americans.

“I would sacrifice my own life, but I would never turn bin Laden over,” Anargul Khan, 20, said in Miran Shah, the capital of North Waziristan, just a few dusty miles from the Afghan border.

The Islamabad-appointed chief political officer of North Waziristan, Sher Zada, called the region a tough place for government forces to operate.

“There are some very, very, very difficult areas in North and South Waziristan. Some areas are totally inaccessible,” Zada said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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