Sectarian violence has been brewing in the NWFP for a long time. Now it has delivered a savage blow to the security of the province. On the holy last Friday of Ramazan, a suicide vehicle destroyed an entire market on the Kohat-Hangu Road and killed 33 people. Needless to say, the shops were mostly Shia-owned and those who died were Shia too. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has added “al-Alami” to its name and owned the attack.
Pakistan lost the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to the Taliban as a result of its “strategic depth” doctrine during the 1990s. The NWFP lost its normally administered areas like Kohat, Hangu and Dera Ismail Khan to the Taliban spill-over from FATA. The sharp edge of conflict in these areas was provided by the sectarian organisation brought into existence by the state in 1985 in Jhang in Punjab: Sipah-e-Sahaba.
Despite the fact that the area contained an important cantonment and an air base, it was handed over to the sectarian terrorists on a platter. The state was willing to tolerate a level of anti-Shia violence if it didn’t bother the government. Centuries of coexistence between the Sunni and Shia communities was thus sacrificed. Onwards from Kohat-Hangu, the tribal agency of Kurram is lost to Pakistan in consequence of this policy of offering the Shia as sacrificial lambs to the Taliban.
Both Kohat and Hangu have mixed Shia-Sunni populations. Several villages that dot the Kohat-Hangu road are alternately Shia and Sunni. If a tension of power maintained the order of peace between the two in the past, it has now been broken by “outsiders”. The Hangu valley is literally watched over by the Orakzai Agency where the Shia-Sunni violence became endemic after the Taliban became strong there. The killers come from Orakzai where warlords have arisen to fame because they kill the Shia as far as Parachinar in Kurram.
Pakistan’s pride over ousting the Soviet Union from Afghanistan has to be qualified in the light of the price that was paid for it. In the 1980s, Afghan refugee camps were established on the main road from Kohat to Darra Adam Khel, close to new Kohat Town. There are two Afghan refugee camps on Darra Adam Khel Road, one on Hangu Road, and one in Sheikhan village and another on Rawalpindi Road. New madrassas were allowed to be built near these camps. Deobandi madrassas gained the upper hand; the old Barelvi madrassas languished inside in the city. The new madrassas continue to be dominated by students from FATA and Afghanistan.
Sectarian personalities like one well known lawyer arose to fame from Kohat. Known as the scourge of the Shia, the man openly declared war against them and Iran while the state watched. He was known as the “Al Qaeda lawyer” because he defended the Arab warriors in trials against them in Pakistan. He was one of the many violent patrons of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad and continues to be a strongman in the Kohat-Hangu area, reportedly guiding the administration.
The Shia festival of Nauruz of 21 March has been forcibly stopped. The Al Quds Day on the last Friday of Ramazan ordained for the Shia by Imam Khomeini — and observed as well by the Sunnis of the world — should have brought the two communities together but the extremists have not let that happen. And one big Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader is reportedly about to be let off from a court in Multan because he is too powerful to be kept in the death cell.
If the NWFP has lost its entire territory lying on the road to Kurram, the federal government has lost the territory of Kurram to the blood-thirsty Taliban led by warlords Hakimullah Mehsud, Qari Hussain and their lower-echelon commanders. The Shias of Parachinar returning to Kurram can no longer reach their home through Pakistan. They have to land in Afghanistan and then make their way home through high passes. The new practice is that the Taliban catch them on the border in Paktia and behead them.
The battle against the Taliban is clearly laid out; the battle against sectarian terror is less coherent. Populations have already retreated into ghettos in Quetta, Dera Ismail Khan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Bhakkar (Punjab), Gilgit, Kohat-Hangu, and Parachinar, and are waiting for the state of Pakistan to rise from its “writ-less” slumber to come to their rescue. When will that happen? (Daily Times)
YET more carnage has visited Kohat district where a suicide bomber killed at least 40 people in a bazaar on Friday. The victims were mostly Shia. Meanwhile in Hangu district, which borders Orakzai and Kohat, the district nazim and head of an aman committee trying to broker peace between Sunnis and Shias was also killed on Friday. Together the attacks are another grim marker in the long-running feud between militant Sunnis and Shias in the area. But there is more. A hitherto unknown faction of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Al Almi, has claimed responsibility for the bombing in Kohat and, perhaps unsurprisingly to knowledgeable observers, the call was placed from a public call office in North Waziristan. The caller apparently spoke fluent Urdu, adding weight to the argument that the Waziristan agencies have become a haven for militants from south Punjab. So what we appear to have are sectarian attacks being launched inside Pakistan from a base in the tribal belt by groups that are not indigenous to those areas.
Which raises the question, is the state’s strategy — or what is known of that strategy — against militancy in Waziristan on the right course? At the moment, it appears the state is making two demands of the Waziristan tribes: root out the foreigners and Al Qaeda types living in their midst and stop their fellow tribesmen from attacking targets, particularly sec- urity targets, inside Pak- istan. But it is increasingly clear that the south Punjab militant nexus is a growing presence in the Waziristan agencies and that they may be providing the manpower to execute attacks on behalf of other networks in addition to continuing their own ‘jihad’ against Shias inside Pakistan. So whatever the successes against the Al Qaeda and tribal networks, and there have been significant ones, a third emerging monster appears to be escaping the state’s attention for now. That must change.
The state’s patchy record against militancy has certainly improved over the last year, but there is a lingering suspicion that the state only acts when a crisis has peaked and its effects become unbearable. Baitullah Mehsud, Fazlullah, the foreigners and Al Qaeda elements in Fata — each has been attacked or weakened after they had grown in strength and could project their power outside their originally small bases. We cannot afford a repeat with the south Punjab militants setting up a base in the Waziristan agencies. They must be tackled directly as well as indirectly with the help of the local tribes. And they must be tackled now, before the country is sucked into the next vortex of violence. (Dawn)