July 10, 2023
By Ahmed Saeed
Deadly clashes have erupted between Sunni and Shia tribes in the Kurram tribal district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, resulting in the deaths of at least seven people.
“The entire Kurram district is in turmoil, it is a war-like situation here as Sunni and Shia tribes have been attacking each other’s villages for the past 72 hours. Life in the district has come to a standstill, with all markets, schools, and offices closed, and a shortage of food items,” local journalist Riaz Chamkni told Voicepk.net.
The Shia-Sunni conflict in the border region has been simmering for decades and has so far claimed hundreds of lives. According to locals, the conflict initially stemmed from a long-standing land dispute between the Turi, Bangash and Mangal tribes, but in recent years it has taken on a sectarian nature.
Parachinar, the district headquarters, has witnessed deadly sectarian violence and casualties since 2007. The violence had somewhat subsided by 2014, leading to a relative period of peace.
Throughout the prolonged conflict, the Kurram district headquarters remained under siege as the only road connecting the border district to Peshawar was blocked by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
The situation was reignited in May 2023 when six Shia men, including four school teachers, were killed following the targeted killing of a Sunni man. These incidents brought the rival sectarian tribes face-to-face in the Upper Kurram area.
“Shia tribes accused Sunni tribes of besieging their villages with the aim of isolating them socially and economically,”
Chamkni stated. He added that the situation had been deteriorating since then, and many efforts to reach a pact have been futile.
“Now the conflict has spread throughout the entire Kurram district, with sporadic incidents of violence between Shia and Sunni tribes,” he said.
Official figures indicate that seven people have been killed, and over 30 others have been wounded in the ongoing violence. However, Chamkni said that the actual number of casualties is higher than the official count, as the district administration has yet to reach the affected areas.
‘No truth in cross border infiltration’
The district administration claims to have brought the situation under control. District Police Officer (DPO) Muhammad Imran told Voicepk.net that “the government’s writ has been restored. Efforts are being made to establish a ceasefire through a jirga (tribal council).”
Rumours have been circulating on social media suggesting that Taliban fighters have entered the Kurram district through the Pak-Afghan border to assist Sunni tribes and target Shia-dominated areas. However, DPO Imran categorically denied these claims, stating that “the border is entirely fenced and heavily guarded by the FC and Pakistan Army, making it impossible for anyone to cross illegally.”
‘Land commission notified to resolve the matter’
Sajid Turi, a local Member of the National Assembly (MNA) and Federal Minister for Overseas Pakistanis, has been leading efforts to reach a truce between the warring groups. Turi stated that a ceasefire has been achieved in the Lower Kurram area and efforts were underway to restore peace in Upper Kurram as well.
Regarding the infiltration of Taliban militants from Afghanistan, Turi mentioned that he had no information about such incidents. He clarified, “No one can cross the border due to the fenced border. However, certain parts of the border still lack fences, which may facilitate cross-border movement.”
When asked about steps being taken to resolve the conflict permanently, Turi explained that the government has established a land commission to address the land dispute.
“The land commission has visited the concern areas and met with the aggrieved parties. However, a few tribes, with people on both sides of the border, are not willing to accept the commission’s findings. If one party refuses to accept the commission, it becomes challenging to find a solution,”
Turi further highlighted that since the merger of the tribal districts with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, an increase in land dispute-related violence has been observed as the concept of collective responsibility has diminished, and the criminal justice system has failed to deliver swift justice.
“Since the FATA merger in 2018, over 3,000 people have been killed in violence linked to land disputes in the erstwhile FATA areas,” Turi shared.
Youth demand peace
Youth belonging to both sects have urged the government to play a proactive role in preventing a situation similar to the sectarian clashes that occurred from 2007 to 2014.
Sayed Muhammad, a youth peace activist residing in Parachinar, expressed concerns about a potential repeat of the suffering endured during those clashes.
“The situation in Kurram agency is volatile, and everyone is afraid of a repeat of what happened during the sectarian clashes of 2007 to 2014, where over 5,000 lives were lost,”
He further said that the youth are doing their best to prevent such conflicts in the tribal district as they are unwilling to bear its consequences once again.
“From 2007 to 2014, it was the youth who bore the brunt of the clashes. We do not want to experience it again,” he said.