According to the Ahlul Bayt News Agency of Iran, 25 Shias have been killed and 80 others injured In the Parachinar area in the Kurram Agency of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan during the last two weeks following attacks by members of the Haqqani network of the Afghan Taliban on the Kheyvas village in the Shaluzan Mountains. It claimed that the Shias put up a fierce resistance to the attack and managed to kill 10 members of the Taliban, including two commanders of the Haqqani network. The news agency has alleged that the Pakistani Army, instead of helping the Shias beat back the Taliban attack, bombed the Shia positions from the air in order to help the Taliban. All shops in the area remained closed on September 18,2010, to protest against the Pakistan Government's failure to protect the Shias of the Kurram Agency from repeated attacks by the Taliban. The news agency said: " The Kurram Agency has been virtually cut off from the rest of Pakistan for the past two years due to intense clashes between Shiite and Talibani rebels."
On September 18,the "News" of Pakistan reported as follows: " Clashes triggered by a dispute over the ownership of a water channel between two rival groups a month ago came to an end on Friday ( September 17) after a peace Jirga convened by the political administration succeeded in effecting a ceasefire, official sources said. The sources said the clashes had erupted between the Mangal and Turi Bangash tribes over the ownership of a watercourse in Shalozan and Khewas areas near the Pak-Afghan border. The incessant fighting left 102 people dead and over 150 injured. The fighting took a sectarian colour as the Mangal tribe belongs to the Sunni sect while Turi and Bangash are Shias. Fresh clashes erupted on Thursday (September 16) and continued on Friday (September 17), leaving 48 persons dead and 71 others wounded. Four villages — Aqal Shah Killay, Sarang Killay, Qabli and Khewas Killay — were also torched amid the exchange of heavy fire. The rival groups also took several people hostage. Alarmed by the situation, the political administration of Kurram Agency called a peace Jirga comprising Shia and Sunni elders that brought the hostilities to an end. “The Jirga was called at a checkpost on the boundary of Sadda and Kurram. The members of the peace Jirga and political administration representatives held talks with the members of the Mangal and Turi Bangash tribes. The Jirga persuaded the rival groups to agree to a ceasefire,” said Political Agent Syed Musaddiq Shah while talking to The News by telephone. He said that it was agreed to hold regular sessions of the Jirga to ensure durable peace in the area and forestall such incidents in future."
The Iranian news agency and the "News" are apparently referring to the same series of clashes, but the estimate of fatalities given by the "News" is much higher than that given by the Iranian agency. However, the fatalities mentioned by the Iranian agency are only of Shias, whereas those mentioned by "News" seem to include the fatalities incurred by the Shias as well as the Sunnis. If the figures given by the "News" are to be believed, the Shias seemed to have inficted more casualties on the Sunnis than vice versa. It also needs to be noted that while the Iranian news agency talks of the involvement of the Haqqani network in the clashes, with the support of the Pakistan Army, the "News" makes no reference to it.
In a report published on September 16, the "Dawn" of Karachi refers to the presence of the Haqqani network in the Kurram Agency, but claims that the network is actually trying to bring about a reconciliation between the Shias and the Sunnis of the area. The "Dawn" reported as follows: “A Taliban faction fighting US forces in Afghanistan is trying to end a tribal dispute which has resulted in severe clashes in Kurram Agency. According to sources, Taliban of the Jalaluddin Haqqani group are in contact with elders of rival tribes and talks between the Haqqani group and elders from Upper and Lower Kurram were held before Eidul Fitr. “Two trustworthy people of Jalaluddin Haqqani took part in the talks,” they said, adding that the next round of talks was expected soon. They said elders of Turi and Bangash tribes had said that they would attend further talks only if nine people kidnapped after an attack on two vehicles in Lower Kurram in July were freed and safety of passengers travelling between Parachinar and Peshawar was guaranteed. “These measures are necessary to build confidence among the tribes and prepare the ground for future talks,” an elder said. He said the Taliban had told them that they wanted reconciliation among the tribes and had approached all groups to start negotiations."
The "Dawn" report added: "The sources said the Taliban had been in contact with local tribes for some time but the talks had not produced any result so far. The first round of talks was held in Balishkhel village in March last year and was attended also by Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud. Another team of Taliban visited the area in September last year. According to the sources, a relative of a former governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and his local business partner facilitated the talks which ended without achieving anything. It may be mentioned, Nato officials and the Afghan government made similar efforts and invited elders of various tribes to Paktia province of Afghanistan in May last year to urge them to resolve their disputes. Violent clashes have been taking place in the Kurram valley since November 2007 and thousands of people have been killed or injured and hundreds of families have been displaced. The area is cut off from the rest of the country and local people travel on the Thall-Parachinar road in convoys protected by security personnel. "
The "Dawn" further said: "The government brokered a peace deal and an agreement to end violence was signed in Murree in October 2008, but there has been no let-up in violence in the valley. Insiders said the aim behind Taliban’s reconciliation efforts was to secure the strategic region and turn it into a safe route to Afghanistan. Kurram valley borders Afghanistan from three sides, Paktia on its west, Nangarhar on the north and Khost on the south. When militant groups signed peace deals with the government in South and North Waziristan, some armed groups tried to use Kurram for their activities in Afghanistan. Under the agreements, the militant groups operating in Waziristan were required not to infiltrate into Afghanistan. Tension flared in the area when Baitullah Mehsud, the slain chief of the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, deputed Hakimullah as ‘commander’ for Kurram, Khyber and Orakzai agencies in 2008 and tribal people in Kurram opposed TTP’s activities. Local tribes blamed Taliban for violence and insecurity in their area. According to the sources, Taliban have told the elders that tension in Kurram has had an adverse effect on the ‘Jihad’ in Afghanistan and that they are interested in ending disputes among local groups. But several tribes are sceptical about the initiative and suspect that the Taliban are interested only in securing a safe passage for their cross-border movement. “Taliban are yet to show their cards, but we have already conveyed to the negotiators that people in Kurram are against the presence of outsiders in their area,” a source said. “
Apparently unconnected with the developments in the Kurram Agency, the "Dawn" also reported on September 16 a steep increase in US Drone (pilotless planes) strikes against the Haqqani network. It said: "“Apparently frustrated over Pakistan military’s inaction against the Haqqani network, the United States has this month unleashed a relentless wave of drone attacks in North Waziristan, hoping to downgrade the operational capabilities of the group it considers to be the most lethal militant outfit in Afghanistan. Since Sept 2, there have been 13 strikes by unmanned Predator drones in North Waziristan — the highest number in a month since the US began using them to hit targets in Pakistan in 2004. The number of drone attacks this year has already crossed 70 — the highest figure for a year. According to military sources, an operation in North Waziristan got delayed because the army was preoccupied with fighting militancy in other tribal areas and flood relief. This window was fully exploited by the group to intensify its activities, defence analysts believe.“The Americans want to check that freedom of space available to the Haqqanis through intensified drone attacks,” a source said.”
The “Dawn” added: “There are few takers for the Pakistani explanation in the US and many describe the delay as tactical. Besides, Pakistan had in June initiated efforts to secure a place for the Haqqanis in post-war Afghanistan by working out a rapprochement between the group and the Karzai government. US opposition to the initiative halted it. Sources suggest that Pakistan would make fresh moves to discuss peace with the Haqqanis, in the context of the overall reconciliation plan, during Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s current visit to Pakistan. The pattern of the attacks this month shows that the primary target is the Haqqani network, even though his host Hafiz Gul Bahadar and foreign militants of Al Qaeda have also been targeted.”
It further said: “The strikes this month have predominantly been in Miramshah sub-division, where the Haqqani network’s headquarters are based and where the group carries out its financial dealings, acquisition of weapons and strategic planning. Five of the attacks occurred in Datakhel tehsil, which is home to Gul Bahadar’s clan Uthmanzai Wazir. Dandi Derpakhel, the scene of another attack in Miramshah, is where members of Jalaluddin Haqqani’s family live. Gul Bahadar, who leads the other major militant grouping in North Waziristan, is more than a host for the Haqqanis. He not only provides them with the tribal support the Haqqanis lack, but also gives them passage to the border. The only attack this month outside Miramshah was in Shawal, where foreign fighters loyal to Al Qaeda have sanctuaries.”
The “Dawn” added: “The US, while targeting the Haqqanis, is pursuing the ‘hammer and anvil approach’. Alongside the spike in the drone attacks, US Special Forces have launched an intense operation against the group in eastern Afghanistan, killing a number of its ‘commanders’. The Haqqani network has been the focus of US action for the past two years. However, after the Dec 2009 suicide attack on the Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, a key facility of the CIA, the network again came under renewed focus. In this unprecedented intense bombardment by drones, military officials see a shift in US policy in Afghanistan from counter-insurgency to counter-terrorism.”
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. )