By Dr Mohammad Taqi
February 19, 2015
“Nowhere, nowhere at all, does a trace of blood remain;
Nothing on the assassin’s hands, nails or clothes;
The dagger’s lips, the knifepoint, no redness disclose,
No spot upon the ground, on the roof no stain
Nowhere, nowhere at all, does a trace of blood remain” — The Trace of Blood by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, translation by Dr Sarvat Rahman.
Peshawar was soaked in blood yet again this past Friday. The target once again was the beleaguered Shia community. The worshippers at the Imamia mosque in Peshawar’s Hayatabad suburb were attacked by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) jihadists using Kalashnikov rifles and suicide vests. Over 20 Shias perished in as many minutes, most of them from the Kurram tribal agency and the Hangu region. Among the fallen was Arif Tirmizi whose brother, the much-loved Dr Asim Hussain Tirmizi, had been mowed down at his clinic in Hayatabad last month. The volunteers guarding the mosque are said to have resisted the terrorists but were outgunned. A horrifying video captured on the mobile phone of a survivor shows one of the most barbaric episodes perpetrated on the Shias with bursts of automatic fire being discharged and two suicide bombers blowing themselves up one after another. The clip, however, also shows one of the most valiant acts of resistance against the TTP when a congregation member, Abbas Ali, got up and grabbed one of the suicide bombers by his throat, preventing him from exploding his vest. Abbas, who was then gunned down by another jihadist, was from the Shakh-Daulat Khel twin villages in the Kurram Agency.
Traces of Shia blood are splattered all over the Imamia mosque but not a single federal government representative or a military official has bothered to visit the site yet. According to media reports, government and military officials have instead ordered the Turi and Bangash tribesmen of the Kurram Agency to disarm. The predominantly Shia Pashtuns of Upper Kurram Agency are perhaps the only tribal entity that has successfully fought off the Taliban and their allies since at least 2007. They could not have done it without their arms, especially when the federal government, assorted political parties and the military left them blockaded for three years. The Kurramis had to take the arduous Parachinar-Khost-Gardez-Kabul-Jalalabad route to reach Peshawar when the Taliban besieged them. The Kurrmay-wal — as they like to call themselves — survived through qaumi wasla (the tribe’s arms cache), local produce, minuscule remittances from expatriate relatives, medicines bought in Afghanistan and, above all, sheer willpower to withstand the Taliban offensive till an accord was signed in February 2011. The Pakistani security establishment had pushed then, as it is doing now, for the Turis and Bangash to give up the qaumi wasla without even lifting a finger to help them with their security.
According to a newspaper report, the FATA secretary for law and order, Mr Shakeel Qadir, said that the tribes would not be allowed to keep heavy weapons while a tribal elder stated that “a junior commissioned officer conveyed a message of the colonel commandant of the Kurram militia to the people to hand over every type of heavy weapons and ammunition immediately.” The irony is that while the Kurramis are asked to disarm, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province schoolteachers are being trained by the military to use automatic weapons! Without their weaponry the residents of Upper Kurram would become sitting ducks. Given the ferocity of the previous onslaught against the Turis and Bangash, there is no way that they could have defended themselves without heavy weapons. Not that one considers the militarisation of the populace desirable but the Shia Pashtuns of Kurram have been left high and dry by the state for almost a decade now. In fact, elements from the establishment had pushed upon Parachinar individuals like Eid Nazar Mangal of a rabidly anti-Shia sectarian outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). Over the last five years, I have discussed in this column in detail the evolution of the conflict in Kurram and the Pakistani establishment’s designs to relocate its jihadist assets, including the Jalaluddin Haqqani network, to the west and northwest Kurram Agency. Pakistani officialdom’s loud proclamation to the contrary notwithstanding, nothing seems to have changed since.
That we have yet to see a single Haqqani network terrorist apprehended by the Pakistani security agencies does not exactly inspire confidence in their assertions that the distinction between the so-called ‘good’ and ‘bad’ jihadists has been jettisoned. Former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf had made what was dubbed then a landmark decision in January 2002, ostensibly banning assorted jihadist groups including the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT). Thirteen years on, however, General Musharraf has stated in an interview to the Guardian that “the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate cultivated the Taliban after 2001 because Karzai’s government was dominated by non-Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group, and officials who were thought to favour India.” The world has the luxury to wait another 13 years to find out the veracity of Pakistan’s present claims to have abandoned jihadism as a tool of its foreign policy but the Pashtun tribes of Kurram face an existential threat due to both their Shia faith and the geostrategic location of their abode.
The Pakistani Shias at large are likely to remain a target as the government’s spreadsheet counterterrorism that churns out fuzzy numbers about the potential terrorists nabbed while the Madrasa (seminary) networks, which have apostatised the Shias and prepared the ground for exterminating them en masse, remain untouched. As the military prepares for its Pakistan Day parade next month, 41 seminaries in and around Islamabad have been ordered shut lest terrorists use them as a bridgehead for an attack on the parade. If the seminaries are such an obvious threat to the military parade, how could they be good for the population at large? In all likelihood, the TTP attackers that massacred the Shias at the Hayatabad mosque had taken sanctuary at some local seminary-mosque complex just like the Army Public School Peshawar attackers had done. Chances are that like the umpteen attacks on the Shias before, the government and the military will not bother to bring the enablers of the Peshawar attack to book either; the massacre at the Imamia mosque too will end up as Faiz once said:
“This orphan blood for long cried out hopelessly,
None had the time to listen, nor thought of going to see,
No plaintiff, no witness, the page was quickly turned.
It was the blood of the lowly, to the earth it returned!”
Dr Mohammad Taqi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he tweets @mazdaki