Last Saturday, the Pakistan Army formally launched a full-fledged operation in central Kurram Agency, two weeks after the government had notified 80 square kilometres of the area there as a conflict zone.
This Friday alone, security forces backed by gunship helicopters and artillery guns killed 11 militants, taking the enemy fighters’ death toll of the almost weeklong offensive to over 60. There is no independent confirmation of the death toll because journalists and aid workers don’t have free access to the area.
A complex set of geopolitical issues has influenced events in Kurram valley, not least that it is central to the interests of the Taliban, offering easy access to Afghanistan. Kurram has a Shia majority and the area has been plagued by sectarianism for decades. Since 2007, things have been exceptionally grim, especially when the main road linking Parachinar on the Pakistan-Afghan border to Peshawar was closed due to militant activity, resulting in acute shortages of essential items in Parachinar. The sectarian problem also exploded in Kurram Agency that year and hundreds were killed.
The sectarian conflict has intensified with influx into Kurram of Taliban and other Sunni militants after the US invasion of Afghanistan. The 2008 military operation in Orakzai Agency didn’t help matters, forcing the militants to flee their positions for nearby Khyber and Kurram regions.
In 2008, the so-called Murree Peace Accord was signed between the rival Turi and Mangal tribes in the presence of members of parliament from the agency. However, this accord was never implemented.
Just in March this year, the Taliban attacked three vehicles heading from Peshawar to Parachinar and kidnapped 22 Shias, and the road was closed again. Hakeemullah Mehsud, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan commander in Kurram and Orakzai since 2007, wanted the prisoners to be handed over to him so he could receive ransom for their release, which Kurram-based commander Fazal Saeed Haqqani’s deputy refused, killing eight of the hostages instead. Hakeemullah removed Haqqani from the command and in retaliation Haqqani formed the Tehreek-i-Taliban Islami Pakistan and severed all contacts with the TTP.
Since then, things have gone from bad to worse, and the army has now stepped in to, it says, “clear the area of terrorists involved in acts of terrorism, including kidnapping and killing of local people, suicide attacks and blocking the road that connects Lower Kurram with Upper Kurram.”
While there are several benchmarks for the success of an operation in Kurram, the bare minimum that security forces must achieve is to permanently end the violence that has plagued the lives of the agency’s people, especially in lower and upper Kurram where both Shias and Sunnis have been displaced by sectarian attacks. Militant activity along the Thall-Parachinar road that has isolated the population from the settled areas must also be decisively stopped. The success of the operation will also depend on how well the government, and the international community, is able to handle the almost 12,000 families expected to be displaced over the course of the operation. The operation in central Kurram is likely to neutralise resistance pockets of Taliban still operating in the Mamoozai area of Orakzai Agency.
The latest operation is also a prerequisite for any operation, if one is ever conducted, in North Waziristan, since without securing central Kurram, foreign militants and the TTP in NWA would have shifted to Kurram and Orakzai.
Source: The News
Kurram offensive displaces 85,000: officials
PESHAWAR: The authorities have registered at least 85,000 people who fled a military operation to flush out militants from Kurram, officials said on Tuesday.
Thousands of families escaped the region in a mass exodus after the offensive was launched last Monday. “We have registered until today at least 9,023 families — around 85,000 people,” senior government official Sahibzada Anis told AFP.
“The number of persons in each family may differ, as some families have five to six members while members in some families exceed even 15.”
He added that around 3,000 families have taken shelter in the camps set up in Kurram’s Sadda town and in Tal town of northwestern Hangu district.
“The remaining ones are either living with their relatives or have hired houses in nearby cities and small towns”, he said.
“They are our guests and we will provide food and relief goods to the uprooted families.” Pakistan’s tribal region disaster management authority said it had urgently requested tents, food, washing facilities and non-food items from aid agencies.
ISPR Director General Major General Athar Abbas said last week that the operation would clear the area “of terrorists involved in all kinds of terrorist activities, including kidnapping and killing of locals, and suicide attacks”.
He also said it would endeavour to reopen the road between the upper Kurram and the lower part. Raids have been conducted on and off in the district ever since the Army launched a previous operation in 2009. More than 24 hours after announcing the latest offensive, commanders have yet to provide any casualty reports.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called upon the government to take urgent steps to assist the citizens forced to flee their homes because of military operations in the tribal areas, including Kurram.
“The Commission notes with concern the fresh waves of internal displacement reported from Kurram,” the body said in a statement, expressing concern over lack of food and other items available for the displaced people. It added that when military operations become indispensable they must be conducted in such a manner that the citizens’ problems are minimised.
Source: The News