Throughout history, Waziristan's restive tribes have proved capable of driving political events beyond their borders. Their impact is felt today with the Wazir tribe's support of the Haqqani network, which is fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and the Mehsud tribe's providing a base for the TTP, which is wreaking havoc across Pakistan.
Waziristan first experienced the imposition of some form of central authority with the establishment of British rule in the Indian subcontinent. To govern the tribes, the British Raj organized the border region into tribal agencies in the 1890s, appointing a political agent to each. British authority, however, extended only a hundred yards on either side of the main road, beyond which was the land of riwaj, or tribal customs. George Curzon, the viceroy of British India at the turn of the century, struggled to find a solution to keep restive Waziristan calm: "No patchwork scheme … will settle the Waziristan problem," he said. "Not until the military steam-roller has passed over the country from end to end, will there be peace. But I do not want to be the person to start that machine."
It would, however, be a Pakistani president, not a colonial official, who would send the steamroller into Waziristan. After the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, under pressure to capture wanted militants crossing the border into Afghanistan and to strike against al Qaeda's senior leadership, sent the Pakistan military into Waziristan in 2004. It was the beginning of a quagmire that continues, in different shapes and forms, to this day. The military was quickly bogged down, and the government signed a series of hastily constructed, short-lived peace agreements with the tribes.
The tension reached a boiling point with the July 2007 assault on Lal Masjid, or the Red Mosque, in Islamabad. Its students had been stopping individuals, even policemen, whom they deemed "un-Islamic" and had been trying to set up sharia courts. After gunfire was exchanged with security forces, the students barricaded themselves inside the mosque. Elite Pakistani commandos stormed the grounds, and in the ensuing firefight at least 100 people were killed, including female students, with representatives from the victims' families saying the death toll was higher than 1,300.
Largely as a result of the Lal Masjid incident, the TTP was formed in December 2007 under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud and the most fearsome clan in Waziristan, the Shabi Khel Mahsud. The TTP started a campaign of destruction in Waziristan and across Pakistan. Two of its most spectacular assaults were the 2009 attack on the Pakistani Army's headquarters in Rawalpindi and the 2011 assault on Naval Station Mehran in Karachi.
U.S. drone attacks have only poured gasoline on this fire. For Waziristan's inhabitants, the buzzing of drones overhead has become a constant, terrifying presence. Too many stories of innocent tribesmen being killed have leaked into the media. The communities are afraid to gather in tribal jirgas or even within their homes, for fear of being targeted as a "militant gathering" by an American drone operator sitting on the other side of the world.
Amid the chaos of Waziristan, it is the innocent people who suffer -- pounded by drone strikes and the military one day, and TTP suicide bombers the next. They have soured on both sides of this war: An authoritative 2012 survey conducted in the tribal areas showed that while 79 percent of the tribesmen opposed the actions of the United States, 68 percent had negative views of al Qaeda and 63 percent of the TTP. Half the individuals surveyed gave priority to education, stable employment, health schemes, and reliable electricity.
It is vital to heed the voices of the tribesmen yearning to keep Waziristan quiet and calm. Winning them over is essential to making progress in rebuilding war-torn Afghanistan and promoting U.S. interests in the region after the departure of American forces in 2014.
Yet, with the presence of the Pakistani military and the constant presence of U.S. drones, Waziristan is now anything but stable. The United States needs to halt the drone campaign and understand the events of Waziristan within a local social and historical context. Traditional tribal structures and a neutral civil administration committed to the rule of law need to be returned. Above all, the Pakistani government, instead of funding military operations in Waziristan, should be funding schools, hospitals, stable electricity lines, and other development projects for one of the country's most poverty-stricken areas.
The United States, meanwhile, should support Pakistan in bringing effective development and aid to this region. It is only through peaceful means that stability can finally be brought to Waziristan.