Friday, June 25, 2010

Tribal disputes in Kurram

Tribal disputes in Kurram

In an unusual move in May 2010 the Commandant of the Kurram Scouts convened a tribal jirga of both Sunni and Shia tribal leaders to repatriate displaced families to their native areas and to implement the Murree agreement signed in November 2008. The agreement asks for armed tribal groups to vacate their positions, the repatriation of IDPs and supply of food and medicine to the affected areas. The government has failed to implement the agreement and people of Kurram continue to suffer in violence.

Now, the commandant has initiated a move to make peace in the area. But tribal leaders have serious reservations over the move. The commandant never consulted the political agent of the agency and he has no legal authority to convene such a jirga although he insists he has been 'given' authority to do so. He invited controversial non-locals to the jirga, such as Javed Ibrahim Paracha who is not from Fata but from Kohat and is known to harbour sectarian views and is considered close to militants. The Shia tribesmen hold him responsible for the sufferings in the area and accuse him of sheltering al Qaeda elements. The Sunnis consider him an intruder who poisons their relationship with their Shia compatriots for his
vested interests.

The commandant offered that 200 Sunni IDP families from Parachinar be accommodated in the Akhtar Academy building. Sunni tribal leaders asked the commandant to accommodate them in an area in Parachinar since the city was said to be under the federal government's writ. The commandant disagreed and threatened to take requisite action against those tribal leaders who would not comply. The Sunni tribal leaders said that it was in the presence of the former commandant that many of their people were killed and the rest displaced from their homes, so it was hard for them to trust the current one. They also felt that the commandant was putting them in an awkward situation. Once back in Parachinar they would be vulnerable to heavily armed sectarian groups. This would provide an excuse to the military to start operations in Parachinar. The commandant had offered a plan to rehabilitate the Turi Bangash in Sadda Town in Kurram on their properties — the Turi were pushed out of their properties because of sectarian fighting way back in the 1980s. The commandant had tried to construct gates on roads leading to villages. The local Shia tribesmen demonstrated against the construction and under public pressure the commandant abandoned the plan.

The crisis in Kurram and the rest of Fata is beyond the capacity of the local commandants and political agents. Everything they do simply adds to the sufferings. The president of Pakistan should implement the Political Parties Act in the area so that disputes can be resolved through local political leadership. Intelligence agencies must stop using the area as a strategic space for its 'great games'.

Published in the Express Tribune, June 6th, 2010.


or join

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.