home and back
By Javed Aziz Khan
Till April 6, Kurram and Mohmand were the only two peaceful tribal agencies while the rest of FATA, federally administered tribal areas, was in a state of conflict. On April 6 though, the authorities had to clamp curfew over Kurram too, following clashes between the rival Sunni and Shia sects. The agency is one of the most sensitive parts of the country where sectarian sentiments are quite volatile and a minor incident may result in the killing of dozens of people from both sides.
Already, some two weeks back, floods in local rivers had displaced hundreds of people and damaged a large number of houses and trade centres in Kurram. People had not yet recovered from that shock when sectarian riots started.
The Parachinar sub-division of the agency was tense since April 1, the day when people from both sects exchanged arguments over use of abusive language against each other and pelting stones on the procession of 12th Rabiul Awwal. Elders from both sides made their efforts to calm down the emotionally charged tribesmen while the authorities probed into the issue in the light of statements of eyewitnesses and video recording of the procession. Before the issue could be settled through dialogue, some miscreants stoked the fire by opening indiscriminate firing inside a Shia mosque. Clashes began amid a series of firing with heavy weapons, rocket launchers, mortar shells. Houses and shops were torched and people attacked each other with gas cylinder bombs. This continued for many days, leaving dozens of people killed. There were unconfirmed reports about the killing of over a hundred people in the sectarian clashes at Parachinar city, Akbar Khan Serai, Mera Jan Colony, Sadda, Masjid Chowk, Boshehra, Shalozan, Malikhel and other parts of the agency but the Secretary Security FATA, Arbab Mohammad Arif, could only confirm the death of 40 people.
The political agent of the agency, Sahibzada Mohammad Anis, however, insisted the death toll was only 15. The number of those wounded in several days of clashes was over 150 who faced many problems in getting early treatment due to curfew and ongoing violence in the city.
The government had to deploy Army and the paramilitary Frontier Corps that were patrolling the streets of Parachinar with gunship helicopters flying over the city to intercept combatants in a bid to improve the law and order situation. Electricity in most parts of Kurram Agency was cut off due to fighting for many days. Schools and shopping centres were closed and people living in isolated hamlets and villages were scared. Majority of those living in isolated hamlets were attacked by rivals as reinforcement to those people could not be provided from their tribes on time. The communication system in the entire agency collapsed during the fighting and thousands of relatives of those settled in Kurram had to rely on newspaper reports.
"Negotiations are being held with Jirgas of Sunni and Shia elders to secure a ceasefire," Kurram Agency's political agent Sahibzada Mohammad Anis told TNS from Parachinar. There were reports that both the Shia and Sunni elders have formed their bodies to intervene into the issue and calm down their people to stop the escalating number of casualties and property damage.
At a time when the two rival sects clashed with each other in Kurram, their supporters in other parts of the province launched their media campaign in Peshawar. The Imamia Students Organisation (ISO) staged a demonstration in Peshawar on the first day when the clashes began. The next day leaders of the Sunni Action Committee and Jamaat Ahle Sunnat held a press conference where they alleged there was no curfew in Parachinar and members of the rival sect were openly killing Sunnis. The ISO held another press conference and staged a demonstration on the third day. Pakistan Peoples Party FATA also staged a demonstration outside the Peshawar Press Club demanding an early ceasefire.
People belonging to both the sects had their own point of view regarding what was happening in Parachinar and other parts of Kurram. "The miscreants set on fire more than 200 houses during the first two days but the government failed to stop them. A number of people were killed when they were stranded in isolated places," remarked the president of Jamaat Ahle Sunnat, Haji Sherin Mangal. He disclosed that a Pakistan Army Brigadier named Inamul Haq was injured in an attack on the security forces while Sobedar-Major Yasin and three Frontier Corps troops were killed while tehsildar, Rehan Khattak, went missing.
Subsequent reports said that the tehsildar had been found and was safe. A few other government officials and two journalists also returned to duty and home after spending a night in shops in Parachinar after being stranded there. Two other tribal elders and Sunni Action Committee members, Haji Daulat Khan and Haji Bahadar Khan, said the attackers were using gas cylinders and petrol to set ablaze the houses, claiming more than 200 houses and shops in Akbar Khan Serai, Mera Jan Colony and Masjid Chowk had been reduced to ashes.
"10 helicopter gunships had fired at local population and people in uniforms of FC had killed innocent people in different parts of Parachinar," alleged Shafiq Bangash, a central leader of the Imamia Students Organisation. He was of the opinion that all this was being done by the 'black sheep' in the administration at the 'behest of America'. "We were fielded against each other under a conspiracy. A few miscreants have made the entire population of Kurram agency hostage," Shafiq said.
A former divisional president of the ISO Sajid Hussain was also critical about the way the administration had handled things, saying nothing was done seriously to involve the elders from both sides to secure a ceasefire. "The government should quickly take adequate steps to stop killing of innocent people," he demanded.
Politicians associated with opposition parties lashed out at the government and administration for the poor law and order situation, alleging the authorities have failed to stop fighting in Kurram Agency despite thousands of troops having been deployed. "The use of heavy weapons was going on as the government had failed to secure a ceasefire. We condemn the killing of hundreds of people and torching of their houses," remarked the central general secretary of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD), Iqbal Zafar Jhagra. "From Khyber Agency to Waziristan and now Kurram, fire is being stoked under a planned conspiracy. If the government did not take early action it would face worst consequences," Jhagra commented.
With the situation in Kurram, it is feared that something will happen in Mohmand Agency very soon as it is now the only agency where people are living a relatively peaceful life. Hundreds of people have been killed during the clashes with Pakistan Army and now between the tribesmen and aliens in North and South Waziristan. A sectarian issue has resulted in the death of over 300 people in Khyber agency during the past one year while a large number of people were killed over a similar issue in Orakzai some months back. The government had to sign a Peace Pact with the local militants in Bajaur to stop everyday blasts and ambushing of government officials.
Apart from tribal agencies, the situation is worsening in Tank, Dera Ismail Khan, Lakki Marwat, Bannu and Swat which needs immediate attention and action on the part of all those concerned for the security of people.
By Shoaib Hashmi
"Never in the annals of human conflict have so many owed so much, to so few"! Or words to that effect. I don't have to bother being accurate because they are the words of my pet hate Winston Churchill, spoken at the time when, according to the old Chinese proverb England was 'living through interesting times'. Hitler, having conquered most of Europe was threatening to invade Britain too, and, as a preliminary, was trying to annihilate the Royal Air Force which was fighting back in the 'Battle of Britain'.
It took the few pilots of the RAF Fighter Wing to put a spanner in all Hitler's works, and they are the people glorified by Winston as 'The Few'. We too are living through interesting, if not actually rousing, times, and we too have to thank a few for it.
A few thousand lawyers are having a ball, goofing off and not attending their client's cases, all for a dicey cause which changes shape each time they issue a statement about it. And another few thousand seminary students are busy setting up their own state in the middle of Islamabad. And between them they have quite a few people running around like headless chickens trying to make up and express an opinion.
Problematic, you see, because for instance the two clerics of Islamabad have, in one fell swoop stolen all the thunder of all the religious parties and their leaders who have spent their lives working up to it. And they can't condone it, and they can't come out too strongly against it either. And so Qazi Sahib is left frothing at the mouth and making wild accusations that the authorities have engineered it all!
And everyone else too, the media and the editorials and the columnists, are running around in circles trying to make some sense of the whole affair, and failing. The best they can come up with is to say that the chickens are coming home to roost because in all our national life, we have not had good leadership! Now that is the kind of blanket statement with which one can't argue.
And first of all it gives them the opportunity to lay into the set up by piously advocating that they put their foot down with a firm hand. Quite forgetting that when they did put their foot down with the shenanigans of Mr. Bugti, they screamed their heads off insisting that the matter should be settled by talking, even if one party was not interested in talking.
Then again they get the wrong end of the stick. The implication seems to be that it is the political leadership that is wanting. Now that is a very simple minded interpretation of the argument. Nations do not get ahead because they get good kings, or are kept back because they get bad prime ministers and presidents.
In the short history of the growth of America, if you look closely there has perhaps been one good and clever man, Lincoln, as president and the rest have been ineffectual nonentities, or even out and out cads and bounders like Nixon and Reagan and yours truly. And Britain has had her share of Maggie Thatchers; and they may lionise Winston but he really got by on bravado and a clever tongue. If his commanders had really followed all the harebrained schemes he thought up they would have lost the war and their pants!
The American Empire, or the preceding British, was not created by great kings and presidents, but despite them. Even the good kings and presidents merely presided over the ascendancy created by others. These others are the real leaders and creators of a nation's values, the ruling class of the intelligentsia, that is where we have been failures. And that leadership, in our case is led by the media and the editors and the columnists! The very few!
By Noreen Haider
In the aftermath of the Jamia Hafsa backlash, the obvious question everybody wants to ask is: Why did successive governments look the other way when Maulana Abdul Aziz and Allama Ghazi Abdur-Rashid were building a virtual empire of madrasas across Islamabad in blatant defiance of the state, the government and the law of the land?
It all started when late Maulana Abdullah, the Khatib of Lal Masjid and father of the present khatib brothers, became the blue-eyed boy of General Ziaul Haq in the early days of his power. Zia took a lot of interest in the expansion and renovation of Lal Masjid so that large religious congregations could be held there until such time that Faisal Mosque was ready. Funding was provided to the mosque in 1982 and again in 1984 for further renovation and in August 1981, on the directive of the president, a grand restructuring of Lal Masjid was done at a cost of Rs 7.255 million.
General Zia was a shrewd and intelligent man and he played his cards well till he ran out of them. There came a time when he was not required in the game. The game may have ended for him, but not for other players he had helped introduce. The genie of Islamic fundamentalism and extremism was out of the bottle now.
After Afghanistan came Kashmir and the jihadi culture kept thriving. The governments were satisfied, the jihadis were busy elsewhere, and all looked well with the world.
Meanwhile many madrasas in Pakistan became the mainstay for jihadi movements in places like Kashmir, Chechnya, Palestine, Egypt, Algiers etc. One such powerhouse was the Lal Masjid and the seminaries that came under its administration.
At the time of the Afghan jihad many notable leaders associated with the jihad came to stay in Lal Masjid and the connection of the Maulanas of Lal Masjid with the Afghan Mujahideen and later with Taliban was a well-known fact. The now widely used term 'Mullah-military alliance' continued into the Musharraf regime.
In March 2001 Jamia Hafsa started encroaching on CDA land of 3200 sq yards, a Gymnasium plot of 3389 yards, a library plot of 450 yards, and an author's corner of 400 yards but the government neither stopped the encroachment nor demolished the illegally structure built on land worth millions of rupees.
Other than the illegally occupied land the madrasas were also receiving millions of dollars worth of funds from 'unknown sources' but there was no audit or monitoring requirement put forth by the government.
On that fateful day 9/11, it was as if the Universe spun on its axis and everything changed. This time greatness was thrust on General Musharraf -- like it earlier did for General Ziaul Haq at the time of Afghan war. The government policies changed, jihad was no more the operative word -- at least officially -- and enlightened moderation became the new mantra.
But the genie was still out of the bottle and did not want to go back. And was even more powerful now.
Under severe pressure from the United States, the government decided to curb the jihadi element in Pakistan and a crackdown on jihadi outfits and organisations began. Next came the religious seminaries, which had virtually evolved into a parallel state. It was under the new agenda that the Lal Masjid authorities started receiving written notices for the illegal constructions and the huge land they were occupying. Apparently this came as a a real shock. Five years ago, it was impossible to imagine that the two khatib brothers would get sacking orders or that they would actually be asked about the legality of the encroached land. They had been the trusted partners in the two jihads alongside two dictators and the secret agencies? But probably it was thought that they knew too much.
When the Musharraf government started its campaign against the illegally-built mosques and seminaries, it was time to make a decision for the survival of the autonomous setup at Lal Masjid. Out came the students for 'Nifaz-e Shariah' in Pakistan. Suddenly they realised there were brothels running in the neighbourhood, which were actually doing business for more than fifteen years. The video shops, the women drivers, all became issues overnight.
In their grand design to uphold Islamic law, the Khatib brothers do not think much about holding people's or government property hostage, grabbing government land worth millions of dollars, kidnapping women and children, harassing civil society or threatening government and people with rebellion and suicide attacks. Replying to a question in a recent interview with TNS, Ghazi Abdur Rashid categorically said that kidnapping and holding public property hostage was very much justified and they would continue their jihad against the government.
Some people believe the government is being too passive and has failed to assert its authority. However, because of the waiting game successfully played by the government, the Lal Masjid administration has run out of all allies and supporters. Their stubbornness has exposed their true face and every religious authority in Pakistan today has distanced itself from them.
The recent negotiations with Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain have failed because the maulanas refused to show any flexibility. It appears that the government's patience is running out. Whether it succeeds in putting the genie back into the bottle remains to be seen.
Sending back thousands of Afghan refugees to their homeland is a dream that's yet to come true
Over 5,000 trucks and pick ups were seen on both sides of the road near Kacha Garhai, waiting for their turn to appear before the verification authorities and then leave for their homeland. The local authorities had estimated the number of people waiting for their turn as over 40,000, of which half were children and women who had to wait for many days for their turn.
At least one person was also killed when an unidentified person opened fire on a demonstration of these refugees, when they were protesting against delay in the process of verification.
Majority of those who turned up before the verification centres at Jalozai, Kacha Garhai and Hayatabad proved to be recyclers, habitual Afghans who had also voluntarily offered themselves in the past for repatriation just to get the UN support package. These people used to go across the border but returned after a few days via other routes and applied again for another UN package.
"We are verifying all those returning to their homeland under the UNHCR package. Their retina tests are being conducted while other ways are being used to identify whether the person who has applied for 100 US dollar support is habitual or has applied for the first time," Commissioner CAR, Nasir Azam Khan, told TNS. He informed they were facing a number of problems in repatriation because of the issue of habitual border-crossers. The problem has slowed down the pace of verification but around 82,000 of refugees have still been repatriated so far. The authorities have to start a second shift to facilitate maximum number of refugees in their return everyday.
But there are still many who have no interest in getting 100 US dollars package and are unwilling to leave Pakistan and settle in a troubled country still faced with a number of problems. A number of such elders, during a jirga with the Federal Minister for SAFRON (States and Frontier Regions), Sardar Yar Mohammad Rind, refused to return to a country where there is 'no peace' nor are the 'citizens provided with any basic facility'.
Rahim Gul, 41, thinks otherwise. Rahim was waiting in a charpoy over the top of his luggage in a pickup at Kacha Garhai where he was waiting for his turn to appear for verification and then leave for his home country. "Though I was enjoying many facilities in Pakistan, I had to go after all. If it is to happen once then why not now," he remarked. His two young sons were guarding the luggage while his wife and a daughter was sitting under a tree.
"We are waiting here for the past three days but you can see there are a large number of people who mostly are here just for 100 dollars," Rahim uttered with a smile. He informed that a large number of refugees who have nothing left in Afghanistan and were doing well with their businesses in Pakistan may have no desire to return to their home country. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan are living in urban and sub urban areas of Peshawar and other districts running their own businesses and owning huge properties. Most of the houses and shops in Hayatabad, University Road, Afghan Colony, Gulbahar, Faqirabad, Tehkal, Taj Abad and Board Bazaar are owned by Afghans. Many of them possess Pakistani identity cards. They still shrug off the threat of being dealt under the law after the deadline set for the illegal refugees, saying such deadlines had been given in past as well but nothing happened so far.
Repatriating hundreds of thousands of refugees to their homeland has been a dream for the Pakistani authorities as well as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) for a long time. But due to the volatile environment in the neighbouring war-hit country and unwillingness of Afghans for a number of valid reasons it is yet to come true. Even after setting innumerable deadlines and chalking out plans for their permanent settlement in troubled Afghanistan.
Around 2.6 millions of Afghan refugees had been estimated to be residing in Pakistan last year. The UNHCR and the Pakistani government launched a campaign to register such large number of aliens on its land but despite huge numbers people did not bother to get a Proof of Registration (PoR) card that would legalise their stay in Pakistan as a refugee for three years.
The authorities have put the number of refugees residing in different camps or living in scattered urban and suburban areas of NWFP at 1.6 million, out of which 126,000 are said to have not registered themselves in an exercise that continued since mid October 2006 till March last. The unregistered refugees have been given a deadline of April 15 to return to their country under a UN package as after the deadline they would be considered as illegal immigrants and would be dealt according to the law of the land.
It is yet to be seen whether the UNHCR and Pakistani authorities are serious this time or will the same old story repeat itself.
By Javed Aziz Khan