Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sectarianism in Kurram Agency

KURRAM Tribal Agency is one of the most scenic and picturesque valley of Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) of Pakistan, having the geographic distinction of sharing a border with Afghanistan on three sides. The area forming the present day Kurram Agency was a part of Afghanistan before the Second Afghan War of 1878-79. The Kurram Valley got their independence in 1880, however, the administration was undertaken by the British government in 1890 not as a British district, but as a loosely administered area. In Lord Curzon’s reorganization of the frontier in 1900-1901, the British troops were withdrawn from the forts in the Kurram Valley, and were replaced by the Kurram militia, reorganized in two battalions, and chiefly drawn from the Turi tribe. Kurram Agency is the only tribal region in the country’s semi-autonomous seven tribal territories which has a large number of Shiites - the rest of the six tribal agencies are overwhelmingly inhabited by Sunni Muslims. According to official figures, its total population is 500,000, with 58 percent Sunni and 42 percent Shiite. The majority of the Shiites live in the upper part of the Kurram Agency, while Sunnis inhabit lower and central Kurram. The population of Kurram valley consists of a number of tribes, namely Turi, Bangash, Parachamkani, Massozai, Alisherzai, Zaimusht, Mangal, Kharotai, Ghalgi and Hazara. There was also a sizeable sikh population but most of them have left the valley. The multi-ethnic communities share common cultural, linguistic and historical heritage, but due to a history of sectarian violence the cities are bifurcated according to sect, and there are no longer any mixed localities. Sectarian violence is not a new phenomenon in Kurram Agency where well over 4000 people have been killed in clashes between the Sunni and Shia tribes since the decade of 1980s. However, the clashes going on for nearly two years have become more alarming because of the reported involvement of Taliban in the ongoing violence. Parachinar and the agency were predominantly Shia until a large influx of Sunnis started with the US-Russia war in Afghanistan, when the Mujahideen used it to raid Afghanistan. With the rise in Sunni numbers, there was also a rise in sectarian violence. When the US pressurized the Taliban in Afghanistan, they moved to the adjoining Tribal Areas of Pakistan and re-grouped and re-organized there. Now, resurgent for the eighteen months or so, they have been building up their presence in Swat, Bajaur, Khyber, Dara Adam Khel and the suburbs of Peshawar. It was this resurgence coupled with their desire for an alternate route into Afghanistan that has made the Taliban interested in Parachinar. In recent years the Kurram Valley has once again assumed a very strategic position and has been an area of intense military activity between the Taliban and American and allied forces. The fresh violence had been engineered by Al Qaeda in order to divert the attention of the Pakistan army from its on-going operations against the jihadis in the Swat Valley. The violence between Sunni Bangash and Shia Turi tribesmen has plagued the agency bordering Afghanistan for one and a half years. As many as 900 people have been killed in the sectarian violence in Kurram Agency since April last year. Land routes to most parts of the Kurram valley have been cut off from the rest of the country, triggering a severe shortage of food and medical supplies. People coming to Peshawar have been forced to travel via the Paktia province of Afghanistan. In December, 2007, there was a fresh flare-up of clashes between the Shia Turi tribals and Sunni tribals belonging to al Qaeda and the newly-formed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Some leaders of the Shiite community have blamed the Sunni Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked foreign militants in the tribal region for the latest wave of violence in Kurram.While condemning violence in Khurram Agency, Pakistan religious leaders foresee a conspiracy to ignite the fire of sectarianism meant to destabilize Pakistan. The people of the area urged to foil the designs of those elements who are trying to divide Muslims of Kurram Agency. Islam is a religion of peace and there is no room in it for anyone to impose his “brand of religion” on others. The only way forward is to promote the true Islamic values of accommodation, tolerance and peace and ignore those out to spread darkness, narrow mindedness, extremism and intolerance. These forces are presenting a warped image of Islam and are thereby damaging it enormously. It is matter of immense concern that why these values of forgiveness, patience and tolerance have vanished from the society. The pathway out of the current predicament is to open the issue for stakeholders’ debate and let the political leaders to address the real issues facing the people through constructive dialogue. In this connection, a 100 member grand jirga of Kurram Agency has brokered a peace deal between warring sectarian groups in the region. Under the agreement, the two sides agreed to: (1) Exchange kidnapped people (2) Reopen all roads to ensure supply of foodstuff, medicines and other essential items. (3) Allow the displaced people to return to their villages. (4) Bunkers would be vacated and handed over to the Frontier Corps. (5) A fine of Rs 60 million will be imposed for any violation of the agreement. The tribal elders promised to cooperate with the government in maintaining peace.The Government is earnestly endeavouring to resolve the sectarian issue and bring the Tribal Areas at par with other four provinces of the country with special focus on education, developmental work, political stability, and pro-poor policies. The armed clashes in Kurram Agency are not sectarian but some hidden external hands are involved in the conflict. Miscreants and militants are the main factors for resurgence of violence in Kurram agency. The people of Kurram agency are fully aware of the fact that the war in the area is not in their interest. The Government should curb the activities of conspirators and save Parachinar from becoming an incubator and a launching pad for sectarian violence all over Pakistan.

by Ibn ul Hasan Shah

Daily Mail NEWS

1 comment:

  1. This is one of the best articles I have read till date about the recent violence in Kurram Agency. It has unveiled the truth about the sectarian violence in Kurram valley to some extent. The author has pointed out here that though sectarian violence is not a new phenomenon in Kurram Agency but it wasn’t that much perilous and long-lasting as it is this time. It is only due to the fact that Taliban are involved in the ongoing violence. The other fact shown by the author is that the resurgence of Taliban in Pakistan (after moving from Afghanistan due to US- pressure) and their desire for the alternate route to Afghanistan are the two factors that made Taliban interested in Parachinar. The author has clearly shown a reason of the violence in the area in this sentence:,
    “The fresh violence had been engineered by Al Qaeda in order to divert the attention of the Pakistan army from its on-going operations against the jihadis in the Swat Valley.”
    He has also cleared the point in this article that these clashes are not between the shia and those sunni tribes who are not the part of Taliban or al-Qaeda, but between the Shia Turi tribals and Sunni tribals belonging to al Qaeda and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).


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