Wednesday, April 6, 2011

2 militants die as groups clash in Kurram Agency

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

HANGU: Two militants were killed and two others sustained injuries in a clash between two groups of militants in Bagan area of Kurram Agency, official and local sources said on Tuesday. 

The sources said that Commander Noor Muhammad and a militant Fazal Mehmood, belonging to Masozai tribe, were on their way to Sadda from Bagan in a pickup truck when their vehicle was ambushed by militants from rival Commander Noor Jamal alias Mulla Toofan group on Jharali Road in the lower Kurram valley. 

The sources said that Commander Noor Muhammad and his lieutenant Fazal Mehmood were killed and two other militants sustained injuries in the clash. Noor Jamal group and militants belonging to the Masozai tribe had been fighting to secure the leadership of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in Kurram for the last several months

No peace in Kurram

No peace in Kurram

By Hasan Khan | From the Newspaper
THE government of Pakistan and its strategic planners in the security establishment do not appear interested in peace in the strategically important Kurram tribal agency. This is the popular perception among the region's Shias and Sunnis after the eruption of a fresh wave of violence.
The views seem to be grounded in reality, otherwise the government would not so easily have squandered the opportunity for peace after the warring sects signed a peace accord on Feb 3.
The tribal elders from other regions of Fata, who were part of the grand tribal jirga that succeeded in formulating the peace accord, are also questioning the government's failure to exploit the chance to bring lasting peace to this violence-prone region. The crucial issue for everybody, whether Shia, Sunni or tribal elder, is the government's failure to secure the Thall-Parachinar highway so that the residents of upper, lower and central Kurram can commute freely.
The Thall-Parachinar road is the lifeline of the Kurram Agency, and the jirga earnestly urged the government to secure this road by increasing the number of check posts, particularly at places such as Chappari, Mandori, Ochatt, Baggan and Alizai where both Shias and Sunnis are being killed or kidnapped. At the time the peace accord was signed in Islamabad, Interior Minister Rehman Malik assured the jirga that the government would re-establish its surrendered writ in Kurram Agency.
Following the truce, peace seemed to be achievable. Unbelievably, however, both the government and the security forces wasted this opportunity very early. Arriving at a peace agreement between Shias and Sunnis took years of hectic efforts by the grand jirga. Economic losses aside, violence in the region had already extracted a heavy toll, killing more than 2,000 and injuring another 4,000 people, with hundreds of thousands more displaced.
Shias and Sunnis showed excitement in welcoming the jirga elders at Chappari post — the entry to Kurram Agency — on Feb 3. This marked the symbolic opening of the Thall-Parachinar road that has remained closed for years. The celebration at Chappari was replicated at other places by Shias and Sunnis jointly, negating the idea that Shias and Sunnis were killing each other for faith-based reasons.
Local militants also jumped on the peace bandwagon. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Kurram commander, Fazal Saeed, extended support to the accord and warned that in case of any violations, the TTP would first ask the political administration and jirga to take action, and failing that would consider itself justified in punishing the side violating the agreement.
There was also the impression that Afghan Taliban leader Siraj Haqqani was instrumental in bringing the warring sects to the negotiation table. The militant group, which perceived Shias as heretics, asked the Shias of upper and lower Kurram to use the roads, including the vital Thall-Parachinar road, without fear. Many believed that the TTP was expecting windfall benefits from the accord.
Come March 5 and the accord was violated. On March 13, there was another violation at Mamo Khwar of tehsil Thall when militants killed 11 passengers and left several others injured. On March 25, yet another convoy was attacked and 13 passengers were killed, eight were injured and another 45 were abducted by suspected militants in the Baggan area.
The government acted as a spectator. The abduction of 45 people is not a single man's job, yet the abducted and their abductors managed to vanish into thin air. Locals believe that this could not have happened without the connivance of the government and the security forces.
The fundamental questions remain unanswered: why did the militants retaliate so early and why have the government and the security forces maintained such a criminal silence? A senior member of the jirga confided that in order to elicit the support of the TTP Kurram commander, Fazal Saeed, for the accord, the government tacitly agreed to release one of his close relatives and allow his petrol pump businesses to be reopened. Honouring this commitment has been delayed for unknown reasons.
The militants were also expecting more benefits, particularly from the Shias of upper Kurram, in return for promising them safe passage on the Thall-Parachinar road. They wanted the Shias to allow safe passage to militants into the areas in Afghanistan known as the Khost Bowl and up in the north in Tora Bora. Taliban commander Siraj Haqqani's forces are operating primarily out of the Khost Bowl, including Paktika, Paktia and Khost.
Shias are in the majority in upper Kurram with access to all the strategic routes, including the Malikili-Kharlachi route, the Parachinar-Terimangal route leading to the Khost Bowl and the third route leading to Tora Bora via Zairan and Malanah.
Those keeping an eye on the conflict across the Durand Line believe that the Nato/US announcement regarding the withdrawal of troops has also put regional powers in a new situation. These regional powers — particularly Pakistan — have started preparing for the post-2014 Afghanistan.
The Kurram tribal agency is highly prone to violence in the name of sectarianism, and this phenomenon has been used during the prolonged Afghan conflict by those playing double games. It constitutes strategic ground for the militants and is called the 'parrot beak', going deep into Afghanistan and thus providing militants easy access to areas such as the Khost Bowl.
It is acknowledged that some quarters in Pakistan's security establishment are still sticking to the infamous 'strategic depth' policy in Afghanistan. In the emerging Afghan scenario, the reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar does not dance to the tune of the Pakistani establishment. And instead of banking all out on Omar, 'strategic depth' proponents are keeping the Haqqani card — an influential Taliban commander in the south and southeast of Afghanistan — very close to their chest.
Easy access to the Khost Bowl is the top priority of the Pakistani security establishment, and upper Kurram, dominated by Shias, has all the access routes. If supported by the Shia population, not only will militants have more space in Pakistan's tribal territories, it would also provide easier access to Khost Bowl for others fighting the US/Nato forces.
Many believe that the Shia community's denial of benefits to militants and the Taliban led to the government using delaying tactics in taking action against those who violated the accord. The government also delayed the resettlement, as per the agreement, of thousands of displaced families, both Shia and Sunni, as it kept waiting for cooperation from the Shias.
The writer is the director of news and current affairs at Khyber TV.

Why Are Peace Deals So Difficult To Keep In Pakistan's Tribal Areas?


Why Are Peace Deals So Difficult To Keep In Pakistan's Tribal Areas?

In March, Kurram elders spread carpets on the snow and listened to poetry competitions in which poets rejecting the extreme way to Islam sang odes to peace.
In March, Kurram elders spread carpets on the snow and listened to poetry competitions in which poets rejecting the extreme way to Islam sang odes to peace.
April 05, 2011
By Majeed BabarCharles Recknagel
It doesn't take much to undermine a peace accord in Pakistan's tribal area.

The most recent example is the peace deal in Kurram Agency, which has a long history of Shi'ite and Sunni sectarian conflicts now compounded by the presence of extremist Sunni Taliban.

Tribal elders have invested hours of negotiations to bring the agency's warring parties to the peace table and end sectarian clashes that have sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing into camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in other parts of Pakistan.

A key part of the deal has been promises of millions of dollars of compensation for those who have lost their relatives, property, or possessions in the upheavals. The promises have convinced many IDPs to return home and try to make a new start.

In March, the efforts seemed to have finally created a durable peace deal. Many villages celebrated with cultural events that gathered rival leaders peacefully together for the first time in years. Elders spread carpets on the snow and listened to poetry competitions in which poets rejecting the extreme way to Islam sang odes to peace.

"I don't need paradise, [and angels] but I need torches of light to dispel this darkness," said one poet, Yousaf Maranj, refuting Taliban promises to young men that suicide bombing will give them instant entry to paradise.

Broken Peace

But now this carefully crafted accord appears to be in jeopardy over incidents whose small scale only illustrates the enormity of the task of maintaining any peace for long in this volatile region.

Displaced children wait for aid at a distribution center in Sadda in Kurram Agency in July 2010.
Most recently, 12 gunmen opened fire on a caravan of three vehicles carrying members of a Shi'ite tribe from Peshawar to the Kurram Agency city of Parachinar. The ambush, near the city of Bagan, killed eight people on the spot and wounded five others who died later in hospital. 

The gunmen locked up the remaining 35 passengers in two of the coaches and disappeared with them. Since then they have released just seven people -- all women and children -- while holding the others hostage in an unknown location.

Shi'ite tribal leaders in Kurram say they know the identity of the attackers and their motives. "Everybody feels sorry, but nobody is telling the truth," says Sajid Hussain Turi, a parliament deputy from the Kurram tribal area. 

"The truth is that militants, the Taliban, the groups belonging to Hakimullah Mehsud, Fazal Said Haqqani, and Mullah Noor -- all of them are responsible for the failure of this truce," Turi tells RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal. "The government knows them and is in a position to start operations against them, but the security forces are not willing to root them out, and we don't know why."

Exacerbating Divisions

To many, the Taliban is the most likely suspect for two reasons. First, those killed belonged to the Turi tribe in the Kurram region, whose people have blocked Taliban militants from using their territory to cross into Afghanistan. Second, it is the Taliban that currently stands the most to gain from the chronic outbreaks of communal violence in Kurram. 

Over recent months, the Taliban has increasingly moved into Kurram to avoid drone attacks in their strongholds of North and South Waziristan. At the same time, Kurram has become a key Taliban corridor for shuttling fighters and material from bases in central Orakzai district to attack the NATO supply lines that move through the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan. 

The Kurram tribal area has sectarian tensions that predate the Taliban but the Taliban has proved particularly effective at stoking them for its own ends. 

Decades ago, Sunni and Shi'a lived side-by-side peacefully but this began to break down in the 1980s when former Pakistani dictator Muhammad Zia ul-Haq began allowing ethnic- and sectarian-based political parties. This made it easier for him to control a divided society but resulted in the forming of militant groups that attacked each other and secular figures.

For decades, Kurram Agency seemed generally resistant to such sectarian violence except for security alerts during the annual observance of Ashura, when Shi'ite faithful hold public processions. Instead, the feuding took such forms as sectarian rivalries to build the tallest minarets. But with arrival of the Taliban after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, the rivalries turned lethal.

Central Government Failure

Today, the main cities of Kurram Agency have seen the majority sect chase out the minority one, not only creating IDPs but also a siege mentality on both sides. The Sunnis control the main highway over which supplies move to all parts of Kurram and periodically ambush buses carrying Shi'a. The Shi'a, in turn, divert water that passes through their territories so it does not reach the Sunni areas.

By law, the Pakistan government is responsible for keeping roads in the tribal areas open and for assuring that resources are shared. But while Islamabad was able to do so with the support of tribal leaders when tribal society was intact, it finds it hard to do so today, even with military deployments. Since 2006, more than 937 tribal leaders have been targeted and killed both by the Taliban and by Pakistani intelligence agencies across the tribal areas, shattering the region's traditional social structures. 

In an effort to push the government to act, the Shi'ite community decided after last month's ambush near Bagan to launch a "social boycott" of Islamabad. The Turi tribe said it would withhold payments on utilities until the attackers were caught and the hostages freed. "We decided that we will not have any links and business with the government, until our hostages are freed," parliament deputy Turi says.

Promises Not Kept

Still, the failure to arrest the attackers is not the only thing people in Kurram see as Islamabad's lack of support for the peace accord.

Equally problematic is the government's slowness to deliver on its promises of financial compensation for victims of past violence in Kurram Agency. Many local leaders were able to argue successfully for peace by convincing more combative followers that there would be clear and immediate economic awards. 

The government of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani promised up to 1.5 billion rupees (some $17.5 million) to help the rehabilitation of displaced persons -- both Shi'ite and Sunni. The compensation process was to have begun on March 5. 

Weeks later, the money has yet to be delivered. "They need to build their homes and those who lost their loved ones have to be paid, and so do those who have been injured," says Malik Waris Khan Afridi, chief of the Grand Jirga of Peace for Kurram. "Only then will the local people trust the jirga and believe that the truce is working."

Afridi adds that the government has now promised that the money will be paid in the next few days but that it has yet to provide any explanation for its delays.

Meanwhile, the newly appointed governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Masud Kausar, who is also responsible for all of the tribal area, says the roads in Kurram Agency are well secured, despite the recent ambush. He said last week that he would soon drive to Kurram to show the roads were open.

The question now is whether Islamabad can move quickly enough to provide its promised support before further outbreaks of tension undermine its ability to still rescue the peace deal. Prior to the accord, violence in Kurram reached levels that Islamabad was only barely able to rein in.