Thrown to the wolves
The Taliban accepted the Turi surrender with the condition that tribal elders would be loyal to the Taliban, would dismantle the current lashkar, would never raise another anti-Taliban lashkar in the area again and would support the Taliban’s efforts in implementing Shariah
The more than half a million forsaken people in Kurram Agency continue to bear the brunt of sectarian violence, increasing Talibanisation and apathy of the Pakistani government. Though the people of Kurram are no strangers to sectarian violence, they have never seen so much long-lasting bloodshed since the creation of Pakistan. Previous sectarian clashes that would occur every five to seven years never lasted for more than two to three weeks, as the tribal leaders and Pakistani government would always intervene. But the situation has taken a nasty twist since the arrival of the Taliban in the area three years ago, and 3,100 people have been killed since July 2007.
Pakistani authorities have, so far, failed in controlling the persistent violence and have failed in opening the major Parachinar-Peshawar road on a permanent basis. This road has remained closed for the last two years except when heavily escorted food convoys travel on it. Even these convoys are not safe. In the first week of March, a fleet of food trucks and some buses, escorted by security forces, was attacked by suicide bombers, killing 14 and injuring another 25 people. In the last week of March, six truck drivers who were returning from carrying goods to the Shia communities of Upper Kurram, were kidnapped and killed by the Taliban. A letter found in the pocket of one dead driver warned that anyone supplying goods to the Parachinar Shiite community would meet a similar fate. Similarly, a military vehicle on its way from Tal to Parachinar was hit by an IED in the third week of April, killing four paramilitary personnel and injuring another five.
In this situation, the Shiite community, as a whole, and some Sunni tribes like the Mangal in Upper Kurram find it extremely difficult and risky to move out of Kurram Agency. Shias cannot travel outside the agency through the Tal-Parachinar road connecting Kurram Agency with Peshawar as it is controlled by the Taliban. There are no PIA flights to the only airport of the area, located in Parachinar. There is only one four-seater private jet that charges Rs 10,000 for a quick flight from Parachinar to Peshawar and potential passengers have to wait for at least one month to get a seat on it. Both the Shia and Sunni people of Kurram Agency have to travel through war-torn Afghanistan to reach Peshawar and other parts of Pakistan. There is a severe shortage of life-saving drugs and the basic commodities needed for everyday life. Even if some items are available, they are extremely expensive. Many government servants have gone unpaid for the last two years and some have even committed suicide because of the difficult life and lack of financial resources.
Many natives of the Kurram Agency blame state policies regarding Afghanistan for the death and destruction in their area. According to them when the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) strengthened its posts on the border with Waziristan in 2006-07 — after the Pakistani government signed peace accords with the local Taliban — al Qaeda and Taliban fighters tried to pass through the Kurram Agency to cross over into Afghanistan; Kurram providing the shortest route to Kabul. The Turi tribe and other Shias declined to give passage to the Taliban through their area and complained to the local authorities who, unfortunately, did not take any action. The Taliban attacked the Turi to punish them for their refusal to provide them a safe passage, an act that has led to the current dire situation of the Turis. Both Shia and Sunni elders also hold government officials responsible for contributing to the ongoing tensions in Kurram, particularly in Parachinar, the capital of the agency. Shia elders assert that two political agents of the area asked them to facilitate the Taliban’s movements or be ready for the consequences.
To defend themselves against the Taliban, all of the Kurram tribes have established their own lashkars (tribal militias), but these lashkars are no match for the better-financed, well-armed and well-trained Taliban. On March 20, 2010, Taliban forces attacked the Masozai tribal lashkar to avenge the death of 12 of their colleagues who were killed a day earlier when the lashkar attacked the convoy of Taliban commander Mullah Toofan. After several hours of fighting in which 15 persons were killed and around 20 were injured from both sides, the local tribal lashkar was left with no option but to surrender to the Taliban. The Taliban accepted their surrender with the condition that the tribal elders would be loyal to the Taliban, would dismantle the current lashkar, would never raise another anti-Taliban lashkar in the area again and would support the Taliban’s efforts in implementing Shariah. After these guarantees and promises, Mullah Toofan freed 22 hostages taken from the Masozai lashkar.
There is an urgent need for the government of Pakistan to take effective action and help the people of Kurram live a peaceful and non-violent life. The people of Kurram are trying to help themselves through the creation of peace jirgas and lashkars but their resources are too meagre to create any durable peace, or fight the Taliban. They feel betrayed by the state. It is high time that the state of Pakistan intervenes in favour of the people who have suffered too much for too long.
The writer is a Canadian Pakhtun. He has post-graduate education in Business Administration from the University of Toronto and Public Policy from the University of Regina. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org