On Friday 3 February, 2011, a jirga composed of the elders of Fata announced a peace accord between Shias and Sunnis at Parachinar, the headquarters of the Kurram Agency. What has happened immediately to disarm suspicion is the opening of the Parachinar-Tal Road that has isolated the Shia community of Kurram since 2007 and exposed them to harm, as they tried to go to their homes through Afghanistan. The jirga has appealed to the government of Pakistan to ensure the execution of the accord, meaning clearly that it should re-establish its writ in the agency and ensure that the roads opened through a cross-sectarian agreement are safe from the Taliban adventurers known to be under no single command. One guarantor of the accord is a Taliban commander in Kurram, Fazal Saeed, declaring that "anyone violating the new accord would be punished according to shariah."
Does this mean that both the Shias and Sunnis will observe the accord under the authority of the Taliban? Why has the Fata jirga concluded this accord between the two warring sects under the authority of the Taliban and not under the authority of the government of Pakistan? And if the Taliban are going to implement the accord how will the Shias — whom they consider apostate from Islam — submit themselves to their authority except as second-class citizens?
The government moved first in the direction of alleviating the suffering of Kurram in 2008. It got the two sects together in Murree and signed its own accord. This accord pledged the warring parties to vacate their forward positions, disarm their warriors and allow the Shia IDPs to return home in peace. The government was the guarantor of the accord but it decided not to act after the Taliban attacked the Shias again. After that, as Baitullah was succeeded by Hakimullah as head of the Taliban, the killings actually doubled. Interior Minister Rehman Malik gave the Taliban a 72-hour 'ultimatum' to cease offences and get out; when they did not, he simply forgot Kurram.
For all his talent at sorting out issues, Rehman Malik was overreaching himself. He was not aware that the peace at Kurram would come only after the army reclaimed the agency from the Taliban. The Kurram Shia community dropped out of the radar of Pakistan's strategy when they refused to take part in General Zia's covert war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The general allowed the Sunni mujahideen to sort out the Kurram Shias before he died. The Shia leader Ariful Hussaini, who General Zia was accused of killing in Peshawar, was a Turi from Kurram. Zia allowed a similar massacre of the Shias in Gilgit the same year.
To some, the army has its reasons for not caring for the sufferings of the Kurram Shias, who form 40 per cent of Kurram's population of one million. Since their 'strategic abandonment', they have fled in trickles to cities like Tal, Hangu and Kohat in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where there are now significant pockets of Shia population. This area is now the target of the Taliban. An informally named ghetto, Shiagarh, has been an obvious target, located just 10 miles from Kohat going to the city of Hangu.
The Shias of Kurram Agency or Hangu travelling to Peshawar through Darra Adam Khel have been intercepted by the Taliban and beheaded, while Shias have, at times, blocked the Kohat-Hangu road and kidnapped Sunnis to exchange for the kidnapped Shias in Darra Adam Khel. The Taliban have come as far as Peshawar to put down a Shia leader, knowing that the Shias fleeing from Kurram have also landed with their friends in Peshawar. In Kohat, such notorious persons — including one particular ex-MNA known for his alleged links to al Qaeda and for his nexus with Lal Masjid in Islamabad — are known to be behind attacks on Shias. Pakistan's paramilitary forces fight the Taliban, but every time the latter catch hold of our paramilitaries, they release the Sunnis on the basis of some swap deal but behead the Shias. The Kurram accord has little chance of holding unless the Shias swear allegiance to the Taliban against Pakistan. For the time being, however, they must wait, like the people of North Waziristan, for the writ of the state to return to their region.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2011.