Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time
Close to the gardens of broken shadows,
We do what prisoners do,
Our losses: between two and eight martyrs each day.
And ten wounded.
And twenty homes.
And fifty olive trees…
The siege is a waiting period
Waiting on the tilted ladder in the middle of the storm.
(Under Siege, Mahmoud Darvesh)
Qaisar Hussain, 18, was just another college student like hundreds of thousands adolescents across Pakistan who, at this age, embark on pursuit of their dreams. Qaisar, who had consistently been securing good grades, too was optimistic about his future until he was shot dead on February 17, 2012 by Pakistani security forces in Parachinar. His crime was twofold. He was a Shia and that too of Kurram – the forsaken Pakistan.
Friday, February 17, 2012, proved to be yet another unfortunate day for the inhabitants, Turis and Bangash who are predominately Shias, of Upper Kurram when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the Kurram Bazaar of the Upper Kurram headquarters Parachinar, causing 28 immediate deaths while death toll climbed to 43 later on. As if the carnage of innocent people was not enough to quench the blood thirst of monsters, to add to the numbers of deceased and bereaved the paramilitary FC personnel deployed there started indiscriminate firing on the protesters gathered there and killed 6 more people. Qaisar Hussain was one of them. He wasn’t even part of the protestors but received bullets while coming back from Agency Headquarter Hospital after donating blood for the victims of the blast.
Not too long ago family of Qaisar Hussain had shifted to Parachinar from village Khaiwas, located in Shelozan Mountains of Kurram, northeast of Mata Sangar. In September, 2010, the residents of village Khaiwas not only had faced bloody onslaught of Taliban but also came under attack of Pakistani Army’s gunships when the locals fought fearlessly against the forced influx of Taliban into their territory. The Army had to intervene to save the ‘Good Taliban’ and heavily bombarded the Shelozan area leaving many dead including children. The ulterior motive behind the onslaught was to secure the Mata Sangar area, which is adjacent to Khost, Afghanistan, for Haqqani Network rendering more convenient for them to attack the ISAF posts in neighboring Khost. Local Shias were proving biggest hurdle in the way of carrying out the design and for that matter had to bear the wrath of Taliban as well as security forces.
Kurram is a region of special strategic importance to Afghanistan-focused insurgents. It served as a base to the Afghan Mujahideen during the war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s and is coveted by insurgents today because of its “parrot’s beak” shape that protrudes deep into eastern Afghanistan and is also the shortest route to Kabul from anywhere in Pakistan. Despite the capture of approximately 200 al-Qaeda militants in Kurram in 2001 trying to enter Pakistan from neighboring Pakistan, who were turned over to Pakistani authorities by Shias in lower Kurram, there were no significant reports of violence in Kurram between 2002 and 2007. As the Taliban insurgency against the Pakistani state started to gain momentum in 2004, however, it eventually spilled north from its cradle in Waziristan to other parts of the FATA, and brought an influx of Sunni militant Islamist organizations including al-Qaeda and its affiliates into the region. Some of those groups include the Punjab-based Sipah-e-Sahab Pakistan (SSP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM). The presence of groups such as SSP, LeJ, and JeM, with a history of anti-Shia violence elsewhere in the country, all but guaranteed that communal sectarian violence would intensify in Kurram.
Until 2007, previous clashes between Sunnis and Shias in the agency were usually the result of small-scale sectarian disputes and historical animosities. On April 6, 2007, a procession of Shias was attacked in the agency headquarters of Parachinar, a city of 70,000 people, igniting sectarian clashes across Kurram. The intense fighting resulted in the closure of the Thall-Parachinar road. The road is the main artery running through Kurram that connects all parts of the agency to Peshawar and the rest of Pakistan. The road is also the main supply route to Kurram Agency, especially upper Kurram. The closure of the road during the skirmishes resulted in a severe shortage of commodities and prevented the transportation of the wounded to hospitals in Peshawar when adequate care was not available locally.
The closure of the road became a major grievance for the Shia community as the conflict in Kurram progressed. Sunni groups and Taliban militants fighting the Shias realized the strategic importance of the road to the Shias of upper Kurram and used their control, with the assistance of security forces, over the road as a weapon in their efforts to pressure the Shias into capitulation. Indeed, guaranteeing safe usage of the road became the most important bargaining chip that the Haqqani Network offered the Shias when it intervened to settle the conflict in late 2010 and early 2011.
In October 2007, the first Waziristan Taliban lashkar, comprising 400 Mehsud militants, was sent to Kurram by the then head of the TTP, Baitullah Mehsud. Qari Hussain, an anti-Shia commander of the TTP, commanded the lashkar and torched villages and killed dozens of Shias. After two months, Hussain returned to South Waziristan and Hakimullah Mehsud, the then TTP commander for Kurram, Khyber and Orakzai agencies, sent hundreds more militants under the command of Faqir Alam Mehsud to Kurram to fight against Shia lashkars. “Faqir Alam Mehsud, reputed for his brutalities, personally beheaded at least 100 Shias from Kurram, along with a few Sunnis for cooperating with Shias. More than 3,500 people had been killed, 50 villages torched and thousands of people displaced in clashes in Kurram between 2007 and 2010.
On February 5, 2011, Shia and Sunni communities in Parachinar, Kurram announced an end to a four-year-long feud. Despite the appearance of legitimacy that the tribal jirga bestowed on the accord, the real agreement was reached beforehand through several rounds of negotiations between tribal elders, government officials, and members of the Haqqani Network. In exchange for pressuring Sunni militants to cease attacks on the Shias, the Haqqanis and affiliated groups will be provided with access into Afghanistan through formerly hostile Shia terrain. The Shias had come under increasing pressure to reach a deal with the Haqqanis since September 2010. In September, the Pakistani security services announced the closure of five border crossing points in Upper Kurram and interrupted small aircraft sorties used to ferry supplies from Parachinar to Peshawar. Faced with the loss of their alternate transit route to Peshawar, this development essentially forced the Shias to the negotiating table.
Pressuring the Shias to come to terms with a Haqqani-mediated peace agreement appears to have been the result of steady efforts within the Pakistani security establishment—and for good reason. For years, Shias and Sunnis in Kurram have pleaded with the Pakistani government to intervene in the sectarian conflict fueled by elements of Afghan and Pakistan-focused Taliban. Yet, elements within the Pakistani security establishment appeared unable to, and, once the Haqqani Network got involved, unwilling to broker a peace unless it also paid dividends for the Haqqanis. In helping to broker the peace in Kurram, the Haqqanis have secured critical concessions that will aid their operations and tactical proficiency in their ongoing campaign against ISAF and Afghan forces in Afghanistan’s eastern provinces.
Recent blast has been claimed by Taliban commander Fazal e Saeed Zaimusht, who now mysteriously is called Fazal e Saeed Haqani, who left the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan after an internal feud last year and allegedly has ties with Pakistani security establishment under the ambiguous notion of ‘Good Taliban’. This is what he said while taking the responsibility of Parachinar blast: “We have targeted the Shia community of Parachinar because they were involved in activities against us. We also warn the political administration of Parachinar to stop siding with the Shia community in all our disputes”. A year has not passed and peace deal is already breaking apart that was founded on the evil designs of Pakistani security establishment.
The paradise of Parachinar has been lost. Lost by the generals who see and know nothing ahead of momentarily gains, lost by the urban intelligentsia busy portraying it as sectarian violence while it’s not, lost by the journos active putting the blame on tribal rivalry of Pukhtuns day in and day out, lost by the liberal elite so efficient in cutting and vindicating deal with the Taliban in so-called greater interest of Pakistan, lost by you, the well-informed ones, lost by me, the ignorant one. Lost probably for good.
Qaisar Hussain was known among his friends for his enchanting voice and ‘Noha-khwani’. The agony in his voice was probably not all about the martyrdom of the Holy Imams but also an expression of pain inflicted upon his people for those the siege of anguish seems to be never ending. He was part of the caravan under attack not only by the bandits but also by the custodians themselves in cahoots with outlaws. He was a member of a clan forsaken by his country fellows who are in habit to take pride in all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons. His story would probably not stir up the emotions of urban populace in general under the illusion of hollow nationalism but let it be clear that people of land of the pure owe Qaisar Hussain and his clan the burthen of truth and justice.
Sources cited: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6