Defying Taliban: In Kurram, under siege and forgotten

Published: July 5, 2011
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IDPs of operation in Kurram and Orakzai Agency standing in row to get food. PHOTO: IQBAL HAIDER/EXPRESS

IDPs of operation in Kurram and Orakzai Agency standing in row to get food. PHOTO: IQBAL HAIDER/EXPRESS

PESHAWAR: 

They did not give in to the Taliban. They put up a fight, unsuccessful though, against a much stronger, ruthless enemy, to deny them a foothold in their land. And now, they are paying the price. They are under siege, literally, for three-odd years now. Hundreds of their men have gone down fighting. They are the Turis – a Shia Pakhtun tribe of the Kurram tribal agency.

Defeated, disillusioned and hopeless, many of them have fled their villages and towns – leaving behind fertile farmlands and lucrative businesses to become refugees in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

“Are we not Pakistani citizens?” asked Mudassar Abbas, resident of the Alizai area in Lower Kurram. “The government has deserted us, it has left us at the mercy of terrorists,” said the young Abbas, who is studying English literature at Peshawar University. Abbas and over a dozen other students from Kurram Agency live in a small two-bedroom flat in a dark, dingy plaza in the Khyber Supermarket area of Peshawar.

Abutting Afghanistan in the north and surrounded by militant-infested tribal regions of Orakzai, Khyber and North Waziristan, Kurram Agency has virtually no contact with the rest of Pakistan. The only land route – the Peshawar-Thall-Parachinar Road – has been blocked since early 2007. Sporadic attempts by desperate tribesmen to travel on this road ended in deaths and abductions.

“We are stranded here. We cannot visit our families,” said Ishrat Ali, an MBA student in Peshawar who hasn’t seen his parents in Parachinar, the main town in Kurram, for over two years. “Earlier we could travel to Kurram via Afghanistan… It was a long, arduous journey, costing us 500 times more, but it was a blessing,” he told The Express Tribune. “Now this route has also been closed due to fighting in Afghanistan.”

Surprisingly, it’s a small portion of an over 250-kilometres Peshawar-Thall-Parachinar Road – between Alizai and Thall areas – where passenger vans and supply trucks are mostly ambushed.

The tensions

Sectarian tensions in Kurram date back to 1939, but the ongoing bout of deadly fighting broke out in April 2007. Accounts of what triggered this fighting vary. What is for sure is that thousands of tribesmen, both Shias and Sunnis, have been killed and many more injured since. Flocks of them have fled while those still there have been suffering due to the shortage of food and medical supplies.

“There are no medicines, no doctors in hospitals, schools and colleges are deserted, and the economy is paralysed,” said Mumtaz Hussain, a Parachinar resident studying engineering in Peshawar. “Hundreds of our women and children have died due to the shortage of life-saving drugs,” he added. But local tribal elders say the fighting in Kurram is being wrongly portrayed as sectarian strife. “It’s not a Shia-Sunni conflict. It’s a third force – Taliban, terrorists or whatever you call them – which has exploited the situation. Both sects are fed up with fighting. They want peace,” said Malik Haji Ghulab Hussain Turi, member of the grand tribal jirga engaged in peace talks.

“We know Taliban terrorists and their harbourers in Central Kurram are behind all our troubles,” said Malik Ghulab, who also heads the Turi-Bangash Supreme Council. “I was part of the Murree and Islamabad talks. The Murree agreement was never implemented while the Islamabad deal was violated by the Taliban six times,” he added.

Munir Orakzai, a lawmaker from Fata, blamed the government for the non-implementation of the Murree agreement. He admitted Taliban’s involvement, but said that it would be unrealistic to say there was no sectarian strife.

“Yes, in 2008 clashes a huge number of Taliban insurgents were involved, but they had no role in the deadliest fighting in the months of April, November and December 2007,” Orakzai told The Express Tribune.

The Haqqani network, the deadliest of all Afghan Taliban groups, is said to be involved in peace talks because it’s seeking a foothold in this strategically important region.

Both Haji Ghulab and Orakzai admitted a representative of the Haqqanis was also invited to the Islamabad talks to make sure all stakeholders were on board. But the former denied the Haqqanis are seeking a transit route to Afghanistan for their fighters.

Attaullah Khan, a Sunni member of the grand jirga, didn’t reject outright Taliban’s presence in the region, but he believes it is being exaggerated by the Turi tribe. Instead he hinted at possible “foreign backing” for the Turis. “What are Mehdi Militia and Hezbollah doing in Kurram?” questioned Khan, who is also the spokesperson for the Reforms Committee Parachinar. Malik Gulab had the answer: “These are local lashkars formed by our youths to defend their villages. They’ve nothing to do with the Iranian Hezbollah and Iraqi Mehdi Militia.”

Khan also blamed the warlords in neighbouring Afghanistan for the unrest in Kurram. “They’re fuelling the strife by selling weapons to both Shia and Sunni tribes. If peace and normalcy return to Kurram who will buy their weapons,” questioned Khan, who is also the spokesperson for the Reforms Committee Parachinar.

However, both Khan and Haji Ghulab were unanimous in support of the military operation in their region to flush out “troublemakers”. “We support [the] military action,” said Khan, who has been living in Kohat since fighting broke out in Kurram in 2007.

On Sunday, the armed forces formally announced that they had launched an operation in Kurram. Major Fazal, the spokesperson for the Frontier Corps told The Express Tribune that the operation would be targeting “TTP militants and other criminals in central Kurram” without giving any details.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Irshad Khan
    Jul 5, 2011 - 8:52AM

    We have to seal the border and make a proper combing of the area, FATA should be an autonomous Province as soon as possible.Recommend

  • Samir
    Jul 5, 2011 - 8:59AM

    Where is Imran Khan now? Does he not see that these innocent tribesmen are being killed and maimed by terrorists? Where is his dharna for them? Where are all the anti-drone people now? Do they not see the rascals that are being allowed to ruin lives for hundreds of thousands in FATA? Recommend

  • faraz
    Jul 5, 2011 - 9:54AM

    Its all started during Caliph Zia ul Haq era; that tinpot dictator has led us to ruinsRecommend

  • vasan
    Jul 5, 2011 - 10:01AM

    What happened to all those chest beaters who were screaming that this is america’s war, muslims dont kill muslims etc. The reality is this region, AfPak is the most violent region of the world, it was and it is coloured with blood.Recommend

  • faran
    Jul 5, 2011 - 10:20AM

    reality based article superbRecommend

  • Shahid Saeed
    Jul 5, 2011 - 10:27AM

    It is inherently disingenuous not to mention that the Tribe that has valiantly fought of Taliban and other Afgan fighters of the 80s too has been blockaded by the Army in order to pressurize them to give way to the Haqqanis. Recommend

  • Mirza
    Jul 5, 2011 - 10:51AM

    I salute these brave worriers for standing up to the religious terrorists. Why has army been waiting for years and not take any action to save these innocent Muslims from terrorist savages? No fatwa against the brutal killings of innocent Pakistani civilians or no dharna either? Shame on the educated rightwing apologists and touts, they are worse than the illiterate killers. Recommend

  • freehussaini
    Jul 5, 2011 - 11:03AM

    “Pakistan’s Spies Tied to Slaying of a Journalist

    By JANE PERLEZ and ERIC SCHMITT

    ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Obama administration officials believe that Pakistan’s powerful spy agency ordered the killing of a Pakistani journalist who had written scathing reports about the infiltration of militants in the country’s military, according to American officials.

    New classified intelligence obtained before the May 29 disappearance of the journalist, Saleem Shahzad, 40, from the capital, Islamabad, and after the discovery of his mortally wounded body, showed that senior officials of the spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, directed the attack on him in an effort to silence criticism, two senior administration officials said.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/05/world/asia/05pakistan.html?_r=1&ref=worldRecommend

  • wasim younis
    Jul 5, 2011 - 11:31AM

    People have been facing these problems in the Kurram Tribal Agency for quite some time now. The media has ignored the tribal belt and so has the government. i advice the government to take action in the tribal belt and clean the mess as soon as possible before the situation totally gets out of hand.Recommend

  • freehussaini
    Jul 5, 2011 - 11:34AM

    “Senior ISI officials have called and visited journalists, warning them to douse their criticisms and rally around the theme of a united country, according to three journalists who declined to be named for fear of reprisals.

    It was possible that Mr. Shahzad had become too cavalier, said Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistani columnist and author.

    “The rules of the game are not completely well defined,” she said. “Sometimes friendly elements cross an imaginary threshold and it is felt they must be taught a lesson.”

    The efforts by the ISI to constrain the Pakistani news media have, to a degree, worked in recent days. The virulent criticism after Mr. Shahzad’s death has tempered a bit.

    A Pakistani reporter, Waqar Kiani, who works for the British newspaper The Guardian, was beaten in the capital after Mr. Shahzad’s death with wooden batons and a rubber whip, by men who said: “You want to be a hero. We’ll make you a hero,” the newspaper reported. Mr. Kiani had just published an account of his abduction two years earlier at the hands of intelligence agents.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/05/world/asia/05pakistan.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=worldRecommend

  • Frank
    Jul 5, 2011 - 1:26PM

    faraz

    Its all started during Caliph Zia ul
    Haq era; that tinpot dictator has led
    us to ruins

    No, it all started during the American proxy jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviets and it is Zia ul Haq’s American sponsors that have led us to ruin. Recommend

  • Gul bahadur
    Jul 5, 2011 - 2:57PM

    Mr FAZLE SAEED HAQANI the terrorist who is wanted by the KP govt is the first cousin of MR MUNIR AURAKZAI the MNA from kurram agency and is dearly protected by the power that be.Recommend

  • zarin
    Jul 5, 2011 - 4:14PM

    I think the leaders in Kurram are unanimous that Taliban are involved in Kurram. I will not agree with Munir Orakzai that Taliban were not involved in 2007 clashes. The main reason of clashes was the presence of Taliban in Parachinar City. The taliban is an umbrella, in fact a good number of Lashkare Jhangviactivists and Punjabi Taliban are based in Kurram. Their anti shia activities are triggering issues. The local sunni population in lower Kurram are patriot and willing to live with peace, but these groups of terrorists are commanding the area. Pakistani security forces are also keeping their assets among them and issue is becoming delicate day by day. If the real and bonafide citizen of Kurram decide to have dialouge ignoring these terrorists, the situation will turn to wards stable and durable peace.Recommend

  • sam
    Jul 5, 2011 - 4:39PM

    @vasan:
    sighhh ok let me get this straight an uneducated terrorist decides to cll himself a muslims.. he bears no signs of being a true muslim (pls offering prayers 5 times a day doesnt make u a muslim the pagans of makkah did the same) and u believe him instead of believing a million educated muslims who denounce such people and state that they are not muslims…………………. u choose a terrorists side… hmmmm i dont see the intelligence in anythign you have to say… beat ur chest over that tonightRecommend

  • faraz
    Jul 5, 2011 - 4:42PM

    @Frank

    AgreedRecommend

  • Ahmee
    Jul 6, 2011 - 12:40PM

    This Must End…Military should wipe out these miscreants…plus this is military’s real role in serving Pakistan to fight against the traitors and miscreants!!!Recommend

  • san
    Jul 6, 2011 - 6:14PM

    MNA Munir Orakzai invites terrorists from N/S Waziristan to slum down the shia majority in Kurram Agency. He is acting role of Gen Zia Ul Haq. It was he who supports terrorists to abandon innocent citizen of Parachinar for heavy ransom. He has the support of all terrorists wings. Recommend

  • Samir
    Jul 7, 2011 - 8:22AM

    @ Frank – Zia was a problem before the Americans started funding anti-Soviet efforts in Afghanistan. Please stop kidding yourself. ZA Bhutto himself presided over the slaughter of millions of Muslims in Bangladesh / East Pakistan. The “myth” that until Zia, Pakistan had no hate or violence is a joke. Zia just accelerated it and made it much, much worse.Recommend

  • Yasser Qureshi
    Jul 14, 2011 - 2:42AM

    A beautiful work by Naveed Hussain. It painted a true picture of north west of Pakistan. May Allah help all Pakistanies..

    Recommend

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