Shiites flee enclave in Pakistan after Taliban lay siege

Shiites flee enclave in Pakistan after Taliban lay siege
By Jane Perlez and Pir Zubair Shah, International Herald Tribune, July 27, 2008

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: It was once known as the Parrot's Beak, a strategic jut of Pakistan that the U.S.-backed mujahedeen used to carry out raids on the Russians just over the border into Afghanistan. That was during the Cold War.

Now the area, around the town of Parachinar, is near the center of the new kind of struggle. The Taliban have inflamed and exploited a long-running sectarian conflict that has left the town under siege.

The Taliban, which have solidified control across the Pakistani tribal zone and are seeking new staging grounds for attacking U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, have sided with fellow Sunni Muslims against an enclave of Shiites settled in Parachinar for centuries. The population of about 55,000 is short of food. The fruit crop is rotting, residents say, and the cost of a 30-kilogram, or 65-pound, bag of flour has skyrocketed to $100.

And, in a mini-conflict that yet again demonstrates the growing influence of the Taliban and the Pakistani government's lack of control over this sensitive border area, young and old, wounded and able-bodied, have become refugees in their own land.

Thousands of displaced Shiites from Parachinar are scattered among relatives in Peshawar, capital of North-West Frontier Province, which abuts the tribal areas, and in hotels and shelters where images of Iranian religious leaders decorate the halls.

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