April 15th, 2021
By Umar Bacha
“My three sons were among the 16 miners whose dead bodies were recovered from a mass grave in Khyber district,” says Wazeer Rehman, resident of Ranyal village of Shangla district.
Apart from his sons, Wazeer also lost his young nephew and brother in the tragedy.
A group of 32 miners, who belonged to Shangla district, were abducted by unidentified gunmen from a coal mine of the Kaka Khel area in Khyber district on September 9, 2011. Half of the miners had escaped from their captors, but 16 miners remained missing for a decade. The remains of the miners were discovered on April 9, in a mass grave at Toor Sapawar Pastawana area of Khyber district.
According to families, the miners fell victim to a dispute between the Kaka Khel and Tirah tribes about ownership of the coal mines. The families claim that gunmen from one group of the tribes had abducted the miners.
“The Kaka Khel mine manager had sent miners to work in a mine belonging to Tirah tribesmen who abducted them for intruding into their area,” an uncle of slain miner Umer Rehman tells Voicepk.net. He says the Tirah tribesmen sought compensation from the Kaka Khel tribesmen for the intrusion into their mines, adding that the Kaka Khel refused to pay compensation. The Kaka Khel tribesmen then shot and killed the abducted miners, he alleges.
A father of four sons, Wazeer says he sent his eldest three to work alongside their uncle and young cousin in the coal mine in the Khyber tribal district. Rehman’s brother and nephew were also among the slain miners. He says his sons were kidnapped the very next day when they reached Khyber district from their hometown.
“The wives and mothers waited for the return of their husbands and sons for years but it is only now that we have gotten their remains,” he says. Wazeer Rehman says his family has suffered a great injustice at the hands of the assailants.
Since the kidnapping, the residents of Shangla had formed a group to search for the missing miners. It was through the work of this search party that the Shangla residents were able to finally locate the remains of their loved ones after a decade. “We approached the Tablighi Jamaat of the area to help in the search,” says Sarfaraz Khan, a spokesperson for the Shangla Coalmine Workers’ Association. He says almost Rs 4 million had been spent in the search for the missing miners since their abduction.
Sarfaraz Khan says they informed the government about the mass grave and the remains were recovered through a rescue operation.
The provincial government has announced compensation for the slain miners.
“The provincial government has facilitated transportation of the dead bodies to Shangla and it will also pay a compensation of Rs 2 million each to the aggrieved families,” Provincial Minister for Labour and Culture Shaukat Yousafzai told reporters recently.
The incident has highlighted security concerns for miners from Shangla district as hundreds of them are still working in mines located in the tribal districts of the province. Last year, labourers in the Kaka Khel area were also abducted and then later released. Such incidents pose a major challenge to the provincial government in ensuring safety of workers and security in the tribal belt.