Ending Kurram’s sectarian strife

Published: June 25, 2010
The writer has served as head of the ISI and MI for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata (asad.munir@tribune.com.pk)

The writer has served as head of the ISI and MI for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata (asad.munir@tribune.com.pk)

Kurram Agency was part of Afghanistan until the signing of the Gandamak Treaty on May 26, 1879. As per clause nine of this treaty, the districts of Kurram, Pishin and Sibi, were placed under the protection and administrative control of the British government, but were not permanently severed from the limits of the Afghan kingdom. The revenues of these districts, after deducting the charges of civil administration, were remitted to Afghanistan. In 1893, the Durand line Treaty was signed and Kurram became a part of British India. Kurram’s area is 3,380 sq km and population is around 500,000. The main tribes are Turi, Bangash, Mangal and Parachamkani while Orakzai, Massozai, Alisherzai, Zaimusht, Kharotai, Ghalgi, Zadran,Muqbal and Hazara also live there. Kurram is divided into three sub-divisions: upper, lower and central. The first two are administered through the Frontier Crime Regulation, the Kohat Pact and customary law known as ‘Turizuna’, while central Kurram is administrated indirectly through tribal elders. Kurram and Orakzai are the two areas of Fata where Shia-Sunni strife causes major law and order issues. The sectarian conflict and inter-tribal rivalry are intertwined and a dispute over, say, water between two villages, can spread to the entire area.

In 1982, sectarian violence started in Sadda in lower Kurram. Sixty-eight Shia families were forced to abandon their homes and had to take refuge in Parachinar. The matter was resolved through a jirga in 1990, but the decision has still not been implemented. In April and November 2007, the worst sectarian fighting in Kurram’s history took place. The Taliban had infiltrated the Sunni area and raised a local Taliban force. Their commander was under Baitullah Mehsud’s direct control. Forty villages were destroyed, and about 2,060 houses were set ablaze. More than 2,300 families were displaced and 95 places of worship were attacked. Land mines were planted in the fields. Snipers from both sects continuously fired on their opponent’s villages. The Thall-Parichinar road was closed for Shias, who in retaliation prevented the Sunnis of upper Kurram from travelling on the Parachinar road. The political administration took some steps that defused the situation, but was not a permanent solution. In October 2008, an accord was signed in Murree.The elders and tribal chiefs of the two rivals — the Turi and Mangal tribes — signed a written agreement in the presence of the members of parliament from the Agency for a permanent peace. However, this accord has yet to be implemented. Clearly, this needs to be done.

Adequate force should be placed at the disposal of the political administration. Legislators from the agency should be involved and jirgas should be held to implement the Murree Agreement. The Frontier Corps, Frontier Constabulary and police should be deployed to block routes from North Waziristan, and in Tor Ghar Mamoo up to Hugu, so that the Hangu-Thall-Parachinar road can be made safe for travel. Rehabilitation of IDPs should also be made in phases. As a first step, elders of both sects should engage to settle the displaced Sunnis and Shias of lower Kurram. The decision of resettlement of Shias, displaced from Sadda in 1982, must be implemented through a jirga. Compensation should be paid to all whose property was destroyed during the conflict. Also, properties confiscated during the fighting, should be returned to the real owners through the jirga, comprising of elders from both sects. The crisis in Kurram is not a normal law and order situation. It needs special handling and a focused strategy.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (26)

  • Jun 25, 2010 - 1:04AM

    But hold on, in your first article in this paper, you said that people in FATA, of which Kurram are part, enjoy all the facilities of an average Pakistani village. Now you are listing a whole host of events with violence associated with it? What is the case? As a former ISI and Army officer only you sir would have accurate information? Recommend

  • abid
    Jun 25, 2010 - 2:06AM

    Shouldn’t the first step be accountability of those people in the political administration, and military and intelligence who were actively perpetuating this conflict?Recommend

  • faraz
    Jun 25, 2010 - 3:09AM

    Lots of money flows in from Iran and Sunni Arab states which fuels sectarian voilence. Lets pray the gulf oil reserves expire soon.Recommend

  • jaffar Khan
    Jun 25, 2010 - 8:04AM

    @Nadir,95%of tribal are land owners,how many in an average village of,Punjab,Sind and PK are so privileged?Every tribal owns a house spread over canals,what is the percentage of persons having own houses in the other parts of the country?Each tribal owns minimum one AK 47,worth minimum about Rs 20,000.Their share of jobs in Frontier Corps PK and Baluchistan is about 80%.A Tribal can serve in Khasadar Force while staying in his own house,is this facility available to any average villager in other parts of the country?They have special Quota in all professional colleges and Civil services.Most important,except for Bajaur,all tribal are equal,they are not mazaras of any Wadera,Sardar,Ch or Khan.Malik is an elder,with no power to exploit Tribal of his clan.Yes there is poverty,unemployment,lack of education and health facilities in FATA,like rest of Pakistan.But tribal poor lead a much more respectable life than poor in the other parts of the country.

    Nadir,you never concentrate on the substance but target the person.What has sectarian strife got to do with”ENJOYING ALL FACILITIES”?The writer in his previous article has made a reference that a tribal is leading as good or bad life as an average Pakistani villager.An average village in FATA is more developed than my village in K-P.You must visit Parachinar,you may realize how ignorant you have been about FATA.Very informative piece.Recommend

  • Farooq Khan
    Jun 25, 2010 - 10:19AM

    It is a 1400 years old problem. i dont see any solution to it.
    @ el Edroos, i read the village in your every comment? what is the background?Recommend

  • huma
    Jun 25, 2010 - 10:36AM

    Kurram,Pishin,Sibi were parts of Afghanistan till 1879?Its a news for me.That is why we have an issue with Afghanistan?Would someone throw some light on the subject?For me the article is informative.Recommend

  • Asfandyar Munir
    Jun 25, 2010 - 11:34AM

    I have always been vocal on the debatable topics the author has posted, both in appraisal and criticism. But I have always tried to maintain rationalism.

    This topic, I believe is not a debatable/opinionated one but an informative one and very well written.Kudos to the author.

    It is surprising to see how some people will take out time just to criticize each and every article, in this paper, or by the author just because he has served in the armed forces.

    It was really surprising, actually funny, to see Mr. El-Edroos’s post such a comment on this article.Recommend

  • Mrk
    Jun 25, 2010 - 11:48AM

    Traditionally Afghanistan claimed suzerainty over the Kurram Valley, but apart from an occasional revenue extorting expeditions, they were unable to enforce their writ until the mid nineteenth century, when they occupied the valley with a military force and established their own Afghan Governor. They were finally driven out in the Second Afghan War 1878-80.

    The Turis tribe in Kurram Agency, except for their initial troubles in the year 1850-55, always enjoyed cordial relations with the British. They had helped them against Kabul Khel Wazirs in 1859 and against the Zaimukht Tribe in 1879. It was neither the policy of the British government to annex the Kurram Valley nor did they want to get physically involved in the area. However, what the British wanted was to inculcate a spirit of self-reliance, self-protection and self-governance by the Turis themselves. However when the Turis took over the country, due to intense hatred between various factions of the area, complete anarchy resulted, Kurram was occupied by Chikai, the famous Zaimukht leader, and the Turis of Upper Kurram had great difficulty in repulsing the attacks of their Sunni neighbours. Finally as the various tribes of the area would not combine amongst themselves, they came, at their own request under the protection of the British government in the year 1892. In September of that year regular Army troops arrived in the valley and Mr. Merk, I.C.S was appointed as its first British Governor. However, it was soon realised that maintaining regular Army to guard such a far-flung Frontier, bordering on hostile and troublesome tribes was a very expensive affair. A new policy was therefore chalked out. The Turis themselves were to be made custodians of the Frontier. The regular Army was to be replaced by the local Turis Militia, as a well trained and lightly equipped infantry force, fully acquainted with local conditions and amply conversant with the country side. The formation of Turis Militia was initiated under Captain C.M. Dallas on 18 Oct. 1892, with a view to avoid the serious commitment of regular Army units for the protection of borders as well as to provide protection to Turis Shia Community in the valley. The raising of Turi Militia was later on completed by Captain E.W.S.K Maconchey of the 4th Punjab Infantry. The headquarters of the Militia was originally located at Balish Khel about 30 kilometers east of Parachinar but was soon shifted to Parachinar itself. Initially in 1899 an experiment was made of dividing the Militia into two separate battalions under separate commandants. The first battalion with a strength of 957 was to be mobile force for defence against foreign aggression, while the second was for garrisoning the valley. However, when this arrangement proved impracticable, the two battalions were amalgamated under one commandant in 1902. About this time the Turi Militia was renamed as Kurram Militia.Recommend

  • Azmat Bacha
    Jun 25, 2010 - 12:36PM

    @ HUMA.All the tribal areas,Chaman,Chaghai,Sibi,Pishin,Dera Ghazi Khan,Dir etc, were parts of Afghan Kingdom.Gandamak Treaty was signed after Second Afghan War,in which these areas were temporarily brought under administrative control of British.In 1893, these areas were made part of British India, through Durand Line Treaty.Two successive Afghan Government ratified this Treaty.However in 1949, an Afghan Loya Jirga refused to accept the Durand Line Treaty,on the plea, that it was signed under coercion,and was enacted with British and not Pakistan.From that day the issue is there and no Afghan Government,including Taliban ,has accepted the Durand LineRecommend

  • Mansoor Khalid
    Jun 25, 2010 - 3:44PM

    Sectarian violence is trying to engulf the peace process in many parts of this country. It’s not the local people who are creating it but the terrorists who are the producers of it enticing people to fight with each other in the name of religion. Our strategy needs a strong focus if we are to curb this effort.Recommend

  • Yousaf Gul
    Jun 25, 2010 - 3:45PM

    @ Mr.Nadir; The article tells us of sectarian problems that are being faced in KURRAM and the focus on his first article was YES on FATA but you absolutely took it to the other direction while you commented.

    The concept of the article is clear the minds of people and make them understand the problems they are facing (Not providing a platform to pin point fingers without any prior knowledge).

    Every areas in the entire world have problems are one should be knowledgeable to understand the problem (Share it with the world) and try to find a collective solution to it… One should not sit idle reading articles and than blaming the writer just like that and “NOT ABSORBING THE CONCEPT OF THE ARTICLE”

    Thanks to Mr.Asad Munir for his detailed research and sharing his wisdom with those who intend to understand and act.Recommend

  • Abid Shah
    Jun 26, 2010 - 12:30AM

    Mr.Asad Munir
    Thank you for discussing Kurram at an international forum. Your article reflects facts and this is true that Taliban presence in the area is still a threat to trigger the conflict. You have proposed good solution but what to do with those who are responsible for the peoples miseries. Returning to original position will encourage the culprits to trigger the fighting again. Repeated conflicts in Kurram are because no one punishes the oppressor and usually oppressor becomes heroes and gain respect in tribal administration. No dispute in past has been resolved and one problem either minor or major generate another dispute. The administration especially Political Agent never tries to solve the problem because by settling the issue he will not be able to get more audits less budget from government. Every Political agent becomes a richest person after completing his tenure in whole FATA specially areas like Kurram. Political Agent is not accountable and we have not seen any one of them under investigation. This is a corrupt chain involving higher authorities like Governor. Being an officer of good level you may know better and I hope you will open the issue more. Now the durable peace will come by considering following suggestions.
    Initiate investigations against all Political Agents and their subordinates along with Commanders of Kurram Militia, officers of intelligence agencies from 1980 till date.
    Start an effective and mighty military operation in the area to eradicate Al Qaida Taliban and terrorists of outlawed sectarian groups in the area. You know better that after operation in Waziristan and Swat all culprits are sheltered in this area.
    Punish those by strong hands who destroyed the peace of land by converting the area into safe haven for terrorists.
    Differentiate the real IDPs from known terrorists and then re settle them otherwise another episode of war worse than the current one will engulf the area.
    Mr. MRK
    You have explained the history and the policies of British rulers in very good manner. Their policies were effective but the trouble started after creation of Pakistan. British rulers were neutral and they had no real sympathy with any tribe and sect. After so called freedom the administrative officers involve in sectarian issues. Now the administration is not neutral. Sunni support his own sect and Shia thinks either in the same line or facing the behavior like step mother. This issue has engulfed the whole country. So many in civil administration or security forces have sympathy towards their tribes, sects or parties. In such situation justice is very difficult. The Kurram Militia was responsible for internal and external security and Turis paid huge price for maintaining the prestige and dignity of their uniform but they were evicted gradually by replacing other tribes and the balance disturbed and now the soldiers of this militia are fully involved in sectarian conflict. Who will solve the issue and how the peace will come to the area is a million dollars question.Recommend

  • Haleem
    Jun 26, 2010 - 7:41AM

    Abid shah seems to be a local from the area,and has raised a very interesting point.”No Political Agent has ever been investigated by NAB or other such departments”.Recommend

  • Mohammad Hussain
    Jun 26, 2010 - 1:31PM

    People of Kurram are besieged in their homes for the last three years.Roads are closed.People can move only under protection of security forces.They have been travelling through Afghanistan.How many of you are aware about the plight of people of this area.we are also Pakistanis and love this country.This is for the first time that our issue has been highlighted at some forum.Thank you Asad.Wish people, who are being paid for administration of this unfortunate area,read this article,and take steps to end the agony of people of Kurram. Recommend

  • Zainab Sha
    Jun 26, 2010 - 2:37PM

    Every piece of Mr.Munir is very informative.Tell us more about FATA,its culture,problems,people,social life,history of Tribal.I had never heard of Kurram before,so ignorant about Pakistan?.Illuminating.Recommend

  • Fatima Batool
    Jun 26, 2010 - 3:41PM

    Sir,i need your E Mail address,I am a student,and have to write a paper on “MEDIA ROLE IN WAR ON TERROR”.I want you to fill a questionnaire,which i can attach with my research paper.Shall be obliged.Recommend

  • Riaz
    Jun 26, 2010 - 3:58PM

    @Abid,from where did you get this impression that “POLITICAL ADMINISTRATION AND MILITARY AND INTELLIGENCE WERE PERPETUATING THIS CONFLICT”?Is it a conspiracy theory or you are convinced about its truth?Recommend

  • farhan
    Jun 26, 2010 - 5:31PM

    Many of us are totally ignorant of FATA and especially Kurram. I want to say thank you to Asad for discussing this important issue.

    The article was unbiased, as others have also pointed out, Nadir should refrain from commenting haphazardly on such sensitive issues.Recommend

  • abid shah
    Jun 27, 2010 - 10:11AM

    Mr. Riaz
    This ground reality and if you have approach the area visit to observe it.Recommend

  • abid shah
    Jun 27, 2010 - 10:22AM

    Mr. Riaz
    This is very clear ground reality and no one can ignore or deny it. I will not blame all but there are powerfull elements in political administration & security forces responsible for the situation. If you got the oppertunity to visit the area, it will give you better idea.Recommend

  • Riaz
    Jun 27, 2010 - 11:12AM

    @Abid Sha i had not commented on your post but on Abid’s,the second oneRecommend

  • Asad Munir
    Jun 27, 2010 - 1:04PM

    @Fatima, “asadmunir38@yahoo.com”Recommend

  • abid shah
    Jun 27, 2010 - 1:08PM

    Sorry Mr. RiazRecommend

  • abid
    Jun 28, 2010 - 12:25AM

    I have visited and talked to many people. If you go there without giving the impression that you are from the media and without cameras, only then people are willing to talk about it openly. They will even give you name of the Colonel who was involved a couple years ago in increasing conflicts. Don’t talk to the MNA he speaks half truths. Go and talk to the people. Even if you search on Youtube about Parachinar you will get a lot of propaganda from both sides which is obviously exaggerated but always has some element of truth in them.
    Obviously I’m not claiming this conflict was created by political admin, military and agencies but individuals within these institutions with considerable clout have been involved in perpetuating it.
    Even though I’m not shia but I always listen to their views. Check out this link. Its very exaggerated, yes, but it has many truths hidden in it which you can ask any resident of Kurram agency

  • N. Hussain
    Jun 30, 2010 - 1:58PM

    I appriciate the article, written by Mr. Asad Munir, with my heart, and it is because of his professonal life. I believe he must have much more accurate and upadated information. He can contribute much more. Might this a start, may wants to guage the possible reaction.
    Now come to the actual point, which is the tribal especially Kurram Agency Suni and Shia Conflict.
    **Mr. Asad, may I ask when did you perform duty there in Kurram Agency?
    Let me express that I donot look this issue as a Suni, Shia conflict. Based on my own knowledge, information and research as well as the occurances in the region- here by region I mean Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia. Now, this is not a local issue. I can not separate it from the regional issues. As it is a part of those events we have been witnessing since 9/11. Because to me it is a deep rooted multidimetional problem, which the ordinary man and woman does not easily understand. Now, try to understand how and why it is not sectarian issue. Because it has been made a sectarian or say Suni, Shia issue by the multistakeholders. And religion has been used as a tool. The tool has been successful since it was used against USSR. Besides other sources and resources, the religion has been proved to be very effective in less privileged, less educated and marginalised population in this region.
    Now, I would like to put some questions for your brainstorming:
    How USSR was disintegrated?
    What means and tools were used and How?
    Who were on the front line?
    Who were behind the screen?
    What happened just after that?
    What is happening now in that one Pak-Afghan soil after almost one and a half decade?
    When I say that the Conflict is deep rooted and multidimentinals. The same time I say stakeholders are also many and different in nature and objectives. Hence, to some extent I know the pros and cons of the matter.
    We can discuss it some time in coming days.

    Nov 1, 2010 - 10:46PM


    i m thankful to to wirte our kurram, but i have some resarvation about the facts which you are manttion on the artical, if you are a deep study about the kurram you are find more from,
    the kurram turi(shia) are defined everything on there own interst. the not interst anything else the religious which are a big casue of the kurram unrest. there are no new the 2007 war, becuse the this agency cration are the bias of sectrian when a shia militant attacked on the innocent bangash and captured the hole agency. and give all the rights to so called syeds. which are still a un seen fuduls loards. the histroy are vary sansitive and need to more resarch . your not mantion the sectrian war started form 1939,1961,1970,1972,1982… 1996, and hundrds of the other crises. thats not the creation by the tilban, the taliban are a common problme of the time , but the shia are use the name of tilabn and buritlly kill the lcoal sunnis, the sadda only are not evicated form shia. but more than 5 villages are vacated form sunnis form there ancastral villages before the 2000. Recommend

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