PAKISTAN: Members of Shia community were under attack while the military forces look on

September 21, 2011

Members of one of the largest sects of Islam, the Shiaite community, came under attack from militant Islamic organizations which, in the past had the patronage of Pakistan army and its intelligence agencies who offered sophisticated terrorist training including the handling of rocket launchers. The Balochistan province and Kurram agency of northern area, well known as a Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) has become a killing ground for the Shia sect that consist of 24 percent of the Muslim population in Pakistan. These are the places where the contingents of the Pakistan army and its Para-Military force, the Frontier Corps (FC) are stationed and controlling all the roads, besides having check posts all around the major cities. There is also a huge presence of spies from the infamous intelligence agency, the ISI. As a result banned Islamic militant organizations feel at liberty to operate freely under the patronage of the law enforcement agencies.
In a latest incident of September 20, 26 persons from The Shia sect of Islam were ambushed by the death squad of a banned religious organization, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) within half a kilometer from a FC check post. According to official reports the gunmen shot dead 26 Pakistani Shia Muslim pilgrims travelling to Iran, the deadliest attack on the minority community in Pakistan for more than a year. In the brutal assault, gunmen ordered the pilgrims to get off their bus, lined them up and assassinated them in a hail of gunfire in Mastung, a district 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Quetta, the capital of the southwest Baluchistan province.
An hour after the first attack, unidentified gunmen killed another three Shias on the outskirts of Quetta whom police said were relatives of victims of the first incident en route to collect their bodies. This figure rises to more than 500 the Shias killed in terrorist attacks during the past three years after the FC received the powers of the police. After every terrorist attack on Shia religious community the LeJ claims that they were in fact, target. The LeJ is distributing leaflets in Balochistan province particularly, in Quetta, the capital of the province that Shias are infidels and they are liable to be killed according to Islamic teachings. These campaigns against the Shia religious community is very well known to Police, FC, the Army and its intelligence services but no action has been taken against the LeJ.
The LeJ are followers of Wahabi sect of Islam which is the dominating sect in Saudi Arabia and the organization was formed during the military regime of General Zia Ul Haq in the period of Jihad against Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan. This organization was banned by General Musharraf after 9/11 when the USA and UN declared it to be a terrorist organization. But, still the LeJ operates in all parts of Pakistan particularly in Punjab province where the provincial government has even provided them with office space.
The Shia sect is also facing the same situation in Kurram Gency of northern part of Pakistan at the Afghanistan border where the army and the FC have strong control after 9/11to operate against the terrorists. Parachinar, the main city of the agency, is predominated by or at least a big chunk of the Shia community is residing here with the name of Turi tribe who have been regularly made the victim of terrorist activities of militant outfits of the Pakistani armed forces particularly, by Anjuman Sipah-e-Shaba of Pakistan (ASSP), a banned organization and follower of Saudi branded Islam of Wahabism. The Kurrum agency was divided mainly in Turi and Bangash tribes — the Bangush are mostly consisted of the Sunni sect, the largest sect of Islam in Pakistan, but both the tribes are victim of the Taliban and ASSP’s terrorist activities. The Sunni tribe, Bangush tribe, is made victims of killings and other terrorist activities, mainly, because they were not taking action against Shias and not supporting the terrorist activities of banned organizations.
The whole Kurram agency is under the control of the Haqqani network, a very powerful terrorist organization under the leadership of Mr. Siraj Haqqani, who carries out terrorist activities inside Pakistan and Afghanistan and was involved in the killing of Nato forces. It operates from the Kurram agency which is at the borders of three Afghan cities and provides a short cut route to Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. The Kurrum agency is also known as Parrot’s beak because of its geographical position inside the territories of Afghanistan. This whole area is under control of FC and Pakistan army all roads for exits have hundreds of check posts. But still the roads leading to Peshawar, capital of Khaiber Pakhtoon Kha province, particularly Thall road is under the control of Haqqani network and Taliban. The Parachinar city is under siege of these organizations and Thall Road is closed since four years. So the people of Parachinar have to go inside Afghanistan and then to enter Pakistan, taking very long route to reach Peshawar city. The Shias have fifty percent population of Parachinar.
In the month of April, 2011, 33 persons (all Shia) were abducted by the militant Taliban group from the Thall road, leading to Peshawar city, and 13 out of them were burnt and maimed and thrown on the road where, in those days, the Pakistan army has deployed a new contingent to start a new operation against the terrorists. In the last 18 months at least 250 people, the majority of them belonging to the Shia community, have been killed and 3000 have been injured at the hands of bloodthirsty criminals. The main Thall-Peshawar Road has been closed for the last several months. The one day it was opened resulted in killing and beheading of passengers. Other roads are closed as well, and one can only enter the region from Afghanistan. Unfortunately, this is also a very dangerous road and resulted in the murder of civilians who tried to use this route.
Since the 2001 more than 5000 persons have been killed by the terrorists and majority of them are Shias in Kurram agency which is besieged by the militant organizations and troops from Pakistani military. The Thall road is also closed since 2007 and whenever it is opened the kidnappings and killings of Shia and Bangush tribes are reported daily. 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 Thall-Peshawar highway leading to the town was blocked off by armed groups.
In the month of July the Supreme Court of Pakistan has released one militant, Malik Sadiq of the LeJ, who was very famous in the move against Shia community and wants the state to declare Shia as infidel as it was declared to the Ahmadis. He has been charged with the murder of 70 people, most of them Shia. He was released on bail on July 16.
The Daily Express tribune reported on September 19, 2011 that it was all too predictable. After being released from jail on bail, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader Malik Ishaq’s presence has already managed to cause violence and death when members of his entourage clashed with a Shia community in Muzaffargarh, Punjab province, resulting in at least two deaths and ten injuries. Ishaq, a leader of the banned anti-Shia militant organisation, and has been travelling the country, preaching his message of bigotry against the Shia community ever since.
It has already been reported that Malik Ishaq had in October 1997 admitted to an Urdu daily to being involved in the killing of over a 100 people. He was flown from Lahore to Rawalpindi in 2009 on a military plane to get the al Qaeda-linked terrorists to negotiate with attackers who had taken several people hostage inside GHQ. On his release, he was accompanied by Sipah-e-Sahaba chief Maulana Muhammad Ahmad Ludhianvi who is in triumph today, having made a political deal in Punjab after the alleged killing of a minority group in Gojra.
In the month of December 2009, around 50 Shias were killed in a bomb blast in Karachi, the capital of Sindh province, when they were having their yearly mourning processions in memory of martyred grandson of the last prophet of Islam. But still the killers are at large.
It is also alleged that judiciary is soft on the terrorists and many were released by the court process and particularly because of the prosecution’s ill information about the law. In most of the cases the judges and prosecution work under the threats from the religious militant organizations.
The Shia and other religious minority communities are also blaming the Chief Justice of Pakistan for his soft attitude towards the religious terrorist organizations particularly about ASSP and LeJ and their leadership. One example is very much sighted against the chief Justice of Pakistan that when he visited Karachi Central Prison, Karachi, in September 2009, he stayed in the jail for almost the whole night and released 28 target killers in one night from the jail on the pretext that there was not sufficient evidence against them. Those released were booked on target killings of many persons from Shia community. It was argued by the Shia community that if there were no sufficient charges against the killers even then a judicial process should be adopted rather than arrival of Chief Justice to Karachi especially for the release of terrorists and then immediately returning back to Islamabad is the clear message of the judiciary against the different religious groups.
Maulana Mohammad Saeed, chief of defunct Lashkar-e- Taiba (LeT) was also on many occasion has been released by the higher courts is also wanted in the Mumbay blasts in India. The LeT is infamous in target killing of Shia and Ahmadis communities. alleged soft corners of the Pakistan army and higher courts towards the terrorist and leaders of sectarian violence is providing a good space for them to unleash against the opposite religious groups. These sectarian banned groups do not follow the law or are trying to disband their activities when they find good alleged patronage from the judiciary and army. The militant sectarian groups have also easily reaped in the law enforcement agencies particularly in army.
The sectarian killings have also become very common in the country and every year at least 200 hundred to 300 hundred persons have died. The irony is that all such killings are conducted by those organizations which are banned by the law since many years but still operating free and having their offices in the cities but no law can ban them when they find friends inside judiciary and army.
The Asian Human Rights Commission urges the government to initiate an enquiry in to the incident of killing of 26 Shia persons in Mastung, Balochistan province and prosecute the officials of FC and police who were responsible for this negligence and nexus with the terrorists. The government must strictly implement its laws against banned terrorist Islamic organizations and its leadership and also initiate the enquiry itself in the incidents of release of terrorists by the personal actions of judges whether they are from higher courts.


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The Express Tribune

Bad investment: Continued terrorism in Kurram, the real facts

Published: June 20, 2011

Thousands of Upper Kurram Agency tribes are besieged and Parachinar has been cut off from the rest of Pakistan. PHOTO: FILE/AFP

Thousands have people have been killed in Kurram Agency in the past five years. Property worth billions of rupees has been destroyed and the education system has gone to dogs.
In 2007, when Taliban marched towards Kurram from North and South Waziristan, the tribal elders wrote a letter and faxed it to the president, the prime minister and security officers. In the letter they expressed their concern about the activities and demanded the government to take action against them and stop them from entering Kurram.
But in a strange twist, the photocopy of that letter reached the Taliban’ commander the next day, who sent Rs500 to each Shia-Sunni tribal leader, to buy shrouds for their coffins.
And so the Taliban erected check posts, opened training centres and started living in Lower and Central Kurram Agency. They were gearing to take Parachinar.
The elders approached the political administration with this fear on November 15, 2007, but were told that everything was under control. The very next day, after the Friday prayers, the Taliban attacked with hand grenades and rockets, killing many people of Turi-Bangash tribes.
The Thal-Parachinar Road was blocked, and continued to remain so for five years. Thousands of Upper Kurram Agency tribes are besieged and Parachinar has been cut off from the rest of Pakistan. The telephone lines seldom work, there are frequent power outages, development programs and supply of goods has stopped. The people here have been forced to purchase daily-use items imported from Afghanistan at a premium. People die for want of basic life-saving drugs.
But the little coverage that the region gets in the media is focused on sectarian disturbances, which cannot be further from the truth. The Shia and Sunni tribes in Parachinar are not at war. They have a common enemy, the Taliban.
A video shows the Taliban looting goods from trucks and coaches of Turi-Bangash tribes in the presence of Frontier Corps (FC) personnel. A body is lying on the ground while the FC personnel stand there doing nothing.
The Taliban have attacked convoys headed for Lower Kurram many times. Every time their target was to hit the Turi-Bangash tribes. The FC personnel or their conveyances were not harmed.
The road is re-opened
On February 3, 2011, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that they had reached a peace agreement in Kurram and that Thal-Parachinar Road will be opened by February 5. On February 8, members of Grand Tribal Jirga came to Parachinar by road. The road had been opened.
The tribes could not believe that they had been set from free. However, some reports in local and foreign media said that the road had been opened to facilitate the Haqqani Network to go to and come from Afghanistan (Kurram Agency has borders with three provinces of Afghanistan, Paktia, Nangrar and Khost).
Other reports said that the Taliban had some personal stakes in the deal and had just agreed to maintain peace for a month to test the waters. But the tribes insisted that they will not allow Taliban and terrorists to use the road.
A month later, the peace ended. Two children were kidnapped from Lower Kurram. Then people of Turi-Bangash tribes, travelling from Peshawar to Parachinar, were kidnapped along with drivers and coaches. The drivers were warned not to carry people belong from Turi-Bangash tribe.
On March 13, armed terrorists attacked a coach and killed 10 passengers, while three attackers were also killed when police retaliated. The attackers were identified to be from Mangal Tribe in Kurram, with one of them a former FC troop. The government did nothing.
Then on March 25, Taliban attached three coaches, killed three passengers and kidnapped 45 people from Turi-Bangash tribes. The kidnapped included women and children. The Taliban said they were retaliating against being cheated.
The government and Grand Tribal Jirga went to the negotiation table with the Taliban, who demanded a huge some of money and put forth a set of demands.
During negotiations, on April 21, the Taliban slaughtered and burned eight of the kidnapped passengers and sent the bodies to the tribes. They also released a video showing a kidnapped passenger being slaughtered and put on fire.
The tribal elders reiterated that they will not allow their land to be used by terrorists or other countries. This resulted in a retaliation from the Taliban and Haqqani Network. They have been attacking Sahlozan with missiles and mortars regularly.
The Taliban also attached Turi-Bangash tribe in Balash Khel village, killing four and injuring seven tribesmen. The tribes retaliated, killing 19 Taliban along with two of their commanders. Then a strange thing happened. The security forces reached Khar Kali and Balash Khel villages and bombarded the fortifications of Turi-Bangash tribes and picked up the bodies of the slain Taliban.
The tribes protested by holding a shutter-down strike in the entire city.
The elders say that this latest incident confirms that the Taliban are being supported by security forces, who are playing a double game and have warned the government of blocking their supply routes if they do not stop supporting the terrorists.
The writer is a journalist and works with Chinar News Agency
Published in The Express Tribune, June 20th, 2011.



A synthetic image

By Syed Irfan Ashraf | From the Newspaper

June 9, 2011 (3 days ago

A FEW months ago, I asked a couple of television anchorpersons in Islamabad whether they knew about a restive Fata agency where half a million people have virtually been marooned for the past three years.
Both were unaware that the sectarian strife in Parachinar has displaced Sunnis by the thousands and cut off the area’s majority Shia population from the mainstream. While visiting their own country, the latter group must perforce use a risky route through Afghanistan, which has resulted in the loss of over a hundred lives.
The lack of news from Kurram agency reflects the national media’s widespread indifference towards tribal affairs and lack of
interest in reporting the area’s problems. There is plenty to report upon: how have people been surviving since the sole route, the Thall-Parachinar road, was closed in 2007? Why did the authorities fail to protect a private convoy of 25 loaded trucks which were looted and set on fire in the presence of security forces on their way to Upper Kurram? What action has been taken to rehabilitate the people who fled Parachinar after scores of their sect were killed three years ago? Many such questions need urgent media attention, but for different reasons this is not forthcoming.
The problem stems mainly from the attitude of the establishment. A colonial background has led them to believe that the country’s tribesmen live on a strategic faultline. The geographical sensitivity of the western border has destined the tribesmen, it is believed, for a sacred task: to act as a buffer against any foreign threat. This half-baked theory is considered enough reason to isolate Fata from the larger national interests. More dangerously, the approach has seeped down everywhere, including in the media, where highlighting Fata’s problems is considered less important than the state’s security concerns.
Media portrayal of Fata has tended to oscillate between total indifference and selective exposure. In the first instance, the people of Fata and their lives have generally been ignored. Whatever little attention they receive is laid within the framework of, and thus tainted by, stereotypes such as “tribesmen”, “deeply religious society”, “elaqa ghair” (no-go area) etc. Such terms associate the people with their terrain and geography, rather than as people of flesh and blood.
Under not-so-normal circumstances, meanwhile, media coverage has tended to be selective, with issues being defined in the wider regional context. This has shifted the focus away from the actual people.
Spearheaded by the state media, news organisations’ security-centric approach has left the tribesmen with a severe crisis of image. The exercise of creating a tribal identity revolving around the ‘awe factor’ has helped the state, preparing tribesmen to serve as unpaid guardians of the north-western border.
However, representing them as ‘tough’ has distanced the tribespeople from the rest of the country. Physically, these people live in Pakistan, but psychologically the country has yet to assimilate their presence.
The situation worsened a decade ago, when Pakistan’s private media boom coincided with the US sending forces into Afghanistan. A few thousand militants took refuge in Fata. Instead of holding official quarters responsible for their
failure to notice the problem, the media started identifying the tribesmen with the terrorists’ cause. Glimpses of this shared vision — that the tribespeople are somehow different from and entirely unlike other Pakistanis — are seen everywhere.
It was much laughed about in Wana that a newly appointed commanding official inquired of a delegation of visiting elders whether children in South Waziristan play cricket. Another high-ranking official, upon return from South Waziristan, told me that he was surprised when some tribal elders demanded a school for their area.
Communications expert Dr. Altafullah Khan refers to the widespread apathy when he says that “our people must broaden their understanding of Fata. Beneath the gun-toting image there lies a human face: smiling children, parents wanting their children to have the best life possible.” Dr Khan complains that “all this is missed out by the world when it regards Fata.
Innocent Pakistanis live in the troubled region but the national organism does not feel their pain.”
Global powers have converged on Fata and imposed a state of war on the tribesmen, while military operations have badly affected the normal routines of the people. Yet the media and civil society have failed to raise a voice for the voiceless. Our television screens exploded into cacophony when civilians started being displaced from Swat. Yet the same channels are silent about the worries of 1.5 million tribesmen who are languishing in camps for the internally displaced or elsewhere. The damaged houses in the area, entire villages and bazaars that have been wiped out, speak of the huge losses suffered by the area’s civilian population. Frightening visuals of civilians killed in the operations are sent from one cell-phone to another, but no television channel is ready to report such tragedies.
The closed administrative structure and synthetically-created identity might have helped officialdom in maintaining the status quo in Fata. However, the growing dimension of human tragedy witnessed over the past decade should now outpace covert strategic gains. What logic would officialdom offer for not letting any media outlet into Fata to raise a voice for the nine million tribesmen there?
How long will some sections of Pakistan’s media continue to rationalise civilian deaths through archaic notions such as that those who live by the sword die by it too? This is a case of journalists serving the state at the cost of its people. Such queries are long overdue. Pakistan’s tribesmen are dying unnoticed, uncounted and unrewarded. It is time to think about giving them their identity, and at least the right to speak for themselves.
The writer teaches at Peshawar University.



 Friday, June 10, 2011

Addressing a press conference on Thursday, Yousaf Turi and Shabbir Bangash said the residents were leading a miserable life due to the closure of the Thall-Parachinar Road.

They added the security forces had also stopped escorting the passengers and food convoys between Peshawar and Parachinar. They said the residents having jobs or other engagements in rest of the country had been stranded due to the insecure conditions on the main road.

They also criticised the government for not recovering the 32 kidnapped passengers who were in the captivity of the militants two months after the incident. 

The Turi and Bangash elders said the government and the human rights organisations were making efforts to recover the Pakistanis who were made hostage by the Somali pirates but no efforts were being made to rescue the residents of Kurram Agency.

They lamented that the only available route through Afghanistan was also closed by the security forces. “We are living like prisoners and no steps are being taken to facilitate us,” Yousaf Turi said, adding that even life-saving drugs were not available in the local markets.

They asked the federal government and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor to take decisive steps for the reopening of the roads in Kurram Agency forthwith and end the people’s miseries.



Our correspondent
Monday, June 06, 2011

PARACHINAR: Thirty-two passengers who were kidnapped by armed militants from the Baggan area in Kurram Agency on March 25 couldn’t be recovered even 73 days after the incident, tribal sources said on Sunday.

The passengers were on their way to Parachinar when unidentified persons kidnapped them. The sources said the security forces and a and tribal jirga that brokered the February 2011 peace agreement between the warring tribes in Kurram Agency were unsuccessful in securing the safe recovery of the hostages.

Local residents said the families of the kidnapped persons were passing through mental torture as no steps were being taken for the recovery of their near and dear ones. They lamented that several passengers were abducted and killed after the reopening of the Thall-Parachinar Road following the Islamabad agreement.



The Express Tribune

Unrest ignored: After adults fail, children try to melt hearts of stone

Published: June 7, 2011
Children from Parachinar peacefully called on the government to help them. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD JAVAID

Over four dozen children orphaned by the militancy in Parachinar on Monday held a protest demonstration in front of the National Press Club in Islamabad to press the government to meet their demands.
Having seen their older kith and kin fail to influence the Government of Pakistan to help them, the little children, some barely knee-high, were holding banners and placards while chanting slogans like “Death to the Taliban”.
“We cannot go home in our summer vacations because the Peshawar-Parachinar Road is closed and militants try to hurt people on the way home,” said little Asghar Ali, who has lived in Rawalpindi for the last year-and-a-half. He said that his father was killed by the militants and his mother sent him here to attend school with his cousin. “I have not been home in more than one year,” he said with tears in his eyes, “I miss my mother. I miss my brothers and sisters.”
Asghar was not alone.
“I cannot go to home like my classmates and I am missing it so much,” said Qaiser Ali, a fifth-grader.
“I don’t know why the militants killed my father. He was a peaceful man. He loved me. He wanted me to go to school. Now I don’t even have the money to pay my school fee,” said Muhammad Irshad. He was upset that the government was not taking any action to help the people of Parachinar.
Muzamil Hussain, another little student, described the Taliban as “very brutal and cruel” while noting that they even killed women and children.
“They hate children!” he maintained.
The children appealed to the president, prime minister and the interior minister to take immediate steps for the safety and the security of people in the besieged area, as they already face a life of uncertainty due to the blocked road and threats posed by the Taliban.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 7th, 2011.