COMMENT: Kurram: the forsaken FATA —Dr Mohammad Taqi
The flat out refusal of the Kurramis, who have lost over 1,200 souls since April 2007, to cede their territory and pride to the jihadists and their masters has thrown a wrench in the latter's immediate plans. Having failed to dupe the citizenry, the establishment has elected to bring them to their knees by force
General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited a tribal agency last week but he did not tender an apology to some local families, whose dear ones — including children — were killed by the Pakistan Army gunship helicopters this past September. Not that one was holding one's breath for the general's regrets but it would have presented some semblance of fairness given the Pakistan Army's demands for apology and furore over the NATO choppers killing its troops in the same region during the same month. Well, life is not fair as it is, especially for the people of Kurram — the third largest Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA).
The crime of these civilians, killed by their own army, was that they had been resisting the influx of foreign terrorists into their territory. Despite the claims put forth by the military about the NATO incursion, it is clear now that the latter had attacked the members of the Haqqani terrorist network who were using the village of Mata Sangar in Kurram to attack the ISAF posts in neighbouring Khost, Afghanistan. Reportedly, the de facto leader of the Haqqani network, Sirajuddin Haqqani, was in the region at the time of the NATO attack.
What has also become increasingly clear is that the Pakistani establishment is trying its level best to relocate its Haqqani network assets to the Kurram Agency in anticipation of an operation that it would have to start — under pressure from the US — in the North Waziristan Agency (NWA) sooner rather than later. This is precisely what the establishment had intended to do when it said that the NWA operation would be conducted in its own timeframe. The Taliban onslaught on the Shalozan area of Kurram, northeast of Mata Sangar, in September 2010 was part of this tactical rearrangement. When the local population reversed the Taliban gains in the battle for the village Khaiwas, the army's gunships swooped down on them to protect its jihadist partners.
This is not the first time that the security establishment has attempted to use the Kurram Agency to provide transit or sanctuary to its Afghan Taliban allies. It did so during the so-called jihad of the 1980s and 1990s when the geo-strategic tip of the region called the Parrot's Beak served as a bridgehead for operations against the neighbouring Afghan garrisons, especially Khost. In the fall of 2001, the Pakistan Army moved into Kurram and the Tirah Valley straddling the Khyber and Kurram agencies, ostensibly to block al Qaeda's escape from the Tora Bora region. The Tirah deployment actually served as a diversion, as al Qaeda and key Afghan Taliban were moved through Kurram and in some instances helped to settle there.
The use of diversions and decoys has also become a de facto state policy when it comes to Kurram. The crisis in the region has been described as a sectarian issue since April 2007. However, the fact of the matter is that the Wahabi extremists, sponsored by the state's intelligence apparatus, were used to prepare the ground for a larger Taliban-al Qaeda presence in the area. A local mosque in Parachinar served then as the staging ground for rolling out the Taliban rule in the Kurram Agency like similar operations in other tribal agencies. At the time, the Nasrullah Mansur network — an affiliate of the Afghan Taliban — along with the Pakistani Taliban was part of the alliance that had taken over the mosque. The resistance by the Kurram people was extraordinary and the jihadists were dislodged, albeit at great cost to the life, property and peace of the region. A son of Nasrullah Mansur, Saif-ur-Rahman was reportedly killed in a later round of fighting in December 2007.
From that point on, the Kurram tribesmen have come under increasing pressure from the establishment and its Taliban assets to allow the use of their territory for waging war against Afghanistan. The Parachinar-Thall road was effectively closed to the people from upper Kurram through jihadist attacks right under the establishment's nose. The blockade became so intense that the people had to either use an unreliable and highly expensive small aircraft service operated by the Peshawar Flying Club to reach Peshawar or look for alternative routes.
A land route to Kabul was later opened through the efforts of some Peshawar based tribal and political elders. For about two years, this 230 mile-long arduous journey has literally been upper Kurram's lifeline and its only land route to reach the rest of Pakistan via Peshawar. Given the fact that the Kurram Agency, with its over half a million population and a 3,380 square kilometre area, is the third largest tribal agency, this route has helped avert a massive humanitarian disaster by allowing food, medicine and supplies to reach the locals. The state did not stand just idle; it actively assisted in the blockade of its own citizens.
The establishment's strategy over the last month has been to impose the Haqqani network as the 'mediators' over the Kurram Agency to help resolve the 'sectarian' conflict there. They had coerced and co-opted three leaders from Kurram, Aun Ali, Zamin Hussain and the MNA Sajid Turi, to meet Ibrahim and Khalil Haqqani, sons of the network's ailing chief Jalaluddin. The three Pakistani men, however, did not have the waak — a customary power of attorney or designation — to conduct a jirga or negotiation or seek nanawatai (sanctuary) on behalf of the Kurram people and therefore were not able to guarantee that Kurram would not resist the new Taliban-Haqqani network incursion there.
The flat out refusal of the Kurramis, who have lost over 1,200 souls since April 2007, to cede their territory and pride to the jihadists and their masters has thrown a wrench in the latter's immediate plans. Having failed to dupe the citizenry, the establishment has elected to bring them to their knees by force. It announced last week that it is closing down the Parachinar-Gardez-Kabul route, trapping the people of Kurram in a pincer of twin blockades. Announcing the embargo, Colonel Tausif Akhtar of the Pakistani security forces claimed that they are closing down five border entry points to clamp down on sectarian violence. The people of Kurram, however, see this as the state opening the floodgates of oppression on them. But as long as the rest of Pakistan and the world at large do not take notice of the establishment's tactics in Kurram, this forgotten part of FATA will be completely forsaken.