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Federally Administered Tribal Areas

"By 1932, British troops had been waging war of varying intensity with a group of intractable tribes along and beyond the northwestern frontier of India for nearly a century. That year, in summarizing a typical skirmish, one British veteran noted laconically, "Probably no sign till the burst of fire, and then the swift rush with knives, the stripping of the dead, and the unhurried mutilation of the infidels." It was a savage, cruel, and peculiar kind of mountain warfare, frequently driven by religious zealotry on the tribal side, and it was singularly unforgiving of tactical error, momentary inattention, or cultural ignorance. It still is."

No Sign until the Burst of Fire - Understanding the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason International Security, Vol. 32, No. 4 (Spring 2008), pp. 41-77

Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) consists of approximately 3,000 rural villages with a population of three million people located on the country's northwestern border with Afghanistan. It is the most underdeveloped region in Pakistan with 60 percent of its population living below the national poverty line. The FATA is mountainous and shares a 373-mile border with Afghanistan known as the Durand Line. The FATA is one of Pakistan's poorest regions, with high poverty, high unemployment, and an underdeveloped infrastructure. Most of the population depends on subsistence agriculture. The FATA's per capita income is $250 per year, which is half of the national per capita income; about 60 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line. Per capita public development expenditure is reportedly one-third of the national average. Social development indicators are also poor. The overall literacy rate is 17 percent, compared with 56 percent nationally, with male literacy at 29 percent and female literacy at 3 percent.

FATA is situated between the latitudes of 31 and 35 North, and the longitudes of 69 15' and 71 50' East, stretching for maximum length of approximately 450 kilometres and spanning more than 250 kilometres at its widest point (SoP, 1984). Spread over a reported area of 27,220 square kilometres, it is bounded on the north by the district of Lower Dir in the NWFP, and on the east by the NWFP districts of Bannu, Charsadda, Dera Ismail Khan, Karak, Kohat, Lakki Marwat, Malakand, Nowshera and Peshawar. On the south-east, FATA joins the district of Dera Ghazi Khan in the Punjab province, while the Musa Khel and Zhob districts of Balochistan are situated to the south. To the west lies Afghanistan.

The mountainous terrain is broken by small basins or valleys, dotted with settlements and agricultural fields. The area can be divided into the northern, central and southern regions which happen to coincide with administrative boundaries (Shinwari, undated). The northern zone consists of the Bajaur and Mohmand agencies. The hills in this region form a transition zone between the Hindukush mountains, and the piedmont and lowland basins. Here, the Jandool river and its tributaries join the Panjkora river. Towards the south, the Kabul river collects the outflow from local rivers including the Bira Darya and khwars (seasonal watercourses) such as the Gandab, Sallala and Shalman.

The central region covers the Khyber, Kurram and Orakzai agencies, and the FRs of Kohat and Peshawar. Here, the Safed Koh mountains rise from the Terimangal pass and stretch eastward, reaching an elevation of 3,600 metres. The Sikaram, at 4,760 metres, is the tallest peak in this range. The Kurram river flows north-west to south-east, entering North Waziristan below the town of Thal in the Hangu district of the NWFP, and eventually joining the Indus river. In Orakzai Agency, the Khanki and Mastura streams flow to the east to meet the Bara river. The towns of Bara and Khajuri form a plains area from where the Bara river and its tributaries join the Kabul river near Peshawar. To the north of the Kabul river stand the Mullagori and Shilman hills. The fertile Bara, Khanki, Kurram and Mastura valleys contain the most extensively cultivated land in FATA.

The southern region comprises the North Waziristan and South Waziristan agencies, and the FRs of Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, Lakki Marwat and Tank. To the south of the Safed Koh are the Sulaiman mountains and the Waziristan hills. The hills rise to an altitude of between 1,500 and 3,000 metres, and are mostly barren. Takht-i-Sulaiman, located in FR Dera Ismail Khan, is the highest peak in the Sulaiman range, at 3,487 metres. Overall drainage in this region is toward the east. The Gomal river flows in the south, while the Kurram river passes though the north. The Jandola, Kaitu and Tochi are smaller rivers in this area. The rod kohi system (flood irrigation, or torrent-spate irrigation) is commonly practised mainly in the FR areas. The Gomal and Tochi mountain passes in the south connect Pakistan to Afghanistan.

FATA is characterized by a very strong tribal structure and very rich ethnic diversity and cultural heritage. However, scanty material is available on the ethnic diversity of the area. There are about a dozen major tribes with several smaller tribes and sub-tribes. Utmankhel, Mohmand, Tarkani and Safi are the major tribes living in Bajaur and Mohmand. Afridi, Shilmani, Shinwari, Mulagori Orakzai are settled in Khyber and Orakzai while the FRs of Peshawar and Kohat are occupied by Afridi. A good mix of Turi, Bangash, and Masozai inhabit Kurram Agency. Major tribes of North and South Waziristan are Darwesh Khel Wazirs with a pocket of Mahsuds in the central part of the region. Other tribes of the region are Utmanzai, Ahmadzai Dawar, Saidgai, Kharasin and Gurbaz. Bhittani occupies FR Lakki and Tank, while FR Bannu is Wazir. Ustrana and Shirani tribes live in FR D.I. Khan.

Wahhabi and Deobandi influences are strong in the tribal regions, but especially so in North and South Waziristan. The Wazirs and Mahsuds of South Waziristan are unlikely to form any other than an uneasy and temporary alliance, and this holds for other Agencies. In Khyber there is a savage feud between the Deobandi and Barelvi sects of Sunni Islam, and the Sunnis and Shias of Orakzai and Kurram Agencies lose no opportunity for reciprocal mayhem.

When the Pakistan Army tried to capture Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in 1947-48, it first sent into the state a large number of Mehsuds, Wazirs and other tribes recruited by it in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and trained and armed by it. Pakistan denied any responsibility for their actions and projected them during the debates in the UN Security Council as Kashmiris, who had risen in revolt against the then Maharaja of J&K and the Government of India. It used to describe them as Kashmiri irregulars over whom it had no control.

In 1947, at the advent of Pakistan, the Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, in his sagacity and prophetic vision withdrew the armed forces from the cantonments around the tribal areas as a gesture of good-will and a first measure towards integration of the tribal areas with the rest of the country. In the ensuing years the successive governments however decided to leave the tribal areas to their own devices and only minimal social projects were undertaken. In 1971-72 the total developmental budget for six agencies (equivalent of districts) was a paltry Rs. 4.4 million. Thus, for twenty five long years, the tribal areas, 10,500 square miles in extent and with a population of around 4 million were little more than a sociological curiosity. The tribal areas were considered as beyond the pale of Pakistan.

After the traumatic events of 1971 and with the advent of the Bhutto Government, the tribal areas began to be considered as within the pale of social and developmental activity. developmental allocation had risen from a paltry 4.4 million in 1971-72 to a staggering 300 million by 1977-excluding allocations by autonomous bodies like WAPDA etc. What were till then considered the back waters of Pakistan began to gradually enter the social and economic mainstream.

The cultural heritage of FATA is very rich in terms of hospitality, tribal arts and crafts, historical places, ethnic diversity and natural beauty. The tribes are used to looking after their own resources and solving local problems. They take collective action in support of economic and social activities such as, supporting each other on special occasions like death and marriage ceremonies, harvesting and threshing of crops, construction of Hujra (a meeting place), mosque, buildings and cleaning of irrigation channels, protection from flood, maintaining paths, wood and grass cutting etc.

The tribesmen when they are in their local area generally wear their traditional clothes with a large turban and rifle on shoulder. The women-folk generally use printed cloth and observe strict purdah from outsiders. Their working and festival dresses are all the same with the exception that they wear new dress on festivals like Eid and marriage or visiting relatives outside the village. In the winter season the males use a woollen blanket, while the female dress remains the same. Tribal women are very found of wearing ornaments and jewellery of all type made of gold and silver. A lot of money is spent on the local ceremonies, particularly on marriage, death, birth and other ceremonies/festivals like celebration of Eid and performing Haj.

Population (FATA, 1998)



(sq km)



Population density

(persons per sq km)

Annual growth rate,

1981-98 (%)


























North Waziristan









- 2.69

South Waziristan





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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:39:45 ZULU