The Tenacious Turi Tribe

The Pakistani tribe that is taking on the Taliban

October 2010

Haji Hashim Ali at the community housing project near Alizai townThe Turi community and the Taliban are bitter enemies

The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan is one of the few journalists in recent months who has been able to travel to the remote north-western Pakistani tribal district of Kurram, where members of the Turi tribe are waging a war of attrition with the Taliban.

A couple of miles east of Alizai town in the Kurram tribal district, north-western Pakistan, boundary walls of two large compounds are rising fast.

Elders of the region’s largest tribe, the Turi, say they are building homes for eight families from western parts of Kurram who have volunteered to resettle here.

“Apart from a house, each family will get four acres of land for agricultural use,” says Haji Hashim Ali, a Turi elder and in charge of the community project.

“We hope to attract more than 200 families to this colony in a year’s time,” he says.

Community volunteers

The idea is to boost Turi presence in an area that belongs to the tribe but where the population has thinned out.

Map

That has allowed others to step in and bring Taliban militants with them, Mr Ali explains.

The Turi tribe, which belongs to the Shia sect of Islam, has traditionally abhorred the Taliban – who adhere to a hardline Sunni form of the faith and many of whom consider Shias to be non-Muslims.

Two years ago, the Turis fought a major battle with the Taliban in the surroundings of Alizai.

They are now consolidating their hold on the region.

To the south of Alizai, across the Kurram river, the tribe is building a 14km (8.6 miles) road to link Alizai with the Turi stronghold of Parachinar in the west.

Continue reading the main story

“Start Quote

Syed Abid Jan

When [the Taliban] went away, I looked around. My grandson was dead. He had fallen on me. I had fallen on my wife. She was also dead”

Syed Abid Jan

The Shurko road detours the Sunni-dominated town of Sadda, which is located on the region’s main road that links Parachinar with Alizai and the rest of Pakistan.

In Parachinar, the district centre, and all along the Shurko road, community volunteers man checkpoints and also guard the region’s airport.

There are no military checkpoints anywhere in the Turi lands from Parachinar to Alizai – and no Taliban.

To a casual observer, this comes as a surprise because Kurram is the most important strategic site from where to launch guerrilla attacks inside Afghanistan.

Its western tip is only 90km (56 miles) from the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Local people say that Taliban started pouring into the area in 2006 and set up base at a mosque in Parachinar.

“When we came to know of their presence, we took up the matter with the authorities, but they refused to expel them, saying the decisions were taken at a much higher level,” says Ali Akbar Turi, another local elder.

Bombed

Fighting between the locals and the Taliban erupted in April 2007, and dozens of people were killed over the next year.

Turi tribesmen building a house of rocks in Parachinar areaThe Turi community have had to defend themselves from Taliban attacks

Devoid of local support, the Taliban were forced to retreat to their bases in Sadda and Alizai in eastern Kurram, but from there they enforced a blockade of Kurram’s only road link to Pakistan.

“Our traders lost millions of dollars worth of merchandise when our trucks were bombed and burned down, and dozens of our people were beheaded,” recalls Haji Hashim Ali.

In August 2008, local elders decided that if the army wasn’t prepared to deal with the Taliban, it was time to raise a tribal force and storm the militant bases themselves.

Najib Hussain, a Kurram resident, fought on a front that finally led to the fall of Bugzai, a village that housed the Taliban’s main base in the region, just across the river from Alizai.

“We had about 100 to 150 fighters. We would rotate them in four hourly shifts,” he says.

“Fighting was intense. During the first 27 days I only came down twice from my position on the hill to take a bath. On the 27th day, I was hit and had to be carried away to the hospital.”

It took the tribal force 46 days of fighting – and the loss of around 400 fighters – to inflict a final defeat on Taliban.

Nearly two years after the war, this entire area remains free of Taliban.

‘Trapped’

But further east, the Taliban continue to block their exit route.

Christians in the Kurram regionKurram is one of the few tribal districts in Pakistan where the Christian population lives in peace

People can only leave Kurram in convoys, and only when the government provides security. Even then, they are regularly attacked.

In the last attack in July, suspected Taliban gunmen killed 18 people travelling in a passenger van from Parachinar to Peshawar, the regional capital.

Syed Abid Jan, 75, was one of four survivors.

“We started in the convoy but our van fell behind,” he says.

“In Charkhel area, some 20km (12.4 miles) east of Alizai, about 10 gunmen fired at the van, causing it to overturn. Then they came closer and fired at the passengers trapped inside from all sides.”

Mr Jan was hit in the back.

“When they went away, I looked around. My grandson was dead. He had fallen on me. I had fallen on my wife. She was also dead.”

After three years of road blockades, the intensity of war has left a mark on the people of Kurram.

Trading and development work have come to a halt, much of the infrastructure of health, education and agriculture has been destroyed, and there is of course the emotional toll.

“A friend of mine told me to beware of going mad. I think that warning has kept me from going mad entirely,” says Aqeel Hussain, the owner of a petrol station in Alizai.

“But sometimes I think I’m half mad. My blood pressure shoots up sometimes. It never used to happen before.”

After the fall of Bugzai, the Taliban twice offered to guarantee the safety of the road from Kurram to Peshawar in return for access for their militants through Kurram into Afghanistan.

But this is an offer which the people of Kurram say they are determined never to accept.

Terminator Drones Focus On Haqqani Troops In Kurram Is CIA Attempt To Outmaneuver ISI

[The latest Pakistani military/militant strategy causes a recalibration of the CIA drone war to follow the assets wherever they move, or are moved.  The Army-brokered (Parachinar) Kurram peace deal (SEE:  The American/Pakistani Waltz, Send Haqqanis Into Kurram, Army Into N. Waziristan  ) has allowed the Haqqani network access to the key to Afghanistan, which has been closed for several years due to sectarian civil war.   The Haqqanis were allegedly moved to Kurram Agency as a prelude to the US-mandated North Waziristan operation (SEE:  A Haqqani-brokered peace in Kurram agency?).  This new arrangement will allow the Army to clean-out Hakeemullah Mehsud’s gang in N. Waziristan without harming the Haqqani strategic assets (SEE:  Kurram Agency: Haqqani warns Hakimullah not to ‘sabotage’ peace deal).  

I guess that today’s deadly drone strike is Obama’s way of telling Gen. Kayani what he thinks of the new plan.  But do the drones say, “No,” or do they signal acceptance of a wider strike zone for the drones?]  

Drone strikes kill 11 in Kurram tribal region

The identities of the suspected militants killed in the strikes were not yet known. — File photo

PARACHINAR: Suspected US drones fired missiles into Pakistan’s Kurram region on Monday, killing at least 11 militants, local officials said.

US forces have intensified missile strikes by remotely-controlled drones in Pakistan’s border regions since the killing of Osama bin Laden by US SEALs in the country last month.

Seventy-seven militants have been killed in missile strikes by US drones this month, according to a Reuters tally based on statements from intelligence officials.

Most of these strikes focused on Waziristan — a major al Qaeda and Taliban sanctuary — but Monday’s attack targeted militants in Kurram, another tribal region north of Waziristan.

An intelligence official in Kurram said the four missiles fired by drones targeted two militant compounds and a vehicle in the Khardand area, a stronghold of Fazal Saeed, a local militant commander.

Saeed is closely linked to the Haqqani network — one of the most feared Afghan militant groups fighting US forces across the border in Afghanistan, officials say.

“Eleven militants were killed. Nine of them were Afghans and believed to be linked to the Haqqani group,” a second intelligence official said. The remaining militants were said to be Pakistanis.

Holed up

Kurram is an unusual target and could mark a further expansion of the US campaign against militants holed up in North and South Waziristan.

North Waziristan is the major base for the Haqqani network and security officials say many of its fighters and their local allies are believed to have fled to Kurram. The militants are believed to have cut a deal with Shia Muslim tribesmen last year in Kurram and neighbouring tribal regions amid speculation that Pakistan’s army might launch an offensive in North Waziristan.

Pakistan has long publicly opposed US drone strikes, saying they complicate Islamabad’s efforts to win over the people and isolate the militants in border regions.
But Washington sees them as an effective tool to stem cross-border attacks by militants on foreign forces in Afghanistan.

In Miramshah in North Waziristan, about 1,500 tribesmen staged a general strike to protest against the drone attacks.

They threatened to take up arms against the Pakistani army if they continued.

“We know this is happening under a secret deal with Pakistan,” a cleric, Mohammad Alam, told a rally in Miramshah.

Militants in North Waziristan have agreed not to attack security forces there in return for the freedom to operate inside Afghanistan from their bases.

If they scrap the deal, it could further destabilise Pakistan, already under pressure from the United States and its allies to pursue militants after the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Pakistani officials say, however, that the military is already overstretched. It also wants a commitment from the United States that its troops will secure its side of the border. Otherwise, it says, its own troops and people become vulnerable to attack by militants based on the Afghan side.

Karzai Going Rogue On Obama?

Why Karzai lashed out at the US

By M K Bhadrakumar

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai sprang a surprise on Saturday by affirming for the first time publicly that the “United States is involved in peace talks with the Taliban”. The statement comes against the backdrop of growing tensions over Washington’s efforts to get him to agree to a strategic partnership agreement allowing permanent American and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military bases.

United States and Afghan drafts of the agreement are sharply diverging. Karzai on Saturday spelt out tough preconditions for concluding a strategic partnership agreement: “Foreign forces must become lawful, unilateral operations must end, detentions of Afghans, foreign forces must be conducted under Afghan laws, foreign assistance must be channeled through [the] Afghan government.”

Furthermore, as part of any deal, he said: “Afghanistan wants a fully-equipped army to include F-16 planes in return for strategic ties with the US.”

Karzai was speaking just ahead of US President Barack Obama’s announcement on the drawdown of American troops in July, with reports suggesting that the Pentagon seeks a mere notional withdrawal at this stage so that the “surge” can effectively continue through 2012.

Karzai’s interests are at odds with the Pentagon’s priorities. He has refrained from explicitly condemning the “surge” but instead harps on the excesses by the troops under the command of General David Petraeus, the US’s top man in Afghanistan. He sees the “surge” as leading to nowhere but more bloodshed and destruction, and Afghan alienation.

Karzai exposed the US’s maneuver to hold direct talks with the Taliban while finding an alibi to continue the “surge”. The United Nations Security Council on Friday decided to split the sanctions regime of the Taliban from al-Qaeda and made a provision to remove sanctions on some Taliban leaders. The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice said, “The US believes that the new sanctions regime for Afghanistan will serve as an important tool to promote reconciliation … [It] sent a clear message to the Taliban that there is a future …”

But Karzai made it clear that it is America’s show and he has no role in the US-Taliban talks. “The foreign forces [NATO], especially America, are carrying out the talks by themselves. From the government side, we don’t have any negotiations with them.” Evidently, he feels irritated that the US has undercut him.

Blackmail boomeranged 
Karzai is today in the unhappy position of learning from the Americans how things are going on the peace front. On the other hand, non-Pashtun elements belonging to the erstwhile Northern Alliance are training their guns on him, accusing him of a “sell out” to the Taliban. Karzai knows well enough that some of these self-styled opposition figures, such as former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh or former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, enjoy US patronage. Karzai feels frustrated about overall US intentions.

The Americans lately began spreading the news that Karzai intends to retire from politics when his term ends in 2014. Indeed, direct US-Taliban deals will eventually make Karzai expendable in Afghan politics by 2014. But he is determined not to be a pushover and may not hesitate to work on shared interests with even Pakistan, which is also out of the loop on the Anglo-American enterprise to engage the Taliban. Karzai pointedly said that the role of Pakistan in the reconciliation process was “very important”.

Karzai is digging in with the preconditions for concluding the strategic partnership agreement with the US. The nearest he came so far was at a press conference held in the presidential palace in Kabul on April 11:

We have put across to them our several preconditions and we have tied up their hands and feet … Conditions regarding US assistance, flawed military operations and others which [presently] have been preventing the Afghan government from strengthening as well as legalizing the presence of the foreign forces are mentioned in the draft sent to the US officials. If America wants relations with us, it should accept our conditions, which are logical.

Unsurprisingly, the Obama administration is furious. The strategic partnership agreement is today the most important aspect of the US’s relationship with Karzai. It will determine the US’s political, military and economic ties with Afghanistan for decades to come and it is integral to the US’s regional strategies in Central Asia against Russia and China.

The Obama administration’s expectation was that the agreement could be signed by July and that Karzai’s preconditions amounted to mere grandstanding to extract financial concessions. (Karzai insists that the US’s future assistance should be routed through his government. The volume of money could run into billions of dollars). The Obama administration is testing Karzai’s resilience.

Investigations into fraudulent practices by Kabul Bank have provided a timely handle for Washington to corner Karzai, since influential Afghan politicians aligned with him have been implicated in the scandal. Karzai maintains that the crisis arose in the first instance because of bad advice from the West about international banking practices. Anyway, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stepped into the case and brusquely rejected the Karzai government’s plan to salvage the bank.

This means a freeze on the disbursal of funds from the World-Bank administered Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), as an IMF support package is a seal of approval that most donors expect before pledging aid. Karzai’s government is heading for a cash crunch and may find it difficult to disburse salaries of government employees.

The ARTF was expected to funnel US$200 million this year for payment of salaries. Britain stopped aid disbursal in March. Amid all this, Obama initiated a video conference with Karzai last week during which he apparently expressed concern over the banking crisis and explicitly linked it to the long-term relationship between the US and Afghanistan. But Karzai is resisting US pressure. He deputed Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal on a 12-day visit to Moscow to find some debt relief from Russia.

Regional networking
Clearly, the fault lines are widening even as negotiations over the status of forces agreement resumed in Kabul on Saturday with a visiting American delegation.

The Americans may be misreading that the discord with Karzai boils down to his perceived “rentier” mentality, and that through IMF pressure and offers of money, he could be persuaded. Washington may be making a grave miscalculation about the Afghan sense of honor.

It overlooks that slowly, steadily, the US is losing its monopoly of conflict resolution in Afghanistan and Karzai can no longer be kept away from networking with regional powers. Karzai’s defiant stance on Saturday comes soon after his return to Kabul from attending the summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Astana.

The SCO summit adopted a statement on Wednesday calling for an “independent, neutral” Afghanistan (read: free of foreign occupation). Nurusultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan, who hosted Karzai, put it on record, “It is possible that the SCO will assume responsibility for many issues in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of coalition forces in 2014.”

Saturday also happened to be an extraordinary day with Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi arriving in Kabul – an unprecedented visit in the history of Afghan-Iranian relations – “to explore ways for the further expansion of ties between the two neighboring states”. Vahidi’s visit unmistakably represents a big snub to the Obama administration.

Vahidi waded straight into the post-2014 status of the US occupation of Afghanistan. He told Karzai, “Ensuring regional stability will be possible only by the collective efforts of regional countries and the withdrawal of foreign forces.”

Meanwhile, Karzai has already initiated moves to hold a loya jirga(grand council) soon after Eid. As things stand, the likelihood of such a traditional tribal council approving permanent US/NATO military bases is remote. The Afghan people militate against foreign occupation of their country.

The American game plan was to muster enough support in the Afghan parliament for the strategic agreement. But a loya jirga is a different ball game altogether. In his remarks on Saturday, which were nationally telecast, Karzai said, “They [US-led NATO forces] are here for their own purposes, for their own goals, and they are using our soil for that.” He is appealing to Afghan nationalism.

In sum, the Obama administration sees the conclusion of the strategic agreement with Karzai, direct US-Taliban talks and the drawdown of troops in July as inter-related vectors of a wholesome process where Washington will be in total command – ably assisted by London. Obama will find it a bitter pill to swallow to accept that Afghan laws will prevail over the conduct of his troops.
Karzai defiantly claims it is his prerogative to decide on the “surge” operations by NATO and US foreign forces. Karzai insists that reconciliation of the Taliban should be “Afghan-led” so that his leadership is not in jeopardy and he links the US long-term troop presence to preconditions so that the Americans will have to depend on him and learn to work under his leadership rather than vice versa.

He threatens to go to the Afghan people unless the US meets the preconditions. Karzai counts on a balancing role by the regional powers in the Afghan endgame. Interestingly, on Saturday, he slammed NATO’s military intervention in Libya.

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

Pakistan hosts highest number of refugees–UNHCR

Pakistan hosts highest number of refugees: UNHCR

* Country home to 1.9 million exiles as against 1.6 million in Europe

* Total 43.7 million displaced worldwide, highest in 15 years

* Four in five hosted by developing countries

GENEVA: Pakistan hosts the highest number of refugees, 1.9 million, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Monday.

Iran and Syria follow Pakistan with 1.1 million and 1 million refugees, respectively, the world refugee body said. The number of people forced to flee their homes to escape war or abuse has risen to its highest for 15 years, with four out of five refugees in developing countries, it said.

In all, there were 43.7 million displaced people worldwide at the end of 2010, up from 43.3 million a year before, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said. They include 15.4 million refugees who fled across borders – 80 percent of them to nearby developing countries – and 27.5 million uprooted within their own homelands, it said in an annual report. Another 850,000 are asylum seekers who lodged claims.

“Fear about supposed floods of refugees in industrialised countries are being vastly overblown or mistakenly conflated with issues of migration,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a statement. “Meanwhile it’s poorer countries that are left having to pick up the burden,” added Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal who heads the Geneva-based agency.

The world’s poorest countries host huge refugee populations, both in absolute terms and in relation to their economic size, according to its report, “Global Trends 2010”. Slightly more than half of all refugees are children under 18. Afghans form the largest group, 3 million refugees, including many who left their homeland years ago, followed by Iraqis, Somalis and Congolese, whose countries are also mired in protracted conflicts. “The causes of displacement are not going away. So far this year we have seen conflict in North Africa, Ivory Coast, Syria, Sudan and other places around the world that have produced people fleeing dangerous situations,” Alexander Aleinikoff, Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, told a news briefing.

But there is an “uneven distribution” of the world’s displaced, he said. “Sometimes it seems the loudest objections come from countries that don’t shoulder the biggest burden.” Thousands of people fleeing upheavals in North Africa have been heading to Italy on rickety boats in recent months, creating an immigration crisis in Lampedusa, an Italian island situated half way between Tunisia and Sicily.

Italy passed Greece as the main point of entry into the European Union (EU) for illegal border migrants in the first quarter of this year, officials said last week. All asylum claims should be assessed in a fair manner, according to Aleinikoff, a former law professor and senior official in the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service. “The numbers we are seeing coming into Europe are not the numbers that can’t be handled in a fair process,” he said.

Asked about anti-refugee sentiment in some parts of Europe, he replied: “I think that difficult economic times sometimes breed unfortunate populist politics, and cultural differences and religious differences may account for some of that as well.”

In Europe, there were 1.6 million refugees at the end of 2010, down some 40,700 from a year before, mainly due to registration and verification conducted in the Balkans, according to UNHCR. The agency was founded 60 years ago to help 2.1 million refugees in Europe after World War Two. Asia is home to some 4 million refugees, followed by 2.1 million in Africa, while there are nearly 7 million in the Middle East and North Africa and 800,000 in the Americas.

Some 100,000 refugees who could not return home or stay in their first countries of asylum were resettled last year in 22 countries, more than 70,000 of them in the United States. “Overall there is a huge need for solutions…to provide safety and assistance and to draw attention to what many of us take for granted, a place to call home,” Aleinikoff said. reuters

Drones Attack Pro-Government Taliban, Commandos Attack Anti-Taliban Lashkar Leaders–Same Old, Same Old

[We are to take it for granted that it is “Taliban” attacking these militia leaders, even though the US is against these lashkars just as much as the Tehreek e-Taliban are (SEE:  Adezai Lashkar to go on if supported by govt).  Coincidences such as these cause people to suspect that the United States and the TTP are on the same side.]

Four killed in attack on homes of anti-Taliban elders in Mohmand

An anti-Taliban militiaman stands near the site of a bomb blast, March 9, 2011. — Photo by AP

KHAR: Dozens of militants attacked the homes of two prominent anti-Taliban tribal elders in northwest Pakistan, killing four people and wounding six others, a government official said.

Zabit Khan said the attacks early Monday in the Mohmand tribal area were nearly simultaneous. More than 80 militants assaulted the homes of Malik Ghazi Gul and Malik Mian Gulab with grenades and machine gun fire.

Khan said Gul was critically wounded along with two guards and an unidentified woman. His 12-year-old son was killed. Gulab was not wounded, but his brother, son and nephew were killed. Two women at Gulab’s house were also wounded.

Both homes were located in the Safi area of Mohmand. Gul and Gulab were members of an anti-Taliban militia.