Parachinar conflict: Shias vs Taliban

Parachinar conflict: Shias vs Taliban
ORF Pakistan Studies Programme
21 November 2007

Over 80 persons were killed and about 150 were injured when sectarian bloodletting gripped the remote Parachinar in Kurram agency, an area running along the volatile Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The violent clash between Sunnis and Shias has only added to the woes of President Pervez Musharraf struggling to contain the creeping Talibanisation on its frontier areas.

Sectarian conflicts have been a bane of Pakistan for several decades with the military and political class, predominantly Sunni, exploiting the divide to sustain their hold over the majority. Shias account for 15 per cent of Pakistan’s 160 million population. The conflict between the sects reached a peak during Zia-ul Haq’s regime after Shias laid a siege on Islamabad when the General decided to impose Sharia in the country. In fact, it was the massive protest by Shias which instigated Sunni groups to join hands and set up Sunni extremist groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba-Pakistan (SSP) and its more rabid off-shoot, Lashkar-e-Jhangbi with the primary objective of carrying out an ethnic cleansing in Shia-dominated areas like Karachi and Gilgit-Baltistan.

The Parachinar conflict has other provocations too. The immediate one was the trading of accusations between the Sunnis and Shias in the area. The Sunnis accused Shias of hurling a hand-grenade at their mosque during the Friday prayer. The Shias said it was the Sunnis who fired rockets at their mosques and homes. The real reason for the situation was the maltreatment meted out by Sunni Taliban militia to Shia para-military personnel in the area a few weeks ago. At least three hundred men and officers of Frontier Corps and other para-military outfits had surrendered to Taliban-al Qaida. The terrorist group later released several of them, all Sunnis. The Shias soldiers were badly treated; some were even beheaded. The incident had left the Shias angry and revengeful.

The Sunni Taliban’s treatment of Shia paramilitary soldiers, according to some reports, is the result of the Shia community refusing to take part in the Afghan jihad and the subsequent betrayal of al Qaida-Taliban men who sought shelter during the Tora Bora bombing by the US in 2001. The Shias were targeted systematically in Parachinar during 1986 when CIA-ISI raised mujahideen wanted a free passage to Afghanistan.

The situation was brought under control when the Army moved into quell the violence. Leaders of the Hangu and Orkazai community were persuaded to initiate a ceasefire between the communities. The peace at best is tenuous and the simmering anger in both the communities is bound to flare up without much provocation, adding to the problems Musharraf and his Army are fighting with their hands tied.

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