Waziristan

Waziristan (wəzēˈrĭstänˌ) [key], region (1981 est. pop. 545,000), 4,473 sq mi (11,585 sq km), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North-West Frontier Province), Pakistan, on the Afghanistan border. An extremely arid and mountainous region, it is divided into North Waziristan, inhabited by farming Wazir tribes, and South Waziristan, populated by seminomad Mahsuds and Waziris. The two tribes, both of Pathan descent, have constant blood feuds and supplement their meager incomes by banditry. They live in fortresslike mountain villages. A major source of income derives from the smuggling and processing of illicit drugs. Fertile valleys in parts of North Waziristan support wheat, corn, barley, and millet; livestock are also raised. In South Waziristan the hills are used for grazing, and forests on the higher slopes provide timber.

Protected by the mountain fastness, the Wazirs and Mahsuds historically resisted British authority. When the Durand Line was established as the border between Afghanistan and British India in 1893, Waziristan became an independent territory outside the bounds of effective British rule. Since Waziristan became part of Pakistan in 1947, the government has continued the British practice of pacification through payment of subsidies to tribal chieftains; it has also tried to persuade the tribespeople to move to more settled areas. The tribes, led by the Faqir of Ipi, reportedly received arms from Afghanistan, which agitated for an independent Pushtunistan composed of all border Pathan tribal lands.

Waziristan was one of the many border regions that struggled to absorb hundreds of thousands of refugees during the Soviet invasion and occupation (1979–89) of Afghanistan. The area became a refuge for the Taliban and Al Qaeda after they were overthrown in Afghanistan, and Pakistan established military bases in the area for the first time in 2002. Government attacks on foreign fighters in S Waziristan in 2004 led to fighting with local militants who regarded the operation as a breach of the region's autonomy; operations against the foreigners continued into 2005. In 2005–6 there was fighting between Pakistani troops and suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda forces as well as local militants in N Waziristan. By late 2006, however, the government had agree to restore the autonomy of both regions and end military operations in exchange for an end to cross-border attacks into Afghanistan. In 2007 there were outbreaks of fighting between S Waziristan's tribal fighters (supported by Pakistani troops) and foreign fighters, and both regions have seen renewed fighting between government forces and Islamic militants, also known as Pakistani Taliban, which intensified in 2009 after the government launched an offensive in Swat. In Oct., 2009, the military mounted a major offensive against militants in S Waziristan and captured most of the main militant bases in a month, but the successes were due largely to a militant pullback after some two weeks of fighting, and by mid-2010 the militants appeared to have regrouped in N Waziristan. The area continues to be the site of occasional fighting.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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