Pakistan Lifts Political Ban in Tribal Areas

Officials Hope Politicians Can Replace Islamists

As part of the ceremony for Pakistan’s 63rd Independence Day, Presdient Asif Ali Zardari announced that the national government would lift the long-standing ban on political parties operating in the Federally Administred Tribal Areas (FATA).

President Zardari said the move was an attempt to bring the area, which is under direct national control in contrast to the provincial governments elsewhere, “into the main political stream.” Though candidates for the limited number of positions in the region are often members of political parties, they are forced to run as independents and the parties are forbidden from aiding them.

The region is tribe-based and has a long history of bristling at central government control, but some officials suggest that the political ban is the real reason the region has drifted toward support of Islamist groups as the national government seeks to exert more control. The hope is that the political parties will allow politicians to become more powerful public figures and supplant the Islamist clerics as wielders of influence.

In practice, however, it will likely make the politicians a bigger target for the militants in the area, who have already objected to political activities. Given the limited power local politicians can even theoretically attain it seems unlikely the move will enable them to supplant the tribal system which for the most part operates in direct competition to the nation government, instead of as its subordinates.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.