Friday, June 25, 2010

Ending Kurram’s sectarian strife

Ending Kurram's sectarian strife

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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