June 2, 2023
By Ahmed Saeed & Maryam Missal
As the law and order situation in Kurram (KP) continues to deteriorate following the May 4 killing of a Sunni man and six Shia men (the latter of whom included four teachers), the tribal district’s youth is now reeling under fears of deadly sectarian clashes looming on the horizon.
The youth, who belong to both sects, urged the government to play its role in averting a situation similar to that in 2007-2014.
“The situation here in Kurram agency is volatile and everyone is afraid of having a repeat telecast of what happened during the sectarian clashes of 2007 to 2014, in which over 5,000 people lost their lives,” says Sayed Muhammad, a youth peace activist living in Parachinar.
Muhammad says that the youth is trying its best to prevent such a conflict in the tribal district because they do not want to bear the suffering that will follow.
“From 2007 to 2014, it was the youth who bore the brunt of the clashes . We do not want to experience it again,” he told Voicepk.net.
Parachinar has witnessed deadly sectarian violence and killings perpetrated by both the Sunni and Shia sides, which have claimed thousands of lives since 2007. The violence continued unabated until 2014, after which there was relative peace. However, the situation appears to have once again deteriorated with this recent spate of killings.
During the years-long conflict, Kurram district headquarter remained under siege as the only road connecting the border district to Peshawar had been blocked by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
‘Situation is alarming’
Riaz Chamkini, a local journalist based in Parachinar, tells Voicepk.net that although the situation is quite alarming, the locals, especially the youth, are actively trying to maintain peace.
“The recent situation arose after the killing of six Shia persons, including four teachers, in a Sunni-dominated area of Tari Mangal, which is a village situated a few kilometres away from the Pakistan-Afghan border. The Shia killings followed the murder of a Sunni person in a Shia-dominated area,” Chamkini explains.
‘Anger brewing over police inaction’
After the May 4 killings, the law and order situation has reportedly worsened. The district’s Shia tribes have repeatedly requested the government to take action against those involved in the murders of the teachers.
Mujtaba Bangash, a rights activist based in Hangu, claims that the law enforcement agencies (LEAs) are not serious in apprehending the real culprits and that they are trying to close the case by arresting irrelevant people.
“There is brewing anger in the Shia community due to the inaction of the police and other LEAs. We urge the authorities to take action against the real culprits. Otherwise, God forbid, the situation will get out of control, and will likely end up in sectarian clashes,” he says.
‘Situation under control’
The police and district administration, however, paint a completely different picture. The District Police Officer (DPO) and Deputy Commissioner (DC) tell Voicepk.net that “the situation is under control and there will be no ‘repeat telecast’ of 2007 in the district.”
DPO Mohammad Imran says that the police are investigating the matter and have also taken a few people into custody.
“The police are probing the matter from all angles and will bring all culprits to justice,” he says.
Commenting on the grievances of Kurram’s Shia community regarding the allegedly faulty probes into May 4 killings, Imran states that the police is in liaison with the aggrieved tribe and their complaints will be addressed.
“This is a legal matter. Not everyone can understand the complexities of legal procedures.”
Govt mulls land commission
The DPO further says that the conflict is not sectarian in nature, rather it stems from a land dispute that goes back to 1909.
“The first armed clash between the disputing tribes occurred in 1919, which is documented in the Indian gazette published by British rulers,” he tells Voicepk.net.
He further provides that the government is mulling the constitution of a land commission to settle land disputes in the region once and for all.
“The local people have demanded the formation of a land commission to adjudicate their land disputes. Once settled, there will be enduring peace in the area,” he says.
Although acknowledging that the rival tribes are indeed engaged in a land dispute, Riaz Chamkini explains that the current crisis is not related to this at all.
“The recent conflict is not over land, but it has erupted due to the prevailing tension stemming from the land dispute,”
Sayed Muhammad also believes that the situation can not be addressed by labeling it as a land dispute – although it may be a part of the problem, terming land disputes as the sole factor behind this latest conflict while dismissing all other factors will do nothing to resolve the matter.
A local resident of Parachinar, on the condition of anonymity, tells Voicepk.net that the issue is purely sectarian and that the government is only aggravating the situation by terming it a land dispute.
He says that the Sunni tribes of the Tari Mangal area have been under siege for the last three weeks, and the residents fear an imminent tribal invasion of their village to avenge the May 4 killings.
“It is more than a land dispute, and we are sitting on a volcano. If the government does not take any steps then there will be no stopping a sectarian war in the area,” he warns.