Normalcy returning to scenic Kurram Agency
KHURRAM AGENCY: Fumes of narcotics seized by paramilitary forces in the Kurram tribal region could lull a man's senses from quite a distance. Sacks full of hashish worth Rs30 million were only a small part of the multi-billion dollar narco- business carried out by the militants to fund their heinous agenda.
Drugs, weapons and suicide jackets were displayed on white flashy table cloths as Colonel Tauseef Akhtar of the paramilitary Frontier Corps claimed that "Upper Kurram Agency has been cleared of miscreants while the Thall-Parachinar-Sadda highway has been reopened for traffic after a span of more than two and a half years."
Kurram Agency has been ravaged by sectarian violence for years but another force emerged, cashing in on the Shia-Sunni schism — the Taliban aided by al Qaeda.
"Hakimullah Mehsud's presence was quite frequent," Colonel Akhtar told a select group of journalists while travelling towards the Doggar area of Central Kurram, which he said "might still be harbouring militants."
The terrain is difficult. The infamous Tora Bora mountains can be seen silhouetted against the mountains. "Doggar is situated on the confluence of borders of Orakzai and North Waziristan agencies. Peace in Kurram is directly linked with peace in its neighbouring agencies.
"It took a number of lives to secure this region," a security official told The Express Tribune. However, the area hasn't been completely cleared yet as it's difficult to get to every nook and corner of this agency.
According to official statistics, there are around 150 militants of the Mehdi Militia in Sharku Land, 300 TTP militants in Dogar and about 50 local miscreants in the Pistwana area. These groups were aided by "foreign countries", officials said without elaborating.
As we travelled on the bumpy track towards the Lower Kurram area, the condition of road started deteriorating. Our vehicles, escorted by around 50 paramilitary troops, stopped at the end of the road in a ravine. We found ourselves in front of cave-like structures in the mountain. The place is known as Sheesho. Ironically – the area is supplied with electricity.
"It's a training camp from the era of the Afghan war, which was taken over by the Taliban," a security officer said. "It was used as a training centre and the caves are almost 500 feet long."
Stock of food items, exercise machines, rusted handcuffs and ropes were lying on the mouth of the tunnels. "These things along with the ICRC hospital (turned into a human abattoir) were used as torture cells by militants where abductees were kept or killed," a local resident told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity. "More than 100 militants lived here, after we bombarded the area, some two dozen were killed while the rest escaped," said Wing Commander Sajjad. "We found only one body. They never leave behind their dead," he explained.
Officials say 18 security officials lost their lives, while 46 were injured. Around 96 militants were also killed during the operation, codenamed Khwakh Ba De Sham, meaning "I'll Teach You a Lesson." "However, maintaining law and order is a continuous process," said Col Akhtar, pointing towards the Orakzai Agency. "This post of Ghlo Ghundair has been attacked several times, most recently a week ago, therefore it will take some time to restore complete peace in the region," he said.Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2010.