Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Road to Kurram reopens after four years

Road to Kurram reopens after four years

Participants of a convey arrive in Khurram Agency. - Dawn

PARACHINAR, Feb 8: Strife-torn Kurram Agency burst into joyous scenes on Tuesday as local tribesmen celebrated a peace deal between the Shia and Sunni sects that led to the reopening of Thall-Parachinar Road after four years.

People who had lived in fear all these years were seen distributing sweets and dancing with abandon in the streets of Parachinar and Sadda towns. It was pleasing to see Sunnis and Shias mingle freely and exchange pleasantries.

Elders of the Turi tribe received inhabitants of Bushara, a Sunni-dominated in Parachinar which had remained blockaded for three years, while tribesmen in Sadda and Chappari arranged welcome parties for the participants of the peace rally.

Similarly residents of Balishkhel and Sadda met with each other after a long time.

The checkpost at Balishkel used to serve as buffer zone between the warring factions.

The locals used to call it Wahga Border, a reference to the Pakistan-India border.

"Everybody is happy and celebrating the occasion by taking part in traditional dance and distributing sweets in Parachinar," said Mumtaz Hussain, a shopkeeper in the town. The area, which witnessed the worst sectarian violence, was echoing with the slogans of 'Sunni-Shia Bhai Bhai' (Sunni and Shia are brothers).

A convoy comprising about 100 vehicles left Peshawar for Parachinar on Tuesday.

The head of the jirga that brokered the peace accord and former federal minister, Malik Waris Khan Afridi, Political Agent Syed Musadiq Shah along and other elders of the area accompanied the convoy.

The elders of Musazai, Alisherzai, Mangal and Bangash tribes warmly received hundreds of the participants of the convoy at Chappari, Bagan, Alizai, Sadda and Balishkhel.

The Thall-Parachinar Road, the only artery linking Kurram with other parts of the country, remained closed to normal traffic since November 2007 when clashes broke out in the area.

More than 3,000 people had been killed and some 50 villages burnt in the clashes, resulting in displacement of hundreds of families from the area.

The road was reopened after rival factions agreed on implementation of the peace agreement, signed in Murree in October 2008. Significantly, the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan also endorsed the peace deal and announced ban on display of weapons on the main road.

The residents of the area said that prices of commodities came down in the area after signing of the peace deal. The prices of petroleum were decreased from Rs180 to 140 per litre while the price of light diesel reduced to Rs110 from Rs140 per litre.

The locals have been largely relying on Afghanistan for getting these items.

Political Agent Musadiq told Dawn that reopening of the road would help in restoring trust and confidence among the people.

"Our main priority is to keep the road open to address people's miseries and restore confidence," he said, adding that political administration would take more steps for sustainable peace in the area.

Malik Waris Khan said that Murree agreement would be implement in letter and spirit as both factions had expressed their will to cooperate with the jirga.

He said that reopening of the road was main hurdle and now other minor issues would be addressed soon.



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Officials: NW Pakistan rival tribes to end fight

Officials: NW Pakistan rival tribes to end fight

The Associated Press 
Wednesday, February 9, 2011;

PARACHINAR, Pakistan -- A tribal elder and a government official say Sunni and Shiite communities in a region close to the Afghan border have agreed to end their four-year long conflict.

Tribal council leader Waris Khan Afridi said Wednesday the main road leading to Kurram from Peshawar was now open again and both Shiites and Sunnis were using it. Previously, the road was too dangerous to use.

He says "God willing" there would be no more fighting.

Hundreds have died in the fighting, which effectively isolated the region from the rest of Pakistan because the main road was so dangerous.

He says the two sects had agreed to stop fighting, but gave no details on the terms.

On Tuesday, a convoy of vehicles from both communities traveled the road to publicize the agreement. 



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iRONIC as the situation may be, the TTP has welcomed a peace agreement

IRONIC as the situation may be, the TTP has welcomed a peace agreement between the Shia and Sunni factions of Kurram Agency and pledged to abide by it.

This was communicated by the group's Kurram amir Fazal Saeed — wanted by the Government of Pakistan with a Rs5m bounty on his head — at a news conference. The militant leader added that those who violated the accord would be "punished in accordance with the Sharia" and assured the Shia community that it could use the Thall-Parachinar road without fear. The route has become a virtual death trap due to a Taliban blockade. Even convoys accompanied by security forces have been ambushed. Though the prospects for peace should be welcomed, there are reasons to be circumspect. Firstly, it is a clear sign that the state has lost its writ in an area when a wanted man guarantees a peace agreement. Secondly, the Taliban are the major reason for the area's destabilisation. Can they be trusted to abide by the agreement? There have been peace deals in the past which have been most notable for the number of times they have been violated. There are also reports that the deal has the blessings of the Sirajuddin Haqqani network (believed to have established itself in Kurram) while the security establishment has accepted this role. The area — bordering Afghanistan — is of immense strategic importance and observers say the sectarian conflict was affecting the Haqqani network's anti-Isaf activities across the border. There is a perception that although local militants may honour the agreement, groups from Hangu or Kohat may try and sabotage it.

Thousands have been killed, injured and displaced while scores of villages have been torched since violence began in 2007 with the Taliban's arrival. However, the local administration and security forces are equally responsible for their abject failure in quelling the violence. For there to be genuine peace in Kurram the state — and not militants — must set the agenda. If peace is established, the government should initiate an investigation to take account of the human and material losses as a result of the violence, and the guilty must be brought to book.




Thousands of Sunni families expected to return to northwest after peace accord

Aki English

Pakistan: Thousands of Sunni families expected to return to northwest after peace accord

(AKI) - By Syed Saleem Shahzad - At least 3,000 Sunni families who fled sectarian violence are likely to return to Pakistan's restive northwestern Kurram tribal region following a recent peace accord between Shia and Sunni tribal elders, according to Pakistani security sources. The peace accord was also recognised by the Pakistani Taliban.
Pakistan Taliban chief in Kurram, Fazl Saeed told journalists by phone on Monday from an undisclosed location that militants would severely punish anyone who flouted the peace deal, which was signed on 3 February, ending years of bloodshed.

Saeed urged Shias to use main transport arteries including the Thall-Parachinar road.

The peace accord brought to an end three years of sectarian killings in Kurram, which borders Afghanistan. Taliban-backed Sunni militias and other Taliban-linked groups terrorised the Shia population in Kurram from 2007 and at least 5,000 Shias took refuge in Afghanistan.

Sunni militias barred all the main roads in the area for at least two years, forcing Shias living in Kurram's main town of Parachinar to travel through the easterm Afghan province of Nangarhar to reach the northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar.

Later, Shia militias, allegedly backed by the Iran and the Afghan government, fought back against the pro-Taliban Sunni militias and forced at least 3,000 Sunni families to flee to other Pakistani cities.

Headed by Malik Waris Khan Afridi, the former federal minister from Khyber Agency, the 220-member tribal jirga took two years to arrange a negotiated peace deal.

Afridi said the safe and secure return of the tribesmen will be ensured by the government and Sunni and Shia tribesmen have pledged to uphold the deal.