ISLAMABAD: All key players in Pakistan’s tribal regions are maneuvering to avert what can be the bloodiest-ever sectarian conflict between the Taliban-supported Sunnis and the ‘besieged’ Shia community in Kurram Agency, officials and locals said.
The North Waziristan-based Haqqani network, top military officials and religious leaders from across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are trying hard to convince Taliban commanders from neighbouring Orakzai Agency to reconcile with the Shias in Parachinar, the main town in Kurram Agency.
Thousands of Orakzai-based Taliban, led by Maulana Noor Jamal, or Mullah Toofan, are allegedly planning coordinated attacks on the Shia community in Kurram to avenge the eviction of over 1,000 Sunni families by them two years ago.
Kurram is the only Shia-dominated tribal area where the Taliban are now holding sway. It is a strategically important region because it borders Afghanistan and some important tribal regions.
Residents from Parachinar told The Express Tribune that the Shia community has requested Maulana Sirajuddin Haqqani, who supervises the Haqqani network operations in North Waziristan, to mediate between them and Mullah Toofan’s commanders.
Toofan is a nominee of Hakimullah Mehsud, the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander, for Orakzai and is notorious for his brutalities against those who oppose his rule in northern parts of the agency.
The Pakistan military has time and again claimed to have cleared the agency of militants but local residents contradict this claim. The entire Upper Orakzai is controlled by Mullah Toofan and Commander Tariq Afridi, a militant leader who once controlled the semi-tribal Dara Adamkhel area before his men were chased out by the military.
The pair have their base-camp in a seminary in the Arghanja area of Dabori sub-district. “It is a facility similar to the one Maulana Fazlullah (Mullah Radio) had in Swat. It is their nerve centre,” a local source told The Express Tribune.
“It is from the Taliban network in Orakzai that the most serious threat to the Shias in Kurram emanates from,” said a Peshawar-based official.
This was the reason the Shias from Kurram sought mediation from the Haqqanis, added a former parliamentarian from Kohat who has good terms with the Taliban. “They went there and asked Haqqani to get involved,” the former lawmaker explained, contradicting earlier media reports.
Last week, some leading newspapers reported that the Haqqani network wanted to seize control of the region to mount operations inside Afghanistan’s eastern provinces.
But the lawmaker denied these reports. He was part of a delegation the Pakistani military sent last week to convince the Shias to let the ousted Sunnis families return home in Parachinar.
“The Shia community approached Haqqani with Rs200 million cash and 2,000 sheep,” the former lawmaker revealed, referring to a Pakhtun tradition of offering sheep to seek reconciliation, known as ‘nanavatey’.
Another Peshawar-based official also confirmed that Shia community leaders from Kurram went to North Waziristan to seek support from the Haqqanis but it was to protect them against cross-border attacks from international forces based in Afghanistan.
Last month five people, among them three paramilitary troops, were killed in attacks by Nato helicopter gunships in Kurram.
The official said that before meeting Haqqani, a Shia delegation also visited Afghanistan to meet Nato officials but could not get an assurance that their region would not be attacked again.
“That’s why they sought the Haqqanis’ help…they want the Taliban to stand by them in case of intrusions into their area by Nato troops,” he explained.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 28th, 2010.