Forces: Tribal And Regimental Loyalties At War

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June 24, 2010: Pakistan is suffering heavy losses among the 90,000 members of the Frontier Corps, especially the half that are in the tribal territories. The Frontier Corps is a locally recruited force, along Pakistan's borders. There, these troops guard the frontier, and, especially in thinly populated areas, enforce government orders. There is usually little of the latter in the tribal territories, because the Pushtun and Baluchi tribes are allowed to manage their own affairs. This has been the law since Pakistan was founded in 1947. Although the government rules in the major urban areas, they cannot be ignored because police control the roads into the tribal territories (which are dependent on all manner of manufactured goods that their ancestors did without.) But closing the roads is seen as a declaration of war by the tribes, and also interferes with truck traffic to and from landlocked Afghanistan.

The Frontier Corps was established by the British colonial government in 1907, and was so successful that Pakistan continued it. The Frontier Corps actually began in the 19th century, when the British began training tribal militias, as a way to building good relations with some tribes (making it easier to keep the peace in the tribal territories.)

The men of the Frontier Corps are from the local tribes, and their first allegiance is to their tribal leaders. While the Frontier Corps troops can readily attack known criminals and bandits, it gets more complicated when it comes to matters involving tribal politics. That was demonstrated when the Frontier Corps played a key role in running the heroin and opium gangs out of the tribal territories in the 1990s. At that time, the tribal leaders were very hostile to all that heroin and opium in their midst, because of the many young tribesmen who were becoming addicts. The Taliban, however, have the support of some tribal leaders, giving Frontier Corps troopers some pause when they are ordered to go after the Taliban. As a result, thousands of Frontier Corps men have either deserted (sometimes to join the Taliban) or refused to fight the Taliban (or secretly worked for the Taliban).

Most of the officers and some of the NCOs of the Frontier Corps are from the Pakistani Army, but this is not enough to ensure the loyalty of all the local hires. While the tribe based regiments of the Frontier Corps are a source of pride for those tribes, the troops are still subject to the vagaries of tribal politics. In response to this discipline problem, both Britain and the U.S. are sending more trainers to Pakistan, to show the paramilitary Frontier Corps better techniques for dealing with the Taliban (when politics is not interfering). Fighting the heavily armed and fanatical Taliban is often more than the Frontier Corps troopers can handle, even when they are willing to do so.

 

 


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