Leadership: Pakistani Tribesmen in the Army Pose Risk

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November20, 2006: One of the reasons for the recent peace deal between the Pakistani government, and rebellious tribes in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), was to avoid unrest in the ranks of the army. That's because, since Pakistan was created in 1947, the NWFP tribesmen from formed a disproportionate percentage of the armed forces. Made sense. The Pushtun tribes up there had, for several thousand years, been noted for their warlike attitudes. The army is considered, by Pushtuns, as a good place to work. Currently, about 18 percent of the officers, and 22 percent of the troops, in the 520,000 man army, are Pushtuns, or from other tribes. Moreover, of the eleven men who have served as commanders of the army (Chief of Staff) since 1947, four have been Pushtuns. Thus the tribesmen are twice as likely to be in the army, than their portion of the general population suggests. And when the army went into the NWFP earlier this year, to encourage the tribes to stop supporting the Taliban and al Qaeda, many Pushtun soldiers were not happy. While the Pushtun soldiers did their duty, the word went up the chain-of-command that this loyalty was being sorely tested. So the army commanders urged the government to make a peace deal with the tribes, rather than risk active unrest in the ranks. Since the government is run by a former Chief of Staff, this was done.

But there's more than tribal loyalty to worry about in the NWFP. This is the only province in Pakistan led by an Islamic conservative provincial government. The Pushtun have always been conservative when it came to religion. But in this era of Islamic radicalism, the elected leaders of the NWFP are trying to establish a religious police (to "prevent vice and encourage virtue.") This move is opposed by the national government, and many of those living in the NWFP. Thus, any use of force against the tribes tends to raise some very serious religious and army loyalty risks.


 


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