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Orakzai is the only one of Pakistan’s seven tribal agencies that does not border Afghanistan. It was once home to Hakimullah Mehsud, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan chief who led militant operations there and in the Khyber and Peshawar regions, targeting hundreds of NATO supply vehicles in 2008 and 2009. Orakzai is dominated by the Karagh Ghar mountains, ranging from 1,500 meters to 2,500 meters in height. The agency was once part of the frontier region of Kohat, but after persistent demands by the Orakzai tribe, Pakistani president Fazal Ilahi Chaudhry declared it a separate tribal agency on November 3, 1973.
Orakzai comprises about 1,500 square kilometers and is divided into two administrative areas, Upper Orakzai and Lower Orakzai, which have a total population of 225,000. Upper Orakzai is further divided into Upper Tehsil and Ismailzai Tehsil, while Lower Orakzai is composed of Lower Tehsil and Central Tehsil. Major towns in the agency are Dabori, Ghiljo, Kalaya, Mishti Mela, and Kurez. Orakzai is administratively headquartered at the Kohat-Thal road in Hangu district.
Literacy in Orakzai is low, and most of the people who live there are involved in agriculture. Educated tribesmen often join the government, and many have left the country for the Middle East to earn a living, many as construction laborers and cab drivers.
The Structure of the Insurgencies in Orakzai
There are three distinct but often mutually reinforcing components to militancy in Orakzai: sectarian conflict between the 10 percent of the agency that is Shia Muslim7 and the majority Sunni population; a religiously inspired, locally motivated movement similar to the Tehrik-i-Nifaz Shariat-Muhammadi (TNSM) in the Swat Valley; and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan-inspired insurgency.
For the rest of this policy paper, click here. For a map of Orakzai, click here.
Raheel Khan is a freelance journalist with expertise on militancy in Pakistan, currently working as Islamabad Bureau Chief for RFE/RL Pashto service Mashaal Radio and heading the media and research company Stratcom Private Limited. He worked as anchor with TV channels and director editorial for four government owned FATA-based radio stations.