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Waziristan, the Land of Wazir, stretches over an 11,327 sq km strip of territory bordering Afghanistan’s Paktia and Paktika provinces and is divided into two tribal agencies namely of North Waziristan and South Waziristan. North and South Waziristan are two of the seven political units (agencies) comprising the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) also known as the ‘Tribal Areas’ located in a narrow belt which runs along the 2,400 kilometers long Pak-Afghan border, named by the British as theDurand Line.
Waziristan is a mountainous, rocky, inhospitable and extremely poor region in Pakistan (smaller than the size of New Jersey) sandwiched between the eastern border of Afghanistan, Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province to the north and east, and Pakistan's Balochistan Province to the south. Waziristan is actually two agencies, North and South Waziristan, that are part of the seven agencies and six FRs making up Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA. North Waziristan comprises an area of about 2,310 sq miles and South Waziristan about 2,734 sq miles.
Waziristan has always been an enigma even for the most astute rulers. While the British conquered continents, this tiny part of their vast empire remained the proverbial thorn in their side. Waziristan is politically provocative, highly volatile and important area in the contemporary regional and global politics. This area has a chequered history due to its geography, people and terrain. Besides being one of the most important areas of the country mainly owing to its strategic location, it is also one of “the most sensitive areas in Pakistan and indeed in South Asia.” Its strategic importance arises from being en route to the proposed gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to the southern coastal regions of Pakistan.
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 Taliban and Al Qaeda after they were overthrown in Afghanistan, and Pakistan established military bases in the area for the first time in 2002. Taliban presence in the area has been an issue of international concern in the War on Terrorism particularly since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. Following the events of 9/11, some of the tribal areas especially Waziristan have come into international focus with the worldwide phenomenon of terrorism being the principal concern of the most powerful nation on earth, the United State of America, which sees this area as the main heaven for international terrorists. Thus the American war against terrorism has not only internationalized FATA’s value and has emerged as a vital instrument for regional and global peace and security but is also upsetting the delicate relationship between Islamabad and FATA.
Waziristan was described by Wylly as the frontier Switzerland. He described its geography in terms of a shape of a rough parallelogram, averaging one hundred one miles in length from north to south, and with a general breadth of sixty miles from east to west. Quoting Oliver, he further describes it as a land of high and difficult hills with deep and rugged defiles, brave and hard people, in their way as independent and patriotic, and, in the presence of the common enemy, hardly less united, than the famous compatriots of Tell, as both had geographically and politically several points in common. "Waziristan," writes Holdich, "the land of the Waziris or Wazirs, constitutes a little independent mountain state, geographically apart from the larger mountain systems to the north and south. No roads through Waziristan lead to Afghanistan— at least no roads that are better than mere mountain footpaths.
Waziristan possesses a glorious group of mountains, culminating in two giant peaks- Shuibar to the north, and Pirghal to the south- each of them rising 11,000 feet above the plains of the Indus. The valley of Tochi to the North Waziristan was a route sometimes used by Sultan Mahmood of Ghazni. The Gomal was the most important pass between the Khyber and the Bolan giving access to the very center of Afghanistan from India being a regular highway for thousands of trading and fighting people bringing their kafilahs (carvans) yearly to India. The northern part of Waziristan is more open and contains valleys separated by high hills. The rugged terrain not only made Waziristan difficult for outside armies to occupy but it also inhibited economic development by the indigenous population. Although Mughal and Durrrani rulers did include the hill-tribes of Swat, Bajaur and Tirah, but “no empire of which we have any record has ever succeeded in making subjects of the tribes of Waziristan.”
Geographically, the whole of Waziristan is a single unit. However for the administration convenience it has been divided into two agencies and encompasses 11,326 square kilometers. North Waziristan has a total of 4,707 square kilometers, while South Waziristan has a total area of 6,619 square kilometers. Although they speak a common language, the two agencies have distinct characteristics, though tribes in both the agencies are subgroups of the Waziris. It is part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, considered to be outside the country's four provinces.
The Agency has hot summers and very cold winters. In winters the mercury goes below freezing point in places of high altitude. The summer season starts in May and ends by September. June is generally the warmest month when the mean maximum temperature rises slightly over 30 degrees centigrade. The winter starts in October and continues till April. December, January and February are the coldest months. The mean maximum and minimum temperatures for this period are 10 and minus 2 degrees centigrade respectively. The Agency is outside the monsoon zone, yet at higher altitudes fair amount rainfall is received. Waziristan has an arid climate for the most part and receives little precipitation generally. The western portion bordering Afghanistan receives more rainfall than the eastern portion touching Tank and D.I.Khan districts. Most of the Agency receives mean annual rainfall of 6 inches, while a small piece in the south eastern corner receives less than 10 inches annually. In the Razmak area, rainfall is slightly higher.