Save the Kurram peace deal Dr Ashraf Ali Thursday, March 31, 2011

Source :

The rising militant activities in the Kurram Agency have once again put the credibility of the recently concluded peace deal in danger. A lethal suicide attack on the Doaba Police Station in Hangu, which left eight people dead and 25 injured on March 24, was one of the deadliest acts of violence to hit the area in the past few weeks. A collapse of the peace agreement could lead to events whose consequences and ramifications are too frightening to imagine at the moment.

It was the recent killing of a Shia community member in the busy Qissa Khwani bazaar in Peshawar triggered off the new wave of terrorism and violence. The following day, an attack on an Attock-bound vehicle near Mamu Khwar in Doaba left four people, including a woman, dead. On March 13 members of the Mangal tribe attacked a passenger vehicle killing 12 members of the Turi tribe. A police party led by station house officer Haleem Khan killed three of the attackers. The SHO had to face consequences for his action in the form of a remote-control bomb attack on his mobile party. The SHO was one of the 11 members of the police force who sustained injuries in the revenge attack.

On March 25 the militants attacked three passenger vehicles, killing and injuring eight persons. The militants commandeered the three vehicles and kidnapped 45 passengers from the Bagan area of lower Kurram. This was the third attack of its kind since the peace deal was concluded on Feb 8 this year, with passenger vans carrying people belonging to the Turi tribe being hit. A few days ago, armed men led by a militant commander, Sattar Wazir, abducted 20 men from the same area in Bagan and another four from a neighbouring area at gunpoint. The fate of the two young men belonging to Turi tribe who were abducted from Makhezai area a few days ago is still not known. The suspense has added to the bitterness and tensions in the area.

The rising militant activities in Kurram Agency have sent a shockwave among the residents of the area, especially alarming the Shia community. Tribal elders convened a jirga and demanded immediate action against the persons involved in the violence. A Shia leader, former senator Allama Abid Al Hussaini, has urged the government to take action to save the peace deal. He warned that if the government failed to recognise the gravity of the situation it would be unable to prevent it degenerating into a crisis. The agreement had come after a yearlong conflict in Kurram, the resumed militancy has shattered the hopes arising from the peace deal and put the agreement in danger of being jeopardised.

According to the agreement, the main Tall-Parachinar road was to be opened immediately to all kinds of traffic. This was to be followed by the rehabilitation of the displaced people (Shias from Sadda and Sunnis from Upper Kurram), a process which was to begin on March 5. A committee consisting of Sunni and Shia leaders, parliamentarians and officials of the political administrations was assigned the task of working out arrangements for the relocation and rehabilitation of people displaced by the conflict and pay damages to those who lost family members and had their properties destroyed in the past few years of the conflict.

Following their last meeting with Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in Islamabad members of the jirga announced a package of Rs1 billion for this year and Rs700 million for next year as compensation. But elements which did not want the return of normalcy in Kurram sabotaged the peace efforts once again.

Due to its strategic location, Kurram Agency has always been critical for the militants. It connects the tribal areas of Pakistan to Afghanistan through lower, central and upper Kurram, providing the militants easy access to and from Afghanistan and far greater freedom of movement than they now have. In lower Kurram, Shaheedano Dand and Ahmadi Shama points provide the militants convenient points of exit to Zazi Maidan in Afghanistan’s Paktia province and to Maqbal areas of Khost province. The three Managl routes under their control give them a passage to Zazi area. It is alarming fact that the other outlet from central Kurram that passes through Tirah Valley in Khyber Agency is already under the control of the Taliban.

The Taliban, led by Fazal Saeed Haqqani, made every effort in Kurram Agency to gain control of the Borki and Kharlachi outlets that connect Parachinar in upper Kurram with Afghanistan. But the locals, who knew their intentions, are not prepared to let the Taliban succeed in their objective. For their part, the militants are doing everything possible to get control of Borki and Kharlachi outlets.

If the militants wrest control of the Borki and Kharlachi posts, they will find Kurram Agency as an extremely useful sanctuary, both in terms of safety and logistics. Once this area is at their disposal, the Taliban will gain access to important routes leading from North Waziristan to Afghanistan through the troubled Orakzai Agency. That, in turn, will make it easy to melt away among the locals. Khyber Agency will still be a good option for the Taliban, but control over Kurram Agency will make them virtually invulnerable in the strategic sense.

To save the agreement from being jeopardised, the government should immediately start making active efforts to get it implemented, in its entirety and in letter and spirit. This it can do by securing the roads, devising a transparent system for the compensation money to be paid out to those effected and displaced by the conflict and making a practicable and sustainable arrangements for the relocation of the displaced people. Otherwise, once things go really wrong, the situation will spin out of control, and restoration of normalcy will become a formidable and daunting challenge which the authorities may not be able to meet in the near future.

Indeed, the situation is already so grim that the leader of an anti-Taliban militia, Dilawar Khan, made the threat that his militia will be forced to join the Taliban if the government did not come to its assistance. Dilawar Khan’s statement came after a suicide attack on the funeral in Adizai that claimed 37 lives and left more than 60 people injured. A statement from the members of the Grand Tribal Jirga of North Waziristan in response to the Dattakhel drone attack conveys the same alarming message to the authorities.

At a press conference in Peshawar, flanked by other tribal elders, Malik Jalal Khan Wazir, swore vengeance and declared that the elders had given permission to members of their families to carry out suicide attacks against the Americans to avenge the killings in the drone attacks. This declaration should not be taken as an ordinary threat because, once suicide attacks become socially permitted, the consequences of the violence would be ruinous for the area.

The government must start taking measures to rescue the Kurram peace deal. It cannot afford to waste any more time.

The writer heads the Fata Research Centre. Email: khan45@

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