Cash weans tribes from Al Qaeda
Pakistani officials have paid more than $800,000 to four tribal commanders whose debts tied them to the group.
After more than a year of battling Al Qaeda guerrillas and their tribal supporters along the Afghan border, Pakistan is trying a new tactic: buying loyalty.Skip to next paragraph
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The government has paid more than $800,000 total to four tribal commanders as part of a November peace deal, a senior army official revealed last week. The four men led a bloody fight against Pakistani forces hunting foreign Al Qaeda fighters in South Waziristan, a mountainous tribal region believed to be a possible hideout for Osama bin Laden.
The sizable sums were given so that tribesmen could pay back loans from Al Qaeda. Hundreds of foreign fighters have been relying on local militants for shelter, supplies, and protection - and have paid them handsomely for it. During negotiations with the government, the commanders explained they needed help repaying financial debts to the terror group. In Pashtun culture, failure to repay loans represents a dangerous loss of face within the tribe.
The deal's success so far suggests that the loyalty to Al Qaeda among Pashtun tribesmen is based as much on rupees as on radicalism. If so, efforts at bringing development to tribal areas as well as crackdowns on the sources of Al Qaeda's funding could prove to be two potent weapons in the war on terror, analysts say.
"The battle was tagged by mullahs and militants as a jihad to gain [local] support and sympathies, but actually it revolved around economics and financial gains from foreign terrorists," says Asmatullah Gandapur, a top official in South Waziristan.
Intelligence sources say that Al Qaeda lured tribal militants with huge sums of money, and registers were maintained for recording salaries for local fighters.
"The fighters used to get a 15,000 rupee [around $250] monthly salary. The commanders used to get advances running into millions for arms and ammunition, communication, and Land Cruisers," says a local intelligence official.
Tribesmen benefited by renting out their compounds for shelter and training camps, and providing food to foreign militants. "A chicken worth 60 rupees [a dollar] would be sold to Al Qaeda for 900 rupees [$15] and a bag of sugar worth 950 rupees [$16] would be provided for 9,000 rupees [around $150]," says tribesman Mohammad Noor. [Editor's note: The original version miscalculated the cost of sugar in US dollars.]
Similarly, a compound, which is usually rented out for $17 to $25, would be given to Al Qaeda as a training camp or hideout for around $10,000.
Most of Al Qaeda's money was transferred from Arab countries through hawala, a parallel banking system that exists on the black market.
Some locals even witnessed Al Qaeda operatives roaming around South Waziristan with bags full of dollars.
"Once I visited my cousin in a remote village where everybody was talking about a rich bearded Arab distributing money among villagers. Later I came to know he was a big financier," says tribesman Farid Khan, referring to Saad bin Khadr, who was killed in a military operation in October 2003.