In the last few days, there have been three attacks on security forces in Kurram Agency. During these clashes 16 personnel of the security forces embraced shahadat, about 20 were wounded and a few were kidnapped. More than 50 terrorists were reportedly killed and many injured.
A bit of background to the recent violence in the area would help understand what is going on there right now. Sectarian conflict is an old issue in Kurram Agency. Major sectarian clashes have erupted in the Agency in 1982, 1996 and 2007. In 2005, a man by the name of Fazal Saeed raised a Taliban force in Central Kurram and in 2007 he joined the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
His group, reinforced by Hakeemullah Mehsud’s militants, took active part in the sectarian violence of 2007 and in the closure of the Thall-Parachinar road. For the Shia population of the Agency, residing mostly in Upper Kurram, this road is the only link with the rest of the country. In 2008, elders of both sects signed a peace deal known as the Murree Accord. However, due to terrorist activities by the Taliban it could not be implemented until 2011.
On July 4, 2011, the Pakistan Army launched an offensive, with the primary objective of opening the Thall-Parachinar road and flushing out terrorists from the area. Before the initiation of the operation, Fazal Saeed defected from the TTP and formed his own group and did not fight against the security forces. Hakeemullah appointed another commander for Kurram, Sirajuddin, a.k.a Dadullah Quraishi. The terrorists’ fighting force comprised elements of the TTP led by Mullah Toofan, another group led by Tariq Afridi, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Siraj’s faction and a number of foreign militants. The operation managed to achieve its limited goals. The road was opened and there is uninterrupted flow of traffic since October 30, 2011 — however, most of the terrorists fled to the mountains of Central Kurram, Tirah (in Khyber Agency) and to Orakzai Agency.
The recent incidents included an attack on the Jogi post in Central Kurram and two on the Shaheedano Dand post located on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Lower Kurram. The terrorists had different motives for selecting these two targets. Central Kurram is bordered by the Tirah area of Khyber Agency and Orakzai Agency. The area is inhabited by four sections of the Orakzai tribe. The Jogi mountains dominate the Mamuzai area of Orakzai Agency and is a route used by the Taliban to travel between Tirah, Darra and Orakzai to North Waziristan Agency and the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The first Taliban force in Pakistan was raised in the Mamuzai area in 1997-98. One of Hakeemullah’s wife’s is from Mamuzai.
Foreign militants including Uzbeks, Arabs and Central Asians as well as some Taliban who fled from Swat, South Waziristan, Darra and other places have taken refuge in Mamuzai as well. This area has still not been cleared by security forces. The Taliban had been holding Jogi to facilitate the back-and-forth movement of men and supplies. On January 25, security forces wrested control of the area and established a post on the mountain. On January 30, an attack by hundreds of terrorists on this post was repulsed and the attackers suffered heavy casualties.
There is also the aforementioned Shaheedano Dand post located on the Pak-Afghan border in Lower Kurram. It also abuts North Waziristan and the militants have been using this particular mountainous area to cross over to Afghanistan and North Waziristan. Taliban from the Hakeemullah and Dadullah group are active in the area and, till recently, were collecting money from vehicles plying on the route to Afghanistan. Militants consider the Frontier Corps border posts in the area a hurdle in their activities and hence, carried out two attacks in the first week of February.
The holding of Jogi mountains in strength is likely to make Mamuzai untenable and will facilitate the security forces’ operations in Orakzai, Tirah and Darra. The TTP is already in disarray and the capture of Mamuzai will further weaken the organisation and dilute its ability to conduct terrorist activities.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2012.