- Saturday, 12.25.10
Tribe trying to keep out al Qaeda allies
An embattled Pakistani tribe hopes to fend off an extremist group that wants to move into its territory.
BY SAEED SHAH
McClatchy News Service
PARACHINAR, Pakistan -- The Haqqani network, an extremist group close to al Qaeda that has mounted devastating attacks in Afghanistan, is attempting to move into a new safe haven in Pakistan's tribal region as a base for attacks on U.S.-led forces across the border, according to leaders of a Pakistani tribe based here.
The Haqqanis, who have a history of close ties to the Pakistani military and its Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, have undertaken negotiations with the main tribe here, the Turi, that the Turi say would open the move from their current base at Miramshah, North Waziristan, into the adjacent Kurram Agency, 80 miles to the north.
The Turi say they have repeatedly rebuffed the Haqqanis, most recently in a meeting earlier this month in Islamabad between tribal elders and the brother of the founder of the Haqqani network.
The Turi, who live in and around Parachinar, capital of Kurram, on the western tip of the district bordering Afghanistan, say they don't want extremists on their lands or for their area to be used against NATO or the government of Pakistan.
They complain bitterly that the Pakistani government has given them neither support nor protection in an inter-tribal struggle that has pitted them against the Pakistani Taliban, who seek the overthrow of the state.
``We don't differentiate between [Pakistani] Taliban, Haqqani and al Qaeda. They are all the same to us,'' Sajid Hussain Turi, a member of the federal parliament for Kurram, told a McClatchy reporter who visited Kurram in late December.
Kurram is one of seven agencies in Pakistan's tribal belt, a lawless buffer zone between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and it has been in a state of internal conflict for at least six years. An old rivalry between the Turi, who are from the minority Shiite sect of Islam, and their local competitors, the Mangals, who are Sunnis, has turned into a titanic struggle after the Pakistani Taliban entered in 2007 and threw their big guns behind the Mangals. Now the Haqqani network is involved as well.
Both the Pakistani Taliban-- the TTP, for Tehrik-I-Taliban Pakistan (Taliban Movement of Pakistan) -- and Haqqani follow an extreme version of Sunni Islam. The Turi say they're now engaged in an existential struggle against the Pakistani Taliban, who along with the Mangals have cut their lands off from Pakistan proper.
The conflict has cost the lives of more than 1,200 Turi over the last four years, Turi elders said.
The Haqqanis' apparent attempt to move into Kurram almost certainly is the result of U.S. drone attacks against the sanctuary they inhabit in North Waziristan and the threat of a future offensive by the Pakistani army.
The U.S. government, attempting to disrupt the Afghan insurgency, has repeatedly demanded that Pakistan launch an offensive to clear extremists out of North Waziristan. The Haqqani network fights alongside the Afghan Taliban but has no permanent base inside Afghanistan.
The Haqqanis claim not to be part of the conflict in Kurram and have pursued their quest for a base here by offering to mediate between the Mangals and the Turi. Recent media reports suggest that Siraj, son of Haqqani's group's founder, Jalaluddin, and now the leader of the group, moved to Kurram in the autumn.
While most of the tribal area is a wild, illiterate place, run under tribal custom, Kurram, unusually, is predominantly Shiite Muslim, with the Turi tribe comprising about 300,000 of the 500,000 people of the agency. Education is widespread, and the area is relatively well developed, with some wide valleys of flat fertile agricultural land and functioning schools. The Turi oasis in the tribal area, around Parachinar, feels more like the rest of Pakistan, rather than the primitive conditions and gun culture of most of the tribal area.
The Turi are blockaded into the westernmost part of Kurram, around Parachinar. Together, the Mangals and the Pakistani Taliban control the main road that connects Parachinar to the east to the ``settled'' parts of Pakistan under normal rule. Two years ago, assailants, using chain saws, beheaded and dismembered eight Turi men, while they were still alive, as they attempted to use the road to reach the rest of Pakistan. Their body parts were left in sacks along the main road, Turi elders said.
The Turi have suffered brutal attacks, been killed by land mines laid by the Taliban and faced a shortage of food and other supplies, prices of which have skyrocketed as a result of the blockade, while education and other services have deteriorated.