The government claims to have secured major gains in its battle against militants in Kurram Agency, with the local administration claiming to have cleared 95% of militant strongholds.
At a briefing held in Parachinar, the main town in Kurram Agency, Political Agent Shahab Ali Shah claimed that most of the Mehmoodzai area had been purged of militants. “Mehmoodzai was one of the strongholds of militants in Kurram,” he explained. “However, it has now been cleared by security forces with the help of local tribal elders.”
Normalcy has not returned to the area, however. The government has now started to evacuate the civilian population from the Alisherzai area of Kurram, in preparation of a military operation against a splinter group of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, led by commander Fazl Saeed Haqqani.
Saturday’s briefing, though, was meant to highlight the government’s successes in the anti-militancy campaign. The administration presented 10 men who it said were militants who had surrendered to the government. They were asked to tell their stories.
“We were abducted by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan,” said one of the former militants, who refused to give his name. “They forced us to kidnap people for ransom.”
Some of the alleged former militants said they had been trained in South Waziristan Agency. Others said they were trained in the Mehmoodzai area of Kurram. All of them claimed that they would never join the militants again.
Shah then announced that the government would set up rehabilitation centres for former militants, much like those that were set up in Swat after the 2009 military operation against the Taliban.
Shah also claimed that the situation had already started to return to normal in most parts of Kurram. Educational institutions and health facilities had begun to function again and roads leading in and out of the tribal agency had been re-opened. Some problems with mobile telecommunications, however, remained, and many of those present at the briefing complained that their mobile phones were not working.
The political agent explained, “Mobile phone services and other communication systems were blocked by security forces in order to avert IED attacks and to counter militant communications.”
Those present at the briefing, however, were not sympathetic. Amjad Ali, a trader in Parachinar, said that he is often not able to call his relatives in Peshawar to let them know that he is still safe. “They don’t know whether we are alive or dead,” Ali said.
As a result of the closure of road networks, prices have gone up sharply in Kurram Agency. Haji Latif, a tribal elder, said that one kilogram of lentils costs Rs170 in Parachinar. The same bag would cost Rs130 in Peshawar.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2012.