By Sibt e Hassan
Parachinar, a small city on the Pak-Afghan border, is once again in the news as two suicide bombers exploded themselves on July 26, killing above 60 and injuring hundreds. This has been a fourth such blast after handing over Parachinar’s security to the Pak-Army.
Each route that enters the Parachinar city has an Army check post. The Security forces have failed to provide security to citizens of Parachinar and the people are blaming the the Army for this. Just a day after the blast, the people of Parachinar had a sit-in protest in front of Political Agent house and demanded the Security be transferred to the Turi Wing of FC (Frontier Constabulary). While the political administration apparently pacified and agreed to their demand, so far we have seen no such developments.
For those readers who don’t know about Parachinar, I will discuss a brief history of it. Parachinar is the capital of Kurram Agency, which borders with three different Afghan provinces, namely Ningrahar to its north, Paktia to its west and Khost to southwest. It is the nearest city of Pakistan to Kabul. It also borders with North Waziristan, Orakzai Agency and Khyber Agency. It comprises of the Turi, Bangash, Mangal, Muqbal, Parachamkani, Alisherzai, Masuzai and Zeimusht tribes. Turis and half of the Bangash tribe are Shia, while the rest tribes follow the Sunni sect. Shias were in majority in Kurram but they were deliberately made a minority after ceding Frontier Kurram with Kurram Agency and named it Central Kurram.
Administratively, the Kurram Agency is divided into three units: Upper Kurram, Central Kurram and Lower Kurram. Parachinar is Located in Upper Kurram. Most of the Turi and Bangash tribes live in Upper Kurram, while Lower Kurram has a small presence of the Turi tribes.
The Kurram Agency has been in news for decades for conflicts, right from 1961 up till now. Being a Kurrmiwal (citizen of Kurram), I do not see it as a sectarian war. For years the deep state has used the difference of faith for its strategic depth reason due to the important geopolitical location of the Kurram Agency. Disputes over water, forests and land exist between Turi, Shia Bangash tribes and other Sunni tribes of Kurram. For example, Turi and Bangash of Pewar and Shaozan have dispute with Mangal tribe over water and forest, Turi of Malikhel has dispute with the Bangash tribes over water, Turi in Lower Kurram has disputes with the Sunni Bangash and Zaimusht tribes over land. There were many wars over these disputes which had not been not escalated into sectarian war yet.
But after Pakistan’s involvement in Afghan Jihad, FATA was used as a launching pad for the Afghan jihad. Thousands of fighters with ultra-conservative Wahabi ideology were brought to FATA and with the widespread of Wahabi and Salafi ideology all over the world and after Iranian revolution, deep schism formed between the two sects of Islam.
Even today, Kurrmiwal think that it is sectarian conflict but every single time the deep state had used sectarian war for its own benefit. In the 1987 sectarian war, Zia wanted to suppress the Shias of Pakistan after the Iranian revolution. In 1996 when sectarian war started in Parachinar, the differences had grown so much that a school boy wrote anti-Shia slurs on blackboard. A huge number of Pak-Army had come to Kurram to stop this war but disappeared, only later did we came to know that our Army had been called to occupy Kabul instead.
After 9/11, this area once again gained prominence, with the bombing of the famous Tora Bora caves of White Mountain (Koh sufaid), and the crossing of many Al-Qaeda fighters into Kurram which were arrested by local tribesmen, including Sunnis came into governance.
Unlike other Agencies Kurram remained peaceful. This is what our Government and Deep State didn’t want. When the new wave of Talibanization started all over FATA, there were no Taliban in Kurram. But in late 2005 and 2006, Taliban of other areas, especially Waziristan, were brought by our agencies to intrude into Afghanistan. After watching Taliban resistance in Waziristan and spread of its movement from FATA to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, people of Kurram were very skeptical of the Taliban intrusion into Afghanistan. Taliban used to attack Afghan and American forces from Shahidano Dand in Lower Kurram to Teri Mangal in upper Kurram. Taliban would openly move along with their weapons and they would freely move over FC check posts. This phenomenon was disturbing to the people to Kurram, and they protested to the local government to stop this from happening.
Taliban’s first attack on the Turis was in the February of 2007, when Taliban killed two Turi tribesmen in the Shabak forest area. Shabak is a thorny jungle and the check post was to look after the forest. This place is used as hideout by Taliban and from this place they used to attack the Afghan check post called Babrak Thana.
On 6, April, 2007 armed conflict in Kurram started when some state proxies of Sipah-e Sahaba chanted anti-Shia slogans on 12 Rabiulawal, which were recorded on video camera. Soon war engulfed the whole of Kurram. Taliban in lower Kurram torched two villages, namely Jalamai and Chardiwal. This was first Taliban involvement in that region. After this war, the Taliban movement in Kurram Agency stopped. After an unending series of war started, there would be peace for a month or two and then again war would start.
The Taliban further strengthened its position in Lower Kurram by establishing camp in Shasho village and occupying Got hospital. The first TTP commander of Lower Kurram was an Afghan, Fazal Shah Mulah, who died while fighting with the Turis. Then a new commander Fazal Saeed Haqqani was selected by TTP. Taliban movement into Afghanistan stopped for months, as Turis were fighting against Taliban and were not allowing them to cross the border. According to Imran Khan the “peaceful Taliban commander,” Wali uRehman from Waziristan closed the only road which joins Parachinar with rest of Pakistan with the Turis. He told them that he will not open the road unless they allow Taliban to cross into Afghanistan. Irony is that, no one objected to his statement by his supporters at large.
There are three main religious circles in Upper Kurram, and all of these represent the Shia community. They are:
1. Anjuman-e-Hussainia Parachinar
2. Tehreeh-e- Hussaini Parachinar
3. Majlis-e- Ulamai Ahlaibait Parachinar
Meanwhile, Sunnis have their own circle like Anjuman-e-Farooqia along with networks of Sipah e Sahaba. TTP from neighboring Orakzai and North Waziristan used to send thousands of Taliban fighters to fight with the Turis.
Role of our Government:
Our local administration and Pak-Army have been silent spectators. Rehman Malik has even falsely said on TV that Turis are assisted by the Afghan Army against Taliban. They were not able to open the road and instead they were using the closer road to earn money. The Army used to arrange convoys for Turis and they took Rs. 20,000 from each truck that was carrying food to Parachinar. They used to sell foods at low prices that were not available due to the road closure. The only excuse they had was that “to secure Kurram they had to secure Orakzai Agency first.” Kurram was like a heaven for Taliban – when Army would start an operation in any of the neighboring Agencies, Taliban would escape to Kurram, where the Army and Taliban would be in peace and Taliban fought with Turis. For the record, Parachinar is the only place in the lawless tribal area where the army never came under attack. When the people of Kurram would demand for military operation in lower Kurram to open the road, the military would start operation in central Kurram. Even the convoys carrying Turis would come under attack near FC check posts.
Now, when the roads are secure and the security of Parachinar is with the army following the Murree Agreement, 2008, so far four blasts have still taken place, which makes role of the army very skeptical in the eyes of the local tribesmen.
Impact on Health Sector:
As roads leading to Parachinar were closed, there was shortage of medicines and many women died while giving birth. As there was continuous fighting, many injured would die as well because they had no access to Peshawar for medical help. People used to bring medicines through Afghanistan, which means you had to buy medication at triple of its price. Few times, the convoys carrying food and medicines were looted by Taliban and once they attacked an ambulance in which they also killed a nurse and cadet college student.
Impact on Education Sector:
War had a drastic effect on the education sector. Schools remained closed as Taliban used to fire missiles into Parachinar in Upper Kurram. Because of continued ferocious fight in Lower Kurram, many schools were destroyed and students were unable to attend schools and colleges. Many students had to leave their schools and colleges. Other students joined their elders in fighting against Taliban. As the road leading to Parachinar was closed, the army used to arrange helicopter flights for students but this facility was reserved only for those who have connections with the powerful army and politicians. Therefore, students used to travel through Afghanistan to reach their school, colleges and universities. I myself have travelled through Afghanistan three times. I spent my whole semester in a village, trapped there due to fights in 2008 and managed to reach Peshawar just few days before exams. Students of Parachinar were unable to visit homes on vacation and they would stay for years in hostels. Even in Peshawar, the Turis were not spared. Many Turi tribesmen were either killed or abducted by the Taliban, which also included students. Conditions like these dissuaded many students take admission in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa schools, colleges and universities.
Taliban’s Involvement in the Kurram Agency War:
Various factions of Taliban took part in the Kurram fighting, like when after refusing to allow Taliban to cross the border, Baith ullah Mehsud sent Taliban lashkar to fight with Turis under the leadership of Qari Hussain. Then Hakeem ullah Mehsud (commander of TTP – Kurram and Orakzai chapter) sent more fighters to fight Turis, then Hakeemullah made Faqir Alam TTP commander of TTP Kurram chapter. He is said be one of the most ferocious leaders – he himself has decapitated several Turi tribesmen who were caught while escorting in a convoy near Sada. Having lost his mental health, once again Hakeem ullah took charge of TTP Kurram. Besides that Fazal Saeed Haqani was TTP commander of Lower Kurram and was involved in many attacks on convoys, who later split with Taliban and made his own TTP Islami. Mullah Noor Jamal, also known as “Mullah Toofan,” head of TTP Orakzai, sent thousands of fighters to fight with Turis. He was involved in the March 2011 attack on a convoy near Bagan, Lower Kurram, and in the killing and abducting of Turis. Mangal Bagh and Mullah Mehboob, who are rivals in Khyber Agency sent their fighters to fight with the Turi tribesmen. Haqqani faction has a huge presence in Lower Kurram, from where they attack Afghan check posts. They also assist TTP but they reject any involvement in fighting with the Turis.
When Taliban first came to Kurram they recruited local people, as in those days the Taliban movement was spreading in the whole of Pakistan. This radical ideology also gained popularity among Sunnis, who were already radicalized due to the sectarian difference with their rival Turis. Some of the Sunnis recruited themselves into Taliban to gain leverage over the Turis with whom they have land, forest and water disputes. When the war started in Kurram, Taliban was operating from Sunni’s villages and when Taliban were defeated, many Sunnis left their villages and took refuge in Peshawar. Similarly, few Turi villages were also torched by Taliban, like Jalamai, Chardiwal, Arawali Sydano Kale and Khiwas. The residents of these villages took refuge in Parachinar.
The Question of Drone and Military Operation in Kurram Agency:
Drone is an issue raised widely around the globe and especially in Pakistan, being victim of drone attacks. In Pakistan there is a huge resentment against America’s war in Afghanistan, Iraq and its biased role on the Palestine-Israel issue. This resentment is used by politicians like Imran khan and other religious scholars to gain support of the masses. Yes, we don’t we don’t support any killings in the name of collateral damage. As our minds are still colonized, this anti-drone activism in western countries is used by our corporate media and religious scholars to overshadow big issues, like the atrocities committed by our Army and their proxies “Taliban.” Drone is not the only issue of FATA. There is state sponsored terrorism, which forces local tribesmen to take a side due which many have lost their lives on both sides.
Taliban forcefully recruit tribesmen in their ranks. They abduct and take huge ransoms from them, they use the tribesmen as a human shield against drones and army, they destroy schools, ban polio vaccinations, and apply atrocities towards women. Thousands of tribesmen are forced to leave their homes and forced to stay in IDP’s camps.