The following news item in Dawn today (27 March 2010) forced me to post this rather lengthy compilation of events. First the news item:
Six kidnapped truckers found dead in Thal
Dawn, 27 Mar, 2010
PESHAWAR: Police on Saturday found the bodies of six truck drivers who were kidnapped a few days ago in a restive northwestern town, officials said.
The drivers were shot dead and their bodies were found in Thal district, local police official Abdul Rehman told AFP.
“A letter found in the pocket of one dead truck driver said that if anyone supplied goods to the Parachinar Shia community, he will be treated like this,” Rehman said.
Parachinar, the main town of Kurram tribal district, is a sectarian flashpoint where activists from the rival Shia and Sunni Muslim sects have clashed in the past.
A police spokesman confirmed the incident, but did not identify the suspects, saying an investigation was in progress.
Shias account for about 20 per cent of Pakistan’s Sunni-dominated population. The two communities usually coexist peacefully, but more than 4,000 people have died in outbreaks of sectarian violence since the late 1980s.
Attacks by extremists, meanwhile, have killed more than 3,100 people since July 2007. Most attacks are blamed on the Pakistani Taliban.
Separately, militants early Saturday blew up a boys’ middle school in Alingarh village of Mohmand tribal district, where troops are hunting Taliban militants, local administration chief Amjad Ali Khan said. Taliban militants have destroyed 36 government school buildings in Mohmand since 2009.
Only three weeks ago, on 5 March 2010, terrorists of Taliban and Sipah-e-Sahaba hadattacked a Shia convoy travelling to Parachinar, killing at least 14 women, men and children. Here is a picture of a child victim of that attack:
Here is a brief background of Parachinar and the blockade faced by its more than half a million population.
Parachinar and its siege
Parachinar, the capital of Kurram Agency, FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) of Pakistan, remains under siege by the Taliban and Sipah-e-Sahaba for the last three years. Parachinar is situated on a neck of Pakistani territory south of Peshawar, that juts into Paktia Province in Afghanistan and is the closest point in Pakistan to Kabul and borders on the Tora Bora region in Afghanistan.
The main road that connects this remote area to Peshawar and the rest of Pakistan has been effectively blocked for almost three years by certain jihadi and sectarian outfits, i.e., Taliban and Sipah-e-Sahaba. Any one from Parachinar who tries to travel through this road is attacked and literally slaughtered.
To get their daily supplies of food and medicine, the people of Parachinar are forced to take the longer route to Peshawar which requires crossing the Afghan border.
The cost of daily supplies and travel to other parts of Pakistan has therefore multiplied five to six times.
The Afghan route is not very safe either. On several occasions, the passengers from Parachinar have been abducted and killed by the Afghan Taliban. T
The Pakistani state has to a large extent turned a deaf ear to various appeals requesting security and emergency supplies to Parachinar. Rogue elements within the state institutions (e.g. ISI) are actively backing the criminals (Taliban and Sipah-e-Sahaba) in their protracted, low-scale ethnic cleansing of the Parachinar people.
Parachinar: The Valley of Death
By Ali Jawad
Tucked away between soaring snowy-peaks and deep gorges in the fragile north-western region of Pakistan is the tiny town of Parachinar.
Humbled by towering snow-tipped mountains and covered by endless fruit orchards, Parachinar’s natural charm is breathtaking. Its narrative for the last two years however, has been anything but reflective of the serene beauty of its surroundings.
Strangled by recurring sieges laid on the town by the Taliban and Sipah-e-Sahaba, and a plight concealed from the consciences of the outside world by a silent media, the lives of Parachinaris have been a tale of untold suffering.
Since early 2007, Taliban insurgency has gripped the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which holds Parachinar, and the surrounding North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) leading to the deaths of hundreds. Even more have been left homeless and without means of sustenance with homes and local businesses regularly torched down just because their owners happen to fall under the wrong “sect”, i.e., Shia, who are considered infidel by extremist Deobandis and Wahhabis. Despite the periodical nature of sectarian violence in these regions, the unrelenting wave of the recent outbreak has been by far the bloodiest in recent memory.
Shias represent a majority of the population in Parachinar constituting over fifty-percent (50%) of the population. They also have a considerable presence in neighbouring towns in the north-west, e.g., in Kohat, Hangu and D.I.Khan.
During the rule of General Zia-ul-Haq, the Kurram Agency (which hosts the town of Parachinar) came under increased focus for its strategic location as it provided the shortest route from within Pakistan to the Afghan capital, Kabul. Jutting out into Afghanistan almost like an island peninsula, it was famously nicknamed the “Parrot’s Beak” by US forces during the Soviet-Afghan War and was regularly used as a launching-pad by American-backed “jihadists” to strike out at the Soviets. As a result of this strategic importance, towns in the FATA region were flooded by inflows of Wahhabist and Salafist anti-Soviet “jihadists” well-known for their hatred towards Shias.
Following on from the early and comparably minimal killings unleashed in 2007, armed Wahhabi groups have since caved in on the local Shias of Parachinar from all sides. The Shia residents of Parachinar have repeatedly claimed that Wahhabi elements from Afghanistan have joined in the attacks against the town’s Shias, but these cries have been met by deaf ears in Islamabad’s Pakistani central government.
An all-out attack against the Shias of Parachinar has been underway for a long time now; even Sunni locals seen to be “friendly” towards Shias have not been spared in this maelstrom of killing. Gruesome images of beheaded and mutilated bodies, with arms and legs chopped off from corpses, have surfaced on the Internet since the outbreak of violence. Such showings of utter barbarity are not altogether unique. The collective massacres of Hazara Shias in next door Afghanistan – more notably in Mazari Sharif in 1998 where during a 48-hour period over 8,000 Hazaras were mercilessly slaughtered – evoke similar images of ruthlessness. By the end of the killing spree then, corpses littered the streets of the city after express orders were given out by the Taliban government for the dead to be left unburied.
Eerily reminiscent of massacres conducted against Afghan Shias in the recent past, Riaz Ali Toori, a villager from Parachinar, protested in a letter to a Pakistani daily:
“Today Parachinar is burning: daily bodies of more than five beheaded persons reach Parachinar. The situation of Parachinar is getting worse day by day and so is the life of all people living there. It’s a matter of great sorrow and shock that Pakistan, in spite of bringing Fata into the mainstream of the country, has been pushed into fighting a continuous war and facing terror.” (Letters to the Editor, The Dawn, April 08 2008)
Surprisingly, at a time when the “civilized” world is on a so-called offensive against “terror”, coverage of the sorrow-filled plight of Parachinaris within western media has been periodical at best. The reasons for this are unclear. May be it is because Parachinar, fatefully, does not sit over barrels of oil.
In July of 2008, the New York Times ran a piece highlighting the rise of “sectarian conflict” in Parachinar. By then, the town had already been subject to a siege that had spanned for months; food and medical supplies had been in severe shortage after the main Thal-Peshawar highway leading to the town was blocked off by armed groups.
The New York Times article carried the story of Asif Hussain, a Sunni driver, in a relief convoy headed for Parachinar; the convoy was ambushed, and its drivers taken captive. Asif Hussain was let off after convincing his captors that he was Sunni, the other eight drivers were not as lucky. (Power Rising Taliban Besiege Pakistani Shiites, New York Times, July 26 2008)
Today, the Taliban / Sipah-e-Sahaba led violence against Shias has spread out over a larger radius extending all the way through to the southern tips of the NWFP and the rest of the country. Attacks on Shias in Kohat, Hangu, Dera Ismail Khan, Peshawar, Chakwal, D.G. Khan, Quetta and Karachi have become a norm.
The systematic targeting of followers of the Shia sect in various regions of Pakistan, more specifically in the north-west of the country, amounts to nothing other than a project of ethnic cleansing.
According to a reputed scholar of the phenomenon of ethnic cleansing, Drazen Petrovic, he defines it as such:
“ethnic cleansing is a well-defined policy of a particular group of persons to systematically eliminate another group from a given territory on the basis of religious, ethnic or national origin. Such a policy involves violence and is very often connected with military operations. It is to be achieved by all means, from discrimination to extermination …”
The above definition provides an almost perfect fit to the present situation of Shia in Pakistan, particularly in Parachinar. If international silence continues as it has over the last three years, the same story will have repeated across many towns in the FATA, NWFP and all over Pakistan.
That the Pakistani government, Pakistan Army in particular given its persistent patronage of and links with Taliban and Sipah-e-Sahaba, holds principal blame for its failure to restrain the killings is indisputable and goes without mention. Wider global apathy to an ongoing project of ethnic cleansing however, is certainly not comprehensible and deserves a great deal of mention.
Parachinar deserves better. And the people of Parachinar certainly deserve better. The least we can do is speak out and urge our leaders to press the Pakistani government to bring an immediate end to these massacres. Then, and only then perhaps, can it be said that we have extended a hand to the forgotten victims of Parachinar.
Ali Jawad is a political activist and a member of the AhlulBayt Islamic Mission (AIM); http://www.aimislam.com/.
Source: Counter Currents, 2009
Locals cry for freedom from militants in Kurram
‘Pakistan’s Gaza Strip’ under siege for three years
By Mumtaz Alvi
The News, March 24, 2010
Most recently, on 23 March 2010, the inhabitants of Kurram Agency have appealed to the government (read Pakistan Army) to come to their rescue in the face of long-continuing siege, militants’ (Taliban and Sipah-e-Sahaba) barbarism and economic blockade of their region.
Though an open letter, representing the over 0.5 million population of the agency, several locals of Turi and Bangash tribes through e-mails, have sought the government’s intervention to rid them of the militants, who were after them to implement their diabolical agenda.
“Through this open letter/petition, we, half-a-million population of Kurram Agency, Fata capital Parachinar and surroundings, want to draw the attention of the government, media and civil society towards inhuman behaviour being meted out to us on our own land in the form of siege and economic blockade since April 2007, has converted the paradise-like valley into a Gaza Strip,” they said.
They wondered why the state apparatus was helpless in dealing with a very small number of militants and why it lacked the ability to also open the road permanently. They noted through Voice of Parachinar (Parachinar-based website) if Swat and other areas, infested with militants could be cleared, why not the Kurram Agency?
The valley is located on the Pak-Afghan border. The inhabitants have to risk their lives while coming to other parts of Pakistan, as they have to do this via restive Afghanistan. Many of them have lost their lives in the bid during the last three years. The main road leading to the agency is blocked.
“The real challenge to the government is how to permanently make the Tall-Parachinar road secure at least for vehicular movement. But unfortunately, this has not been done so far,” said Hasan Gul Ishrat, who last visited Parachinar in November 2007. He said only a few days back, a suicide bomber hit a convoy, escorted by the FC personnel, again ringing alarming bells, for those who either wanted to visit their families in Kurram Agency or planned to come out of the under siege valley.
Sajid Hussain Turi and Munir Khan Orakzai, the two MNAs are from Kurram Agency, from NA-37 and NA-38, respectively. They too have not been able to freely visit their constituencies, let alone carrying out development works there. They have raised the issue on the floor of parliament several times and also brought it to the notice of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, but the situation by and large remains unchanged.
Hasan Gul noted the Kurram Agency was divided mainly into Turi and Bangash tribes — Turis were Shias, whereas Bangash Sunnis, but unfortunately, both were hostages and suffering at the hands of the Taliban.
The residents feel that if it was difficult to take on the militants on ground, they could be effectively dealt a decisive blow by helicopters or jets. They have even offered to lead security forces in hunting down the militants.
A journalist from Parachinar, who is Islamabad-based, Ali Hussain Turi, talking to The News requested to the government to launch a decisive action to cleanse the Kurram Agency of militants on the auspicious anniversary of 1940 Resolution. He said that making the main road safe for public could provide the desperately-needed relief to the people of the Kurram Agency and this ultimately could lead to ending its occupation. Ali’s parents, brothers and sisters have also been under siege in Parachinar for the last three years.
Source: The News
Call for Help
The humanitarian crisis in Parachinar demands urgent action. We can’t afford to sit idle and wait for our army generals and government ministers to attend to their responsibilities. Thousands of people are literally on the verge of death. The objective of the protracted, low-scale ethnic cleansing is to drive them out of their ancestral lands and to provide a safe haven for terrorists of Taliban and Sipah-e-Sahaba. The brave people of Parachinar have been able to defend themselves for many years now. But their capacities are nothing compared to the organized terror machinery of their opponents. Their plight is indeed desperate. In the name of God and in the name of humanity, please come forward and help your brothers and sisters in need.
What YOU CAN do!
Educate yourselves and people around you about the situation.
Organize prayers, vigils, and workshops in your localities (school campus, public libraries, Friday prayers, mosques and community centers, embassies and press clubs). Prepare large posters with images and concise information.
Write op-ed columns and letters to your local and national newspapers with an informed perspective. Also write to your governments and local and international human rights groups. Hold poster and letter writing sessions in your communities.
Demand that the Pakistani army and government ensure the protection of all of its citizens. It should immediately end the blockade of the Peshawar-Parachinar route. The government should set up an independent commission to investigate the complicity of state officials and intelligence agencies. They should also estimate the level of damage and compensate the victims duly.
Generate emergency funds in your localities through donation and public service. Establish these funds as part of a regular project (with a target amount to be generated each year) to help victims of oppression in various parts of Pakistan and elsewhere.
As you help these victims with basic humanitarian aid (food, medicine, shelter), also empower them for the longer term by establishing and supporting sustainable development projects, relating to education, health, media/communications, micro-financing, and community building.
Keep up with the latest developments in Parachinar and other affected areas in Pakistan.
Lastly, in any assessment or condemnation of crimes against the Parachinar people, especially in the international media, it is important to hold accountable not only the front-end Taliban forces, but also the hidden hands (ISI, CIA, Saudi Arabia) that created and promoted them over the years and that continue to use them to advance their political and economic interests. Focusing purely on the Taliban conceals the crucial role of the bigger powers in this game. These very powers can also effectively control these criminals. Therefore, these powers should be the main target of international pressures. Merely denouncing the Taliban without denouncing the powers that originated them and for whose interests they are still working also leads to a kind of misperception in the eyes of the world that the problem is with Islam and its teachings.
Ahmed Rashid. Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. (Yale University Press, 2001)
Ahmed Rashid. Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. (Viking Adult, 2008)
Ayesha Siddiqa. Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy. (Pluto, 2007)
Gyan Pandey. Construction of Communalism. (Oxford, 2006, 2nd edition)
Hassan Abbas. Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism. (M.E. Sharpe, 2004)
Mahmood Mamdani. Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror. (Random House, 2004)
Shuja Nawaz. Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within. (Oxford, 2008)