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The War Within Islam ( 19 Feb 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Sunni-Shia War in Pakistan's Kurram Agency: Year-old Peace Agreement Violated

By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty

Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

February 20, 2012

At least 40 Shias were reportedly killed, and another 24 injured, on February 17, 2012, after a suicide bomber detonated his explosives near the Imambargah (Shia place of worship) in the Kurmi bazaar of Parachinar, the main town of the Kurram Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), at around 1:45 pm. The miseries of the locals did not end there. Shortly thereafter, Security Forces (SFs) fired on crowds protesting the attack, killing three people. The Fazal Saeed Haqqani-led Tehreek-e-Taliban Islami (TTI) – a breakaway faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – has claimed responsibility for the attack. “We have targeted the Shia community of Parachinar because they were involved in activities against us,” Fazal Saeed told the media over phone, from an undisclosed location. He added, further, “We had warned the political administration previously not to side with Tooris (the local Shia tribe)... We caught a man yesterday who was planting a bomb at a petrol station owned by a Sunni. We did it in response.”

The suicide attack is a severe blow to the Kurram Agency peace deal, which was signed by rival warring sects on October 9, 2011. The deal — signed by 25 representatives each of the two sects during a tribal jirga (council) in Parachinar with Political Agent Shahuddin Shahab as the guarantor – called for the implementation, in letter and spirit, of an agreement signed by a grand jirga of Sunni and Shia tribal elders in Murree in October 2008. The Murree agreement had, since, remained unimplemented. According to the agreement, hundreds of Sunni families displaced by fighting were to be repatriated to their homes in Parachinar. The two sides were to constitute a committee to settle other petty issues. Display of arms in Parachinar city was banned, and a fine of PKR one million was to be imposed on violators. Nobody was to try to avenge any earlier murder. The authorities would take action against the violators, who would also pay a fine of PKR two million to the community. The two communities also promised to ensure the sanctity of mosques and Imambargahs, and were not to make derogatory remarks against the respective beliefs of the other. The agreement also made it binding on both groups to deny shelter to trouble­makers, identify such elements and help the Government in taking action against them.

Sectarian violence is nothing new to the Kurram Agency, the only tribal Agency with a significant Shia population. Strategically located, the Kurram Agency projects into Afghanistan on three sides, and has always been of critical importance for Pakistan. It shares the major portion of its borders with the troubled Logar, Paktia, Khost and Nangarhar Provinces of Afghanistan. The al Qaeda and Taliban infested Tora Bora Mountain range in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan shares its boundaries with the Kurram Agency. In the north-east, it abuts the Khyber Agency; the Orakzai Agency lies to the east; the Hangu District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) lies south-east; and the North Waziristan Agency lies south. The Kurram Agency connects the tribal areas of Pakistan to Afghanistan through lower, central and upper Kurram. Crucially, the Thal-Parachinar route is the shortest route to Kabul.

Kurram comprises three sub-divisions: Upper, Central and Lower Kurram. Some 58 per cent of its population is Sunni, and 42 per cent Shia (according to the 1998 Census). The majority of Shias live in Upper Kurram, while Sunnis dominate Lower and Central Kurram. The present cycle of escalation started when three people were killed and 13 were injured in an attack on a Shia Imambargah in the morning of April 6, 2007. The Thal-Parachinar Road, the only artery linking Kurram with other parts of the country, has remained closed to normal traffic since November 2007, when clashes broke out in the area. Nearly five years of sectarian fighting have left over 2,000 dead and at least 3,500 injured.

Annual Fatalities in Kurram Agency, 2008-2012



SF Personnel

































Source: SATP, *Data till February 19, 2012

A truce was declared between Sunni and Shia tribes on February 3, 2011, to end bloodshed between the two sects. A grand jirga (tribal council) composed of tribal elders and parliamentarians from the FATA announced a peace accord. Headed by Malik Waris Khan Afridi, a former Federal Minister from the Khyber Agency, the 225-member tribal jirga had taken two years to arrange a negotiated settlement. Member of National Assembly (MNA) Sajid Turi from NA-37 (Tribal Area III) and MNA Munir Khan Orakzai from NA-38 (Tribal Area III) constituencies in Kurram Agency played leading roles to bring the two sides to the negotiation table. Federal Minister of the Interior Rehman Malik attended the News Conference announcing the accord, to demonstrate the Government’s support for this ‘historic’ event.

The truce did not last long. On March 25, 2011, at least 13 passengers were killed and eight injured, while another 33 were abducted by suspected Sunni militants in an attack on a convoy of Shia passenger vehicles in the Kurram Agency. 22 persons were subsequently released, on June 21, after receiving PKR 30 million as ransom, while 11 remain in the custody of the terrorists. The Thal-Parachinar route was shut down after the incident. The issue of the forced closure of the Thal-Parachinar road in the Kurram Agency was raised in the National Assembly on April 13, 2011. Sajid Turi, the Shia legislator from Kurram Agency, demanded that the Government take action against the militant groups responsible for the attacks on this route.

The route was re-opened with the October 9, 2011, peace agreement. However, the February 17, 2012, suicide attack by TTI indicates a collapse of the agreement in the Agency.

According to media reports, TTI’s Saeed Haqqani had reportedly issued a statement soon after the October 2011 accord, declaring that no peace could be established in Kurram Agency against his will. Reports also indicate that he had refused to give any guarantee for the implementation of the accord or to follow the decisions of the jirga.

Saeed Haqqani started his militant activities with the support of a 300 to 400 strong armed militia in 2005. In 2007, he joined the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Reinforced by Hakeemullah Mehsud’s cadres, his group took active part in the sectarian violence of 2007 and in the closure of the Thal-Parachinar road. He has been involved in abduction of more than 40 Turi (Toori) Bangash tribesmen. At least a dozen of those kidnapped were killed. Saeed Haqqani is also closely linked with the Jalaluddin Haqqani faction of the Afghan Taliban, strongly supported by Pakistan’s Army and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Media reports suggest that Saeed Haqqani remains in the ‘good books’ of the Pakistani authorities, and has not attracted the state’s ire during military operations in the region.

Significantly, when Operation Koh-e-Sufaid (White Mountain) was initiated in June 2011, against TTP, Saeed Haqqani, at that time a TTP ‘commander and chief of its Kurram chapter, disassociated himself from the group and raised the banner of TTI. Hours after reports of the split emerged, unidentified assailants in a car opened fire at Shakirullah Shakir, a senior ‘commander’ and ‘spokesman’ for the Fidayeen-e-Islam faction of the TTP. It is believed that Fazal Haqqani’s defection was a calculated move by the Government and SFs to engineer a split in the TTP before the start of Operation Koh-e-Sufaid. Saeed Haqqani’s group remained safe through the military operations, virtually conferring on it the status of the sole power player in the area.

Fazal Saeed’s rise appears to have been consecrated by the Pakistan Army as part of its enduring strategy to use Islamist terrorist factions as instruments of domestic political management. This is a strategy that has drawn Pakistan into increasing chaos, and its people into great suffering. With its latest atrocity in Parachinar, the TTI has demonstrated that the Kurram Agency has little hope for peace as long as this perverse dynamic continues to be sustained by the powers in Islamabad.

Source: South Asia Intelligence Review