The New York Times Report
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — It was once known as the Parrot’s Beak, a strategic jut of Pakistan that the American-backed mujahedeen used to carry out raids on the Russians just over the border into Afghanistan. That was during the cold war.
Now the area, around the town of Parachinar, is near the center of the new kind of struggle. The Taliban have inflamed and exploited a long-running sectarian conflict that has left the town under siege.
The Taliban, which have solidified control across Pakistan’s tribal zone and are seeking new staging grounds to attack American soldiers in Afghanistan, have sided with fellow Sunni Muslims against an enclave of Shiites settled in Parachinar for centuries. The population of about 55,000 is short of food. The fruit crop is rotting, residents say, and the cost of a 66-pound bag of flour has skyrocketed to $100.
And, in a mini-conflict that yet again demonstrates the growing influence of the Taliban and the Pakistan government’s lack of control over this highly sensitive border area, young and old, wounded and able-bodied, have become refugees in their own land.
Thousands of displaced Shiites from Parachinar are scattered among relatives in Peshawar, capital of North-West Frontier Province, which abuts the tribal areas, and in hotels and shelters where images of Iranian religious leaders decorate the halls.
Last month, a Pakistani government relief convoy loaded with food and medicines that had been sent to break the siege was attacked by the Taliban at the village of Pir Qayyum. Many of the 22 vehicles were burned and 12 drivers were killed by the Taliban, according to government officials here and Shiites.
And little seems to be hindering the Taliban since the army, six months ago, agreed to a peace deal with the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, and has remained in its barracks.
Groups of Taliban affiliated with Mr. Mehsud, who according to the Bush administration is supported by Al Qaeda, now control wide swaths of the tribal areas, from Waziristan in the south to Bajur in the north.
From some parts of the tribal areas, like Waziristan and Mohmand, the Taliban have stepped up their operations into Afghanistan against NATO and American soldiers, cross-border attacks that have resulted in rising casualties for coalition forces over the last two months, the Bush administration said.
In Kurram, the general area where Parachinar is located, the Taliban are a relatively new phenomenon, exploiting the generations-old sectarian conflict as a way of keeping the government out of the strategically important piece of territory, the senior government official in Kurram, Azam Khan, who serves as the political agent and who organized the June convoy, said in an interview.
But Shiites say the Taliban are doing more than just keeping the government at bay. The Shiites say that because they are stopping the militants from entering Afghanistan, the Taliban are attacking them.
The situation has attracted the attention of the leading Shiite figure of Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has encouraged all Shiites in Pakistan to do what they can to help their brethren in Parachinar, said Sheik Mohammed Shifah Alnajafi, the deputy representative of Ayatollah Sistani in Pakistan, and the vice principal of a Shiite seminary in the capital, Islamabad.
About 80 percent of Pakistan’s overwhelmingly Muslim population is Sunni, and about 20 percent Shiite. In Kurram as a whole, the two sects are almost evenly divided, with Parachinar almost entirely Shiite, according to figures from the secretariat of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the body that loosely oversees the tribal region.
The origins of the siege reach back to April 2007, when sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis flared over provocative remarks made by a Sunni of Wahhabi beliefs against historical Shiite figures, said Muhammad Amin Shaheedi, the director of the Islamic Research Council in Islamabad, and a leader of the Shiite community in Pakistan.
But unlike previous bouts of sectarian violence that were settled by mediation after a few days, the tensions mounted, exacerbated by the Taliban, who sided with some of the Sunni, he said.
Then, last Nov. 16, the tensions exploded in a day of extraordinary violence in Parachinar and surrounding villages, including mortar fire between Sunni mosques and Shiite mosques, said M. B. Bangash, a Shiite businessman from Parachinar who has taken refuge in Peshawar.
In contrast to other parts of the tribal areas, the Pakistani Army has had a garrison in Parachinar for decades, but it failed to stop the violence, he said. “The government is indifferent,” Mr. Bangash said.
Some of the moderate Sunni families in Parachinar, who had often helped Shiites in conflicts, were attacked in the November fighting by extremist Shiites and were forced to flee, according to Mr. Khan, a well-regarded political agent who was appointed last month to the area in an effort by the government to reduce tensions. This left the general Shiite population feeling more vulnerable to the Taliban, he said.
But the ambush of the convoy last month proved the power of the Taliban, the displaced Shiites in Peshawar said.
A driver of one of the trucks who survived, Asif Hussain, described being captured at Pir Qayyum, taken to a Taliban training camp in the village of Shasho, interrogated and then released after convincing his captors that he was not Shiite, but Sunni.
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Abdul Majeed for The New York Times
Shiite women, refugees from the Kurram region, with pictures of people who were killed in clashes with the Taliban.
Times Topics: Pakistan
“At the camp, the Taliban killed eight other drivers because they were Shia,” said Mr. Hussain, 33, in a telephone interview from Parachinar.
An official of the Pakistan Peoples Party from Parachinar, Mirza Jihadi, confirmed the existence of the Shasho camp, which, he said, is at a place where Afghan refugees used to live and is now controlled by loyalists of Mr. Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban.
The displaced in Peshawar told stories of growing hardship at home, and they complained bitterly of the failure of the government to help.
“I want to go home but the government does not provide any transportation,” said Mohib Ali, 45, at a hotel here, as he nursed a bandaged right arm that was wounded, he said, in fighting.
He had spent the previous day at the Peshawar airport hoping to board a military helicopter that he had been told would take civilians back to Parachinar. But instead, he said, it filled up with soldiers returning after leave, and a few favored others with good contacts.
The army garrison in the town had done little to help, and had failed to organize major food supplies, said Haji Gulab Hussain, a retired government official who leads a Shiite tribal council.
“The lower-ranking soldiers are ready for any action,” he said. “But the army is supporting the Taliban. There are no orders.” During the November violence, he said, “The army did nothing.”
Parachinar has prided itself on the best education in the tribal areas since the British colonial era, so the closing of schools since the violence began is a special blow, some of the displaced said. Teachers were too afraid to travel, they said.
The one hospital in Parachinar was left with only a few nurses. Basic medicines, including anesthesia equipment and oxygen, were depleted, according to a medic reached by telephone.
Killings have demoralized the population. In the village of Bilyamin, 22 miles south of Parachinar, two students walking to their matriculation exams were shot dead by the Taliban, Mr. Bangash said.
Some solace was coming from Afghanistan, the refugees said. A schoolboy, Ashfaq Hussain, 12, arrived in Peshawar on Tuesday after a two-day journey by car through Afghanistan to enroll at Islamia Collegiate School, a prestigious school here.
“We can go through Afghanistan without a visa, it’s a help,” said his father, Sabir Hussain.
But his son’s travel to Peshawar by car via Afghanistan cost the equivalent of $50 over two days, instead of the usual $3 by bus in about five hours, he said.
Much of the vegetable crop of potatoes and tomatoes that is normally sold to markets in the heart of Pakistan was now being sent to Kabul, Mr. Bangash said. More perishable fruits were wasted.
After the disaster of the June convoy, Mr. Khan, the political agent, said he had a new plan to try to persuade moderate tribesmen, both Sunni and Shiite, who were now weary of the violence, to allow the opening of the 45-mile road that runs from the town of Thal along a deep, wide valley up to Parachinar.
“It’s been an intense year of warfare,” he said. “Both sides are fed up.”
In Islamabad, Mr. Jihadi said the Interior Ministry had promised on Wednesday to resume flights by the government airline, Pakistan International Airways, to the airstrip in Parachinar, which had been abandoned long ago.
To try to quash the Taliban, the ministry would urge the local tribes to form small armies, known as lashkar, he said. The ministry was also offering local people financial rewards, he said, if they killed a Taliban leader.
But whether the army would take a role in the efforts to find a solution appeared to remain an open question.
Instead of waking up sleeping nation, if you live in Pakistan, please take a trip to Parachinar and let us all know what’s happening or talk to Pir Zubair Shah (a journalist, arrested by parallel government of Taliban and Taliban types in Mohamand) or just read this article for NY times.
I haven’t seen a single show from JC or Hamid Mullah Mir (biased Mo*Fu*) regarding the plight of the people of Parachinar. Or maybe tell our newly anointed Ahmedinejad Nawaz ‘gumra’ Sharif that his people in Parachinar are in dire need of his help!
zenith Says: (re Talat’s TV program on Parachinar)
It was really upsetting to see people there in such a state. I completely agree with one of the men, the army is hand in glove with these smugglers and other rogue elements. On the other hand it was good to see the people thinking of having more negotiations, as that local politician pointed out. Well done talat sahab you have stripped the government naked.
Just to Comment on Live with Talat . Talat has done awesoem job.
Let me narrate some facts straight that the situataion in PArachinar got worst when two shai policemen were slaughtered inTall area for by TAliban.
Sunnis of Paarchinar are no more sunnies but Wahabies as they have respect for YAzeed, not Hussain. Whole NWFP , 60-65 % pathans(Deobandis) have been now Wahabized, the parental religion of Talibanization. About 7000 Deeni Madrasaa were built by Saudi Fund in this region, during Afghan Jihad. There may be only 10 madrassa of shias in whole NWFP.
After Qadianis , shia are the victims of sunni majority in Pakistan . Shia community is seriously thinking that it was far better to be in United India instead of Wahabi dominated pathan region. I think Pakistan is going very fast towards its disintegration. Shias have been killed since Zia era. Alone in Karachi 87 shia doctors have been killed. Why shia should love PAksitan when State can’t provide them safety. At least there are 30 Mn shias in Pakistan , and some art at very strategic locations like northern ares of Skardu etc. If they decide to unite and revolt , then nobody can save Pakistan. Shias think that they are deprived of the voting rights in Northern Area because they are shias. For God sake , take all the measure to pacify shias otherwise we are at the brink of disaster.
Although i am not shia, but totally agree with you. Saudi Arabia is doing all this not because of its own mind, rather US is the behind force of these Saudies.
Here i will tell you that pathans are not so extremists all these leaders are from Punjab. Its 100% true that these Wahabies are from the time of ZIA Ul HAQ through dictation of America and saudi Arabia.
Still these Wahabies are backed by Agencies ..All the Sunni should realized that these Wahabies are not in favor of islam rather popits of Ameica and feeded by Saudies headed by america.
Khan Baba, Thank you . I am also not a shia but I have many shia friends. And we used to discuss the future of coming generation of Pakistan. I can agree with you upto some extent that leaders are from Punjab lke Jhangvi etc . But Samil ul Haq, Fazlu Rehman, Bijli Ghar, they are all pathans. Mullah Umar and others got their so called deeni education in NWFP madressas, particularly Akora Khattack , Sami Ul HAq.
Excellent program by Talat Hussain. This should be clear to all – these Talibans are friends of only themselves. They will kill all those who donot follow their demented form of Islam. All those pundits in our esteemed ISI, IB and MI who think they can use the Talibans are deluded. If Karzai or his American masters really want they can start supplying arms to the Shia’s of Kurram Agency to fight their war against the Talibans inside Pakistan and we would all end up paying the price. If Kiyani or Zardari or anyone with any power has even one brain cell left they would take charge in this area before its too late.
pashtoons are the victims of OVER AMBITIONS of pakistani STRATEGISTS.Taliban is not a pashtoon phenomena but the brainchild of PAKISTAN,s rogue INTELLEGENT AGENCIES.
Look at these vedios and tell me wether they are fighting any SHIAS or their own sunni brethrens and blood AFRIDIS.
NISTHA DA ZALIM SIR LA SA NISHTA DAY
KHA PA NARA YE HAZAM KRE KA AUR OKHORI
Brilliant program, we need more programs like this which actually show the real problems that are faced by the region, rather than just speculating and by bringing people to discuss what’s happening when they hardly know the ground realities.
If the government would provide people with basic necessities and rights and justice, then there would not be much of an envirnment for extremist to thrive in. The problem is they can’t be bothered to tackle the real issues and are using the failed approach of the west where they are just trying to eradicate the people by bombing and killing them, very sad. If only they could wake up……..
Taliban might not be sub-atomic particles but they are scum. They have conspired with alqaeda to weaken our country. They attack the US forces from Pakistani territory and then hide among local population so when the real evildoers (i.e. US and Afghans) attack they kill innocent women and children.
This has been a great strategy by the talibans and it has worked for them. Look at the results: everytime the US forces attack, the Pakistani people forget what the talibans have done within pakistan i.e. suicide bombings, blowing up of girls schools and generally making the lives of poor pakistani even more miserable. Did you notice Hamid Mir did not have the guts to call the talibans “Dehshat-gards”.
Look i am from that area i have seen them operate – they are fascists and the general population is very scared. God forbid if you are a shia in their area – you are a dead man. You know when they capture Pakistani army personell they behead all the shia’s. Do you know what they are doing to the kurram agency (has large shia population)? The Talibans have laid a siege to that agency as its borders Afghanistan on three sides. So the locals have to trek through Afghanistan for 11 hours to make it to the hospitals in Peshawar.
The Taliban+Alqaeda is a fitna! they need to be finished. But they need to be finished by us Pakistani’s not someone else.
To all the supporters of Taliban
We all hope that the refugees from Bajaur are getting shelter. Hope the friking Army is looking at that aspect as well.
In the mean time, what about the ‘collateral’ that died in DI Khan today? Wou kis kay khatay mein hai? What about the ‘collateral’ that is dying because of infighting in Kurram Agency, wou kis kay khatay mein? What about Parachinar? Anyone hearing the voices of people of Kurram Agency and Parachinar? What about our Ahmedinehad, Nawaz Sharif? Where is his voice on this issue? Oh sorry, the f*ckers are busy in doing something that was suppose to be done on February 18th. Now they are enjoying rounds of tea at ‘Nakara House’.
Ba*tards from Nejd are responsible for this Shia/Sunni rift. Mot*er Fuc*ers save the dictator, fund the Pak Army and religious zealots on one side, and then claim to support ‘Islam’ on the other side. Misguided power hungry zealots from Nejd are at the core of the problem supported by the Khadmain Haramian Amerikain Shah Abdullah Bin Abdul American tato Aziz in a nasty incestious marraige of convinience.
What’s your take on this from Afrasiyab Khatak:
I am not sitting in NWFP but this guy has actually negotiated with the Taliban and is justifying the operation in Bajaur. We all sympathize with the tribes people, but the guys governing the province are saying that it is necessary that we do targeted military operations. They are the elected representatives of the people of NWFP albeit Bajaur Agency is not part of the province technically.
saqibtahir Says: (in reference to the blast outside election office of PPP backed independent candidate in Parachinar, killed 37 and left 93 injured.)
People behind these blasts may be so called Islamists but they are being controlled/fooled by Mush controlled ISI.
Strangely, the target is PPP and ANP. There is not a single blast in pro-Mush candidates. For sure BB was right that agencies are doing all this. They recruite bombers through Mullas and brainwashed bombers don’t even know what they are doing.