The demonstration by students from Parachinar in Islamabad against the continued closure of the Thall-Parachinar Road has drawn attention to an issue of crucial significance to the people of the Upper Kurram Agency. Till now, despite some attempts by legislators from the area to raise the matter in parliament, no one appears to have paid any heed to the situation. The protest by the students was intended to highlight just how important it is for the people of Parachinar that the road, which links the town with Peshawar, be reopened. Its closure means goods cannot be transported north, placing Parachinar in a state of siege.
Sadly, this is a situation people know well. The Thall-Parachinar Road had remained closed for four years, until in February this year the government had, with considerable pride, announced its reopening following meetings between tribal elders, administration members and others presided over by Interior Minister Rehman Malik. Astonishingly enough, the local Taliban had said they would ensure the deal was kept. But neither the government nor the militants’ word held true. In mid-March, passengers travelling down the highway from Parachinar were kidnapped (they were all Shia); their bodies were discovered a short while later and the road closed again on March 25 amid fears of renewed sectarian clashes. Since then, the road has remained closed.
This does not say much for the writ of government in Kurram Agency. The government has failed once more to ease the misery of desperate residents who find themselves, after the briefest reprieve, once more under a state of siege. The matter is critical also because the strategically located Kurram Agency is vital to the militants, offering direct access to Afghanistan. The Taliban have much interest in controlling the area. This makes it all the more imperative that the authorities do more to bring order to the stretch of highway that remains troubled, and by doing so, exert control over Kurram whose people seek a return to normalcy in their lives and an end to the suffering they have borne for so long. Even now, no one seems ready to hear their voice.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2011.
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