Two years away from home, Muhammad Ali’s patience is running out. He wants the road leading to his home town opened now so that he could rejoin his family.
“My cousins are dead. The Taliban killed my loved ones and I could not even go to attend their funerals,” said Ali, one of the hundreds of youth from Parachinar, the headquarters of Kurram Agency, who are on a hunger strike against the closure of the Thal-Parachinar-Peshawar road for the last four years.
Hundreds of youth from Parachinar and adjoining areas of Upper Kurram Agency gathered in Islamabad four days ago. They established a camp in front of the National Press Club, hoping they might attract the attention of the government and the rights campaigners.
“No one from the government has shown up as yet. Interior Minister Rehman Malik and a few others came to the press club but none of them paid us a visit,” said Iqtidar.
Ali is a university student in Islamabad. He and his friends complained that the Taliban were chopping through their relatives like butchers. Whosoever tried to travel on the Thal road was targeted by the Taliban. Even convoys under military protection were not spared, they said.
“The other day they killed my cousin who was in army. We only received his mutilated remains,” said Mustafa. His cousin was one of the 41 people abducted by the Taliban on March 25 this year. The bodies of eight were handed over to their families two days ago.
Mustafa said the families had to pay for the bodies as well. “I fail to understand how they [Taliban] attack a convoy travelling under military protection, and that too in settled areas,” he added.
To a distant observer, it appeared to be a simple case of Taliban’s conventional vengeance against Shiites. But the Parachinar youth refused to believe that. A sectarian divide is being deliberately created. It is much more than a Shia-Sunni issue.
Upper Kurram is a Shia majority area while Lower Kurram is predominantly Sunni populated area. By now, only Upper Kurram is free from Taliban control.
“When we struck a federal government sponsored peace agreement with the Taliban a few months ago, people from the two sides of Kurram agency visited each other and roamed freely,” said Mustafa.
“But recently, some people have been creating disturbances. A group of miscreants openly abused our Imams in Parachinar Bazaar recently and the administration remained silent spactator despite our repeated appeals for action against them,” said Iftikhar Hussain.
He opined that the “Establishment is behind such tactics to instigate a Shia-Sunni clash.” Hussain and many others accused the establishment of wanting to launch the Taliban across into Afghanistan after the Americans exit.
“Hundreds of times we have offered our services to the army and government to fight against any enemy of Pakistan. Why do they need the Taliban when we were ready to give our blood for Pakistan’s security and its interests?”, asked a number of youth.
The young boys who had come from different parts of Pakistan to express their desire for the restoration of a road link from Peshawar to their hometown said that they loved Pakistan. However, they felt betrayed.
They said their loved ones were being brutally murdered; Taliban were besieging them, denying them access to the rest of the country, while the authorities look the other way. The only air service operating from the area is too expensive for a majority of the people, who feel like the private air company is exploiting the situation.
They remain hopeful of getting the attention of the authorities. Until then, they are not about to end their hunger camp in the Federal Capital anytime soon.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2011.
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