Sectarian war in Parachinar

A Sunni-Shia clash has killed 30 and wounded 130 in Parachinar, the major city of the Kurram Agency on the border with Afghanistan. The Sunnis accused the Shia of having hurled a hand-grenade at their central mosque in Parachinar during Friday prayer. The Shia community accused Sunni militants from nearby towns of starting the violence by firing rockets at their homes and mosques. The sectarian trouble, brewing in nearby Aurakzai Tribal Agency too, has peaked in Parachinar. This follows the Shia community’s sense of maltreatment at the hands of the Sunni Taliban forces which have let off the Sunni paramilitaries captured form the security agencies operating there after negotiations with the government but beheaded the Shia soldiers. In Waziristan, too, a Shia leader has recently “disappeared”.

Sectarian killings in Pakistan have subsided after a likely secret compact between Al Qaeda and Iran following rumours that the United States might be preparing to attack Iran. The perception of America as the common enemy may have given rise to this understanding on sectarian violence in the Gulf where most of the Iranian trading companies are located to ward off the effects of possible sanctions. But the case of Parachinar is different. There is vendetta attached to the violence seen on Saturday. In 2001, the Parachinari community did not offer shelter to Al Qaeda and Taliban elements fleeing from Afghanistan. In fact, one tribe agreed to shelter the “Arab mujahideen” fleeing from Tora Bora while another betrayed them to the Pakistani authorities who brought them to a jail in Kohat where a gunfight killed 10 of them. A monument to Al Qaeda warriors in Kohat still stands, memorialising also the sectarian violence that unfolded in that city in the days that followed.

Pakistan has inherited the Kurram Valley vendetta. As the Afghan war loosened its control over the areas, and as Sunnis took part in the war as mujahideen, and the Shias abstained, the administrative competence of the Pakistani officers in the Agency was eroded. The periodic battles that have taken place are also a Pakistani legacy, the Lower Kurram Valley being controlled completely by the anti-Shia organisation earlier called Sipah Sahaba (SSP). Azam Tariq, the Punjabi chief of SSP, became a leader of these Pushtuns more than in Jhang in Punjab from where he had started, and the Kurram Valley factor was clearly the cause of his strength vis-à-vis the Pakistan government. Under General Zia, the trend to attack the Shia began in Parachinar in 1986, when the mujahideen felt hampered by the Turis while marching into Afghanistan to fight the Soviet forces.

It was in 1986 that General Zia allowed a “purge” of the Turi Shias in the divided city of Parachinar at the hands of the Sunni Afghan mujahideen in conjunction with the local Sunni population. The Shia organisation Tehrike-e-Nifaz-e-Fiqh-e-Jaafaria (TNFJ) had come into being under the leadership of a Turi Shia of Parachinar, Allama Ariful Hussaini in 1983. When the Parachinar massacre occurred, the party was led by him. Allama Hussaini was murdered in Peshawar in August 1988, for which the Turis held General Zia responsible. That was also the year of General Zia’s death (within a fortnight of Hussaini’s murder) in an air-crash in Bahawalpur, and for a time there was rumour of Shia involvement in his assassination although no solid evidence supporting this speculation was ever uncovered. But the NWFP governor General Fazle Haq, whom the Turis accused of complicity in the murder of Allama Hussaini, was ambushed and killed in 1991. (Mehram Ali, the Shia terrorist who blew up the Sipah leader Maulana Zia-ur-Rehman Farooqi at the sessions court in Lahore, was trained in Parachinar).

Sectarian violence can come back any time. And it can come as close to the state of Pakistan as Islamabad where the shrine of Shia origin, Barri Imam, was bombed under the watch of General Musharraf. The most memorable outburst of terrorism of Lal Masjid in Islamabad was managed by two brothers whose father, the founder of the Red Mosque, was killed because of his sectarian preaching. The first Lal Masjid vigilante attack was on the house of a Shia woman. The cities that can again come under attack from the sectarianists in Al Qaeda are: Karachi, DI Khan, Gilgit, Kohat, Quetta, etc. And it is a foregone conclusion that in the territories “won” by Taliban for Al Qaeda, the Shia community will be purged. Out of the Tribal Areas, a number of cities like DI Khan and Kohat, with concentrations of the Shia, are already under attack from the suicide-bombers of South Waziristan. One should also bear in mind that after Iran, Pakistan has the largest population of Shias in the world. And if our Northern Areas are ever given the status of a province it will be the country’s first Shia-majority province, reminding us that sectarianism is the most self-destructive factor in the state of Pakistan. (Daily Times, 19 Nov 2007)

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