The Long Wait in FATA's Kurram Agency: DT
Daily Times, June 29, 2009
As Kurram Agency on the border with Afghanistan waits for the return of the writ of the Pakistani state for the past three years, the Taliban depredations in the guise of sectarianism continue around the headquarters of the Parachinar agency. At least 33 people were killed and 65 others injured in “sectarian clashes” in various parts of Kurram Agency on Friday night and Saturday. In the last 12 days, the casualty list includes 89 people dead and 175 injured.
The local population has virtually given up on Pakistan during the two years that have seen all roads going to Pakistan cut off and the federal government ditching them after promising to come to their help “within a fortnight”. The local administration, if it can be called that, “cooperates” with the Taliban in the interim and exposes the besieged Shia majority population of Parachinar. According to a local tribesman quoted in the press: “We have had over 700 young people martyred but have not allowed these militants to secure a toehold in upper Kurram. Now the influx of Taliban from Swat, Dir and other areas is worsening the situation”.
Because Pakistan has virtually said goodbye to Kurram, it is no longer possible for the people of the agency to get food and medicine from Pakistan. The Sunni Taliban and their cohorts accuse the Shia of getting help from Afghanistan; the Shia accuse the Sunni groups of getting ever-increasing fighting manpower from Waziristan and Hangu.
Kurram faces Tora Bora on the other side of the border. This is the route that Al Qaeda and its Taliban supporters took to escape from Afghanistan in 2001. The local Parachinar population, being Shia, did not cooperate because of the age-old rivalry between them and the surrounding Sunni tribes. After the establishment of the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) things have got much worse since the Sunni militias that hunt the local Shia are commanded by warlords owing allegiance to Baitullah Mehsud.
The sectarian scourge is also strengthened by the schism in the nearby Orakzai Agency where Baitullah’s commander Hakimullah has nearly 8,000 fighters under him and is busy warring with the opponent Shia militia of Hussain Ali Shah with 7,000 fighters at his disposal. As this war spilled into Kurram, another commander of Baitullah Mehsud, Qari Hussain, the expert in preparing suicide-bombers in a matter of hours, has been operating against the Shia in Kurram. Qari Hussain was reported killed recently during military operation, but his partners are carrying on the sectarian massacre after him.
If and when Pakistan decides to tackle the crisis in Kurram it will find that after years of neglect, the killing machine of the Taliban has bound Kurram to Orakzai, Khyber and Darra Adamkhel through the activities of commander Hakimullah. Other NWFP cities like Hangu and Kohat have caught the virus because of the presence of the Taliban at their outskirts with local administration increasingly in the subordinate mode with them. The Taliban and Al Qaeda sympathisers in Kohat are the actual rulers in this region and have their outreach into Islamabad through the Lal Masjid clergy.
After the death of Qari Hussain, it is the warlord of Darra Adamkhel, Commander Tariq, who is carrying on the war against the Kurram population with the help of other TTP allies. Long years of neglect have tilted the Shia population in favour of some help that they get from the Hazaras of Afghanistan. Also, after the area was cut off from the rest of Pakistan, the Kurram Shias were said to be receiving some assistance from Iran. This has actually exacerbated the situation with a more intensified polarisation between the Shia and those fighting a covert war against Iran.
The people of Kurram have waited a long time for the state of Pakistan to rescue them. Now as the state asserts itself for sovereignty in South Waziristan and the TTP and Al Qaeda terrorists are on the run, the time may have come for the Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, to fulfil his pledge that Pakistan would come to the rescue of Kurram “within a fortnight”. That was said many months ago. *