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In northwestern Pakistan, where militants rule

Foreign jihadists in an ungoverned tribal belt kill leaders, recruit locals.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 28, 2008

Militants: A combatant waits on a mountain in Shin Warsak, South Waziristan, an agency in Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt.

Kamran Wazir/Reuters/File


Peshawar, Pakistan

Every so often, the world witnesses the malice that lives in Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt – bombings in London and Madrid and the plot to blow up airplanes over the Atlantic, all had ties to terrorists there.

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But Khalid Aziz Khan has seen that evil daily. As a resident of North Waziristan, an area in the tribal belt and perhaps the world's foremost finishing school for terrorists, he has seen a cousin killed, a school friend "brainwashed" and turned into a suicide bomber, and families murdered for opposing terrorists.

Mr. Khan, a student, offers a rare look inside the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) – increasingly the focus of the US war on terror, yet a place shrouded in mystery, since journalists are officially prohibited.

People there are being held hostage by foreign terrorists, he and other Peshawar University students from FATA say. They kill with impunity and have replaced tribal leadership with their own, bent on war in neighboring Afghanistan and jihad against the US.

But their comments also offer hope that the terrorists threatening Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the West can be uprooted.

"People say the local people support them, but [locals] are scared," says Khan, sitting in the office of a professor with three other students from Pakistan's unsettled border areas.

More than a week after the Pakistani elections, the two largest parties – the Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz have agreed in principle to form a coalition. They are still working out details, which could include who becomes prime minister and how strongly to confront President Pervez Musharraf. Decisions could be made by the weekend.

Khan says that 90 percent of his South Waziristan hometown of Wana – a terrorist stronghold – oppose the terrorists. "But they have taken us captive and demolished the tribal system," he says. "This is a reorganized mafia."

The students acknowledge they offer only a limited, personal view of FATA. Yet among them, clear patterns emerge. Like international analysts, they agree on the basics: After the 2001 fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, foreign terrorists came to FATA to exploit its weaknesses. A 17 percent literacy rate, together with a failing agricultural economy, has offered a large pool of disgruntled, uneducated recruits.

"In the last three months there has been no sign of electricity in my village," says Khan. "With no electricity, what about agriculture? People will search for alternatives, and the Arabs are going there with money."

Taliban fighters receive as much as $300, says Ijaz Khan, the professor who has gathered FATA students in his office. It is part of a hierarchy that he and his students portray as almost a graduate program for terrorists. Recruits are used locally before moving on to other missions – first in other parts of Pakistan and then abroad, as their experience grows.