A report from Kurram — by Farhat Taj

Both Shia and Sunni IDPs have many complaints against the parliamentarians elected from Kurram. They say that elected representatives from Swat did a great deal to alleviate the sufferings of the Swati IDPs whereas the Kurram parliamentarians have done nothing to help the Kurram IDPs

Kurram is a mixed Shia and Sunni agency in FATA. Since 2007, both the Shias and Sunnis of Kurram have been facing violence, road blockades and large-scale human displacement. Sectarian clashes in 2007 displaced Sunni tribesmen, women and children from the Shia-dominated parts of upper and lower Kurram and Shia men, women and children from the Sunni-dominated parts in upper and lower Kurram. The Kohat-Parachinar road is unsafe for Shia travellers. Convoys carrying Shia travellers that were escorted by the security forces were attacked by militants on this road, leading to deaths and injuries. The convoys were especially attacked on a five kilometre portion of the road between Chapari Pathak in Kurram to district Tal in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This area is known as Toor Ghar (Black Mountain).

I have had many meetings with Shia and Sunni tribal elders and displaced families. There were accusations, counter-accusations, claims and counter-claims. Both sides showed me video clips depicting acts of terrorism committed against each side. Unless there is a proper and impartial investigation, it is difficult to say who did what and how. What, however, is clear is that both sides are sick and tired of violence and want peace restored in Kurram at the earliest. Luckily, the two sides agree on three important issues: the Murree Agreement, university campuses in Kurram, and promulgation of the Political Parties Act (PPA) in FATA, including Kurram. Strangely, it is the government that is dragging its feet on these issues.

The Murree Agreement was signed between the Shia and Sunni tribes in November 2008 under the auspices of the government of Pakistan. The agreement asks for armed tribal groups to vacate their positions, the repatriation of IDPs, supply of food and medicine to the affected areas and removal of all road blockades. Any side violating the terms of the agreement would face punitive action from the government of Pakistan, including a fine of Rs 20 million. The government, however, has failed to implement the agreement right from the first day and the people of Kurram continue to suffer violence. Both the Shia and Sunni tribes want the government to strictly implement the Murree Agreement and both wonder why the government is reluctant to establish its writ in Kurram through the Murree Agreement that the government itself made between the two sides.

In terms of education, Kurram is far more advanced than other FATA agencies. The people of Kurram take pride in this. Both Shia and Sunni tribal leaders requested the government to establish two university campuses, one each in Parachinar, upper Kurram and Sadda, lower Kurram. The governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the political administration in Kurram supported the idea. The government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa directed the Vice Chancellor (VC) of the Islamic College in Peshawar (a chartered university), to set up two campuses in Kurram. The VC, Ajmal Khan, currently in the custody of the Taliban who kidnapped him, visited Kurram in July 2010 for this purpose. Two government buildings, one each in Parachinar and Sadda, were acquired and staff was recruited. Even the students’ admission process had begun in both campuses. Suddenly, the FATA secretariat refused to hand over the government buildings in Parachinar and Sadda for university purposes. Under pressure from the FATA secretariat, the Islamic College, Peshawar abandoned the whole plan. Both the Shias and Sunnis accuse ‘vested interests’ in the FATA secretariat as having spoiled the whole plan. They condemn the authorities in the FATA secretariat and especially accuse an additional chief secretary (ACS) for depriving the Kurram youth of higher education. They request the president of Pakistan to ensure that the campuses are established in Kurram at the earliest as per plan.

The late Benazir Bhutto had filed a case in the Supreme Court of Pakistan for the promulgation of Pakistan’s PPA in FATA. In August 2009, President Zardari announced the implementation of the PPA in FATA. The announcement was never followed by an official notification. Resultantly, FATA continues to be a no-go area presumably for secular political parties like the PPP and ANP, whereas religious political parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam continue to have free access to the area through mosques and madrassas. The people of Kurram, like people elsewhere in FATA, argue that the pro-Taliban Wahabi discourse of the religious parties must be countered by a pro-peace discourse of political parties like the PPP and ANP — the parties that unite rather than divide people on a sectarian basis. Both Sunnis and Shias in Kurram want the implementation of the PPA in FATA. The ANP and, especially, the PPP have a large following in Kurram.

Moreover, both Shia and Sunni IDPs have many complaints against the parliamentarians elected from Kurram. They say that elected representatives from Swat did a great deal to alleviate the sufferings of the Swati IDPs whereas the Kurram parliamentarians have done nothing to help the Kurram IDPs.

The people of lower Kurram, an area that produces many labour migrants, especially for the Middle East, request the government to open a passport office in Sadda. They also request upgrading of the grid station in lower Kurram because the area constantly suffers from low electricity voltage.

In short, innocent civilians on both the Shia and Sunni sides have greatly suffered in sectarian violence since 2007. They are tired of the violence and look to the government to bring normalcy to their shattered lives through a strict implementation of the writ of the government and provision of necessary facilities like education, electricity, etc. The government must rise to the occasion by fulfilling its responsibilities in effectively dealing with the issues on which the Shias and Sunnis have no differences.

The writer is a PhD Research Fellow with the University of Oslo and currently writing a book, Taliban and Anti-Taliban

Source: Daily Times