FRESH FLARE-UP OF TALIBAN--SHIA CLASHES IN KURRAM
INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR--PAPER NO.334
For the last five days, there has been a fresh flare-up of clashes between the largely Shia Turi tribals of the Kurram Agency in Pakistan'stribal belt and Sunni tribals belonging to Al Qaeda and the newly-formed Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan. Many of the Sunni tribals involved inthe fresh clashes have infiltrated into the agency from South Waziristan and the Swat Valley.
2. The Shias and the Sunnis have been using even weapons such as mortars, rocket launchers etc against each other's places of worshipand schools, causing large casualties and severe damages to places of worship. Each side has been accusing the other of starting the freshviolence. There have been over 150 fatalities in the intermittent clashes, which have been continuing for over a month now---- about 45 ofthem in the last five days alone. The Taliban and Al Qaeda have also been targeting Shia members of the local para-military forces.
3. The Pakistan Army, which is preoccupied with the operations against the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) in the Swat Valleyof the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), is not in a position to send reinforcements to the Kurram Agency. It has left the anti-Al Qaedaand anti-Taliban operations there in the hands of the para-military forces. Their requests for helicopter gunships have not been accepted.
4. During the present fighting, the Shias have been hitting back at Al Qaeda and Taliban elements with considerable effectiveness. TheSunni leaders have accused Iran of sending arms and ammunition to the local Shias. This has been denied by the local Shia leaders.
5. While official spokesmen and the Pakistani mainstream media have refrained from identifying the dramatis personae and giving details ofthe fighting, the "Frontier Post" of Peshawar (December 27,2007) has given the following details:
"Two FC (Frontier Constabulary) personnel among thirteen Taliban killed while twenty two others sustained serious injuries in the ongoingshootout at different places, sources said on Wednesday. So far fifteen persons had been killed with forty other injured in the fighting among the warring groups in the area. Till now thirteen Taliban are said to have been killed among fifty one others and ninety fiveindividuals have received serious wounds in the battle. According to the details, fierce fighting is continuing at Sada, Khar Kalay, BalishKhel, Sangeena , Alizai, Tungi, Chardewaal, Bagan, Makhezai, Mengak, Maqbal, Kanjalizai, Satikot, Terimangal and Pevaar, heavy weaponsincluding mortar guns, missiles, rocket launchers and machine guns are being used freely from both sides, while the Government is like asilent spectator over the bloody clashes. The sources added that on Tuesday night hundreds of Taliban hailing from Waziristan agencyattacking at Alizai, Tungi, Chardewaal, Mengak areas where Turi tribesmen are residing suffered heavy loss at the hands of the Turitribesmen while retaliating the charging Taliban on their respective areas. Among the thirteen killed Taliban four were buried at SouthWaziristan, four were laid to rest at Bulandkhel, three were taken to grave at Gul locality, while two corpses of Taliban were buried atBuggan area, sources told The Frontier Post. The reports pouring in from Sada area said that thirteen Taliban were killed while injuringtwenty two others including two FC personnel .It also said that two persons were killed and eight others injured at a Imam Bargah after itwas hit by a mortar shell at Balishkhel area on Tuesday night. The sources said that the rival groups have captured important posts soonafter they were relinquished by the militia forces which further intensified the gun battle between them. Meanwhile people of the area haveshown great concern over the militia forces' unilateral action. The elite, religious clerics and local elders are engaged and approaching thewarring groups to bring an end to the gun battle and reach a truce. In Sada a local school was destroyed by explosion killing three studentson the spot while injuring more then eight students. Independent sources confirmed the death of three students but death toll may rise assome of the injured were in critical condition. It is worth mentioning here that the recent clashes started when a group of local Talibanmilitants attacked and opened fire on security forces (FC) at Sada on Sunday plus they also attacked the nearby Balishkhel village whereTuri tribe is living. As the Sada is the strongest base of Taliban militants therefore the government writ is nil; that is why due to lack ofmonitoring and writ of government, clashes spread throughout the Kurram Agency and now its control is quiet difficult due to invasion ofTaliban militants."
6. This may please be read in continuation of my earlier article of November 20,2007, annexed below. (27-12-07)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For TopicalStudies, Chennai. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )
Fresh Shia-Sunni Violence in Kurram Agency -
International Terrorism Monitor---Paper No. 310 (http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers25/paper2469.html )
by B. Raman
"Al Qaeda is trying to replicate Iraq in Pakistan by exacerbating the already existing divide between the Shias and the Sunnis in the civilsociety as well as in the Army." --- Extract from my earlier paper of November 15, 2007, titled "The State of Jihadi Terrorism in Pakistan" athttp://www.saag.org/papers25/paper2459.html
Till 1977, the Shias were in a preponderant majority in the Kurram Agency in Pakistan's Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on itsborder with Afghanistan and in the Northern Areas (Gilgit and Baltistan) of Jammu and Kashmir, which is presently under Pakistanioccupation.
2. After the triumph of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in February, 1979, there was a radicalisation of the Shias of these areas. They starteddemanding the creation of a separate Shia majority province to be called the Karakoram Province, consisting of the Kurram Agency, theNorthern Areas and other contiguous Shia majority areas. The leadership of this movement came mainly from the Turi tribe of the KurramAgency. The movement was allegedly funded by the Iranian intelligence.
3. Gen. Zia-ul-Haq put down this movement ruthlessly. He also started a policy of re-settling the Sunnis in these areas in order to control theShias and dilute their preponderant majority. While Sunni ex-servicemen from other parts of Pakistan were re-settled in the Northern Areas,Afghan Sunni refugees from the refugee camps were re-settled in the Kurram Agency. This led to widespread resentment among the Shiasagainst the Government as well as the Sunni settlers. The Iraqi intelligence too allegedly funded these Sunni settlers in the Kurram Agencyto enable them to fight the radical Shias.
4. There were serious riots in Gilgit in 1988 which were ruthlessly put down by Zia with the help of a combined force of Sunni tribals andArabs led by Osama bin Laden. Hundreds of Shias were killed. It is generally believed that the anger caused by this massacre contributed tothe death of Zia-ul-Haq in a plane crash in August 1988. Enquiries into the crash reportedly brought out that the crash took place when aShia airman belonging to Gilgit released tear-smoke or some other gas in the cockpit, thereby disorienting the crew.
5. The Kurram Agency has also been the scene of frequent Shia-Sunni clashes, with most of the attacks by the Shias directed against theAfghan and Pakistani Sunni settlers brought in by Zia. There were three major Shia-Sunni clashes in the Agency in 1983, 1988 and 1996,which resulted in the deaths of a total of 1,200 persons belonging to both the sects.
6. There was a recrudescence of the violence in April, 2007, after a gap of 11 years. For nearly three weeks from April 6, 2007, the KurramAgency became the scene of a no-holds barred jihad waged by the local Shias and Sunnis against each other following an incident of firingallegedly by the Shias on a procession taken out by the Sunnis to mark the Holy Prophet's birthday. The local adherents of the two sects ofIslam used not only small arms and ammunition, but also mortars and rocket-launchers against each other, resulting in heavy casualties.The clashes initially started in Parachinar, the capital of the Agency. It then spread to the interior areas. The imposition of a curfew by thePakistani authorities and severe action against the local leaders and volunteers of the two sects ultimately restored an uneasy normalcy.The Pakistan Army extensively used helicopter gunships to put down the violence.
7. There were conflicting figures of the fatalities inflicted by the two sects against each other and by the security forces on the warringsects. While the Pakistani authorities estimated the total number of fatalities as around 50, non-Governmental sources estimated that atleast 80 persons died in the violence.
8. During the clashes of April, 2007, the local leaders of the two sects accused the Pakistani Army of siding with the other sect. Some Sunnileaders also accused Iran of fomenting the Shia attacks against the Sunnis in order to teach Pakistan a lesson for allegedly allowing theUSA's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to use the Pakistani territory for destabilisation operations against Iran.
9. Addressing the media at the Peshawar Press Club on April 9, 2007, Mast Gul, a Sunni jihadi leader, alleged that since April 6, 2007, Shiashad killed hundreds of innocent Sunnis. According to him, just on one day about 28 Sunni women and children were slaughtered in theKurram Agency. He accused Iran of providing financial resources and weapons to the Shias in the Agency. He also alleged that Iran hadgiven shelter to Baloch nationalist leaders and was helping them. He warned the Pakistan Army that if it did not take effective actionagainst the Shias, he would appeal to the Sunnis in the other parts of Pakistan and in Jammu and Kashmir to come to Kurram and help thelocal Sunnis.
10. Mast Gul used to belong to the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), which is a founding member of Osama bin Laden's International IslamicFront (IIF) formed in 1998. He used to operate in J&K till 1995. He and his followers were responsible for the burning down of the Islamicholy shrine at Charar-e-Sharief in J&K in 1995.
11. Since violence instigated by Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda Sunni tribal elements escalated in South and North Waziristan in October, 2007,there were reports of fresh tension in the Kurram Agency in the wake of reports that the jihadi terrorists loyal to Osama bin Laden weretargeting the Shia members of the Frontier Constabulary and the Frontier Corps deployed in these two Agencies. It was alleged that whilethe terrorists brutally killed the captured Shia soldiers, they let free the Sunnis. Some of the Shias beheaded by the terrorists belonged tothe predominantly Shia tribe of Turis in the Kurram Agency. Some Shia leaders of the civil society in these two agencies were also targetedby pro-Al Qaeda elements and killed.
12. These incidents have led to a fresh outbreak of violence between the Shias and the Sunnis in the Kurram Agency since the night ofNovember 15, 2007. Despite the imposition of a curfew by the Pakistani authorities and the use of helicopter gunships to quell the riots,violence continued for the fourt consecutive day on November 19, 2007. It has been reported that the fighting has been more fierce than inApril, 2007, and that about 100 persons, including 11 members of the para-military forces, have already died in the violence.
13. Police sources suspect that the fresh violence has been engineered by Al Qaeda in order to divert the attention of the Pakistan armyfrom its on-going operations against the jihadis in the Swat Valley.