Posts Tagged ‘Taliban’

The peace truce between Sunnis and Shias in Kurram Agency is being celebrated and looked at with suspicion

By Zia Ur Rehman

The News,    27 February, 2011

Although Sunni and Shia warring tribes of Kurram Agency have agreed to end their four-year long conflict through a government-backed jirga of tribal elders, it is yet to be seen how long the deal holds ground and helps maintain normalcy in the area.

Kurram, one of Pakistan’s seven tribal agencies, borders Khost, Paktia and Nangarhar in Afghanistan and Khyber, Orakzai and North Waziristan agencies in Pakistan. Unlike in other tribal agencies of Fata, sectarian tensions are the main drivers of militancy in Kurram Agency.

“Since 1980s, deadly sectarian clashes have been taking place in Kurram. However, the situation worsened following the emergence of different groups of Taliban in South and North Waziristan, Orakzai and Khyber Agencies,” Aqeel Yousafzai, an expert on security issues in tribal areas, tells TNS. “The conflict was brought to Kurram by militant groups from North and South Waziristan and Khyber agencies in 2006. Shia tribes had also established their own lashkars (tribal militias) to defend themselves, but these lashkars are no match for the Taliban. More than 3,500 people had been killed, 50 villages torched and thousands of people displaced in sectarian clashes in Kurram between 2007 and 2010,” says Yousafzai, who has also authored two books on militancy in tribal areas.

Over the years, the Shias of Kurram accused various Pakistani and Afghan Taliban groups, including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), of violence and blamed the Pakistan security agencies for lending support to their rival Sunni militant groups. The Sunnis had been saying that Iran was providing arms and money to the Shia militants in Kurram.

The outside militant groups active in Kurram are the TTP, the Orakzai Taliban and the Afridi Taliban which had killed hundreds of Shias and Sunnis. In October 2007, the first Waziristan Taliban lashkar, comprising 400 Mehsud militants, was sent to Kurram by the then head of the TTP, Baitullah Mehsud. Qari Hussain, an anti-Shia commander of the TTP, commanded the lashkar and torched villages and killed dozens of Shias.

After two months, Hussain returned to South Waziristan and Hakimullah Mehsud, the then TTP commander for Kurram, Khyber and Orakzai agencies, sent hundreds more militants under the command of Faqir Alam Mehsud to Kurram to fight against Shia lashkars. “Faqir Alam Mehsud, reputed for his brutalities, personally beheaded at least 100 Shias from Kurram, along with a few Sunnis for cooperating with Shias,” a Taliban fighter under his command informs TNS.

Orakzai TTP head Mullah Noor Jamal (alias Mullah Toofan) also brought hundreds of his militants to Kurram to take part in the sectarian violence. Different Afridi militant groups, including Tariq Afridi’s TTP Darra Adam Khel, Mangal Bagh’s Laskhar-e-Islam and Haji Mehboob’s Ansar-ul-Islam, also sent hundreds of militants to fights against Shias.

Although Kurram Shias are reluctant to disclose information about Shia militant groups; they have two militant groups active in Kurram — Mehdi Militia and Kurram Hizbullah.

During the last four years, the roads in Kurram Agency, especially Thal-Parachinar Road connecting Kurram with Peshawar, had remained closed and people had been trapped in their areas. The Shia community as a whole and some Sunni tribes like Mangal in Upper Kurram find it extremely difficult and risky to move out of Kurram Agency. They were not able to travel on the Thal-Parachinar road as it was controlled by Taliban militants. Shias were compelled to use only one road which runs through the Afghan cities of Khost, Gardez, Kabul and Jalalabad.

After two years of negotiations by a jirga, comprising 220 elders and politicians of Fata, a peace truce between Sunnis and Shias was announced at Parachinar on February 3. According to the agreement, all the main roads, including the Thal-Parachinar road, will be opened for traffic while safe return of the forcibly displaced tribesmen to their homes will be ensured by the government.

“The natives of Kurram have been waiting for the restoration of peace for years, and after the truce, they would live like brothers again,” says Malik Waris Khan Afridi, a former federal minister and head of the jirga. Haji Munir Orakzai and Sajid Hussain Turi, elected parliamentarians from Orakzai and Kurram agencies respectively, also played a key role in brokering the peace truce. “Tribesmen across both sects assured us of their support to the peace accord while the government will financially compensate the affected people,” Waris Afridi informs TNS.

A few days after the agreement, the TTP Kurram head, Fazal Saeed, told a press conference that his organisation would extend all-out support to the political administration and security forces to implement the peace truce and would punish violators if the government or jirga members failed to do so. “The TTP’s statement of support for peace in the area redefines the role of the militants and most dangerous villains are now becoming heroes involved in maintaining peace in the agency,” says Ashfaq Turi, an elder of Shia Turi Bangash tribe of Kurram Agency.

“Everybody is happy and celebrating the peace truce by distributing sweets and dancing the Atanh (Pashto traditional dance) in Parachinar,” a Parachinar-based journalist tells TNS.

The peace agreement came amid reports by the Pakistani and international media that the Haqqani Network (HN), a powerful Afghan militant group based in North Waziristan, had brokered the deal in return for a new safe haven and right of passage into Afghanistan. The reports of HN’s involvement had been privately confirmed by members of the jirga. International media had reported that Ibrahim Haqqani and Khalil Haqqani, sons of HN’s head Jalaluddin Haqqani, had participated in two rounds of negotiations in September 2010, but the politicians and jirga members involved in the talks had dismissed the report as “a propaganda”.

The growing number of drone attacks and American pressure on the Pakistani government to begin a military operation in North Waziristan had increased the strategic significance of Kurram agency, particularly for the TTP and the HN. Experts believe the militants will not only take refuge in this area in case of an operation in North Waziristan, but will also use the area as junction to go onward and back in tribal agencies, settled districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and provinces of Afghanistan.

The writer is a journalist and researcher and works on militancy issues.

Email: zia_red@hotmail.com

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Despite assurances by security agencies, South Waziristan IDPs are reluctant to go back to their homes, fearing militants will strike back

By Zia Ur Rehman

The News

15 January 2010

Although the government claims military offensive against Taliban in South Waziristan has succeeded in securing the area, the displaced people are reluctant to go back to their homes, saying militants had only dispersed, not wiped out, during the operation.

South Waziristan, the restive tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, is considered traditional stronghold of militants not only belonging to defunct Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) but also to Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda. Foreign affiliates such as groups of Uzbeks, Chechens and Tajiks are also there.

 

Four major military operations have been carried out in South Waziristan to clear the area from the Taliban militants since 2004. The most recent offensive — Operation Rah-e-Nijat (Path to Salvation) — was started in October last year, and is still going on. Around 400,000 local residents, largely belonging to Mehsud tribe, were displaced from the area due to this operation.

Government officials claim that the area is now completely cleared from militants and now they are sending displaced people back to their homes. But the locals are unwilling to return to their villages as they fear the militants are either hiding in mountains of the area or have escaped to adjacent tribal areas.

Most of the displaced Mehsuds, whom TNS spoke to, were not yet ready to return due to fear of security situation, damage to their houses, lack of livelihood opportunities, electricity, food and other facilities.

“It is very dangerous. If we go back to our homes, militants will be there because they are still alive and have just moved to neighbouring tribal areas,” says Munsif Mehsud, one of the displaced people who declined to go back. He had brought his extended family of 18 to Karachi and lives in a rented house in a slum near Super Highway. The displaced families said it was the fourth time they had been displaced from their homes due to operation against the militants.

“The government wants us to be taken back to our homes in military conveys. This will create security problems for us as the militants will link us with the government,” says Zafar Mehsud, another displaced person who lives in district Tank.

Three weeks ago, TTP’s militants kidnapped 23 tribesmen, who were members of a committee of displaced persons, for attending a function arranged on the occasion of December 7 visit of chief of army staff to Makeen and Ladha areas of South Waziristan.

“This is a warning to the tribal people not come to the area because we are still present in South Waziristan,” Azam Tariq, spokesperson for TTP, told the media recently, claiming that militants had seven Taliban courts functioning in the area, as well as 22 offices. Later, the militants freed the kidnapped tribesmen.

This kidnapping further threaten the government’s shaky attempts to persuade Mehsud tribesmen that the militants are defeated and that it is safe to go back to their homes in South Waziristan.

Maulana Saleh Shah, a senator from South Waziristan, when contacted by TNS, also admitted that the government had just cleared very few areas of South Waziristan which are near to FR Jandola. “Most of the area is still not declared clear from the militants by the security forces,” Shah says, adding that only the people hailing from some villages, including Chagmali and Kotkai, were returning.

According to Duniya Aslam Khan, a Public Information Assistant at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the government has declared 13 villages to be safe to return which are located in the lower parts of South Waziristan where weather is fairly mild in the winter. “Returning to their homes is a voluntary process and we can’t say how many people will return,” Khan says.

A local elder says that displaced Mehsuds will be watching the process of repatriation very carefully. “How the military handles and guard the first returnees will likely decide whether other people choose to go back to their homes.”

The military had declared victory over militants in South Waziristan in February last year but is since struggling to convince the refugees to go back to their homes. Experts opine that the unwillingness of displaced families to go back also highlights the difficulties the security forces face in maintaining security in the region months after they have declared victory.

A local Mehsud journalist, requesting anonymity, says the government was trying to form Mehsud lashkars (militias) or peace committee, like already formed in Bajaur and other tribal areas with support of the government. But elders of Dray Mehsud (three clans of Mehsud) were clearly refusing it from the beginning.

A few days ago, TTP spokesperson Tariq, while talking to the Associated Press, warned that his group will take severe actions against those who form such lashkars or peace committees to take on the militants.

The government has promised to give returnees a cash stipend, living essentials and assistance for rebuilding homes damaged or destroyed in the fighting, but the slow pace of compensation and reconstruction in Swat will not give Mehsud tribesmen much confidence on those claims.

“UNHCR is assisting with logistical arrangements (having set up transit centres, registration desks, hot meals, etc) and shelter support for those choosing to return as well providing transports to the returning families from Dera Ismail Khan and Tank districts to their villages in South Waziristan,” Khan says, adding that Fata Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) is giving Rs25,000 to each family.

Senator Shah also complained that the government had also not fulfilled the promises of giving compensation to those going back because all the houses and businesses were totally destroyed in the area.

Most of the Mehsud families said that with their home destroyed, they were ready to live in tents because of cold weather. It is pertinent to mention that unlike refugees hailing from other tribal areas who lived in tents in the camps, most members of the Mehsud tribe are staying with relatives or in rented houses in Dera Ismail Khan, Tank and Karachi.

“The government has offered compensation of just Rs25,000 per family for damage to their houses and other losses which is not sufficient,” says Sher Alam, a refugee living in Peshawar. Senator Shah says he has demanded the federal government to increase the relief amount to Rs100,000.

(The writer is a researcher who works on militancy, development and human rights.)

Afghan refugees choose to go home as the situation worsens in Pakistan

By Zia Ur Rehman

published in The News

 

 

“Pakistan had been a haven for war-affected Afghans for decades, but now Pakistan itself is facing the same problems of terrorism and militancy that Afghanistan has been suffering for the last three decades. We are going back to Afghanistan because Pakistan no longer offers jobs, security and peace of mind,” says Jahan Sher while returning to his home town Mazar-e-Sharif. The economy of Afghanistan has improved during the last four years, he boasts.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) claims that more Afghan refugees have returned to their homeland from Pakistan this year than in the previous year. Increasing incidents of harassment and arrests by Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies following terrorist activities in the country, poor socio-economic conditions, floods in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and increase in forcible deportation are key factors compelling the refugees to go back, refugees’ leaders and rights activists believe.

Pakistan has been host to the world’s largest refugee population. Millions of Afghans fled to Pakistan in the 1980s after the Soviet invasion and during the rule of Taliban in the late 1990s.

Currently there are some 1.6 million registered Afghans in Pakistan, with 45 per cent residing in refugees camps and the rest scattered amongst the host communities. Last year, Pakistan and the UNHCR signed an agreement to extend the stay of Afghan refugees until the end of 2010. About 3.7 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan in the past 9 years, according to UNCHR.

“A total of 1,09,383 Afghans have gone back in March-October through the UNCHR’s return programme, while the number of refugees returning to Afghanistan in 2009 was 51,290,” said Duniya Aslam Khan, UNHCR Pakistan’s Assistant Public Officer. “The number of returnees this year has increased by 51 per cent when compared to the number of people that returned in 2009. Refugees registered in the country are receiving a better assistance, transport and reintegration package, including a grant of $100,” added Khan.

“Most of the returnees cited the difficult situation in Pakistan, worst economic factors and improvement in some provinces of Afghanistan as the important reasons for their decision to return,” said Nader Farhad, a UNHCR spokesperson in Kabul.

“After the continuing terrorist attacks on offices of Pakistan’s security agencies, the crackdown against Afghan refugees, both registered and unregistered, has been accelerated across the country. Thousands of refugees have been arrested and forcibly deported,” said Haji Sohrab, the representative of Afghan refugees appointed by Afghan Consulate in Karachi. “Many Afghan refugees who do not have Proof of Registration (PoR), a document given to these refugees jointly by the government of Pakistan and UNCHR, face strict action by the police,” informed Sohrab.

“Thousands of Afghans, especially students in religious seminaries, daily wage workers and scavengers, have been arrested under the Foreign Registration Act (FRA) during the last two years and deported to their homeland,” said Iqbal Shah Khattak, a law teacher at Urdu University, Karachi.

However, refugees complain that police and law enforcement authorities have time and again raided houses in the refugee camps and other areas and arrested even those community members who had PoR.

“Refugees lived without any legal document for 28 years, till the 2007 registration when they were provided the PoR cards. This gave rise to a lot of legal problems. They could be stopped, searched and arrested under the FRA,” said Khattak, who has worked extensively on refugee rights in Karachi. Afghans in Pakistan have been regularly complaining about harassment and detention at the hands of police, he added.

“The registration process is flawed, leaving many refugees unregistered. Hence, these refugees are vulnerable to harassment and possible deportation,” maintained Sohrab. “The registration process was also marred by problems like lack of guidance, transport, translators and female registration.”

Amid crackdown against illegal Afghan immigrants across the country, industries are now forced by the government not to hire foreign workers without documentary proof, thus adding to the employment problems of refugees.

Denying the reports of arresting refugees with PoR cards, police claim they are arresting only those Afghan immigrants who are living illegally and without documentary proof. “We arrest illegal Afghan immigrants under FRA as well as the refugees involved in crimes,” said police officials, requesting anonymity. Media reports suggest hundreds of Afghan refugees have been detained by police across the country as a pre-emptive security sweep ahead of Muharram.

Majority of refugees are returning to Afghanistan because of worst flooding in Pakistan. Twenty out of 29 refugee camps across the province were swept away by flooding, destroying thousands of homes and leaving about 85,500 refugees homeless. One of the worst hit refugee villages is Azakhel in Nowshera where 23,000 people lost homes.

“Our houses were completely destroyed by the floods and the government is not able to help us,” said Khan Muhammad, an Afghan refugee living in Azakhel camp. “We are planning to go back to Afghanistan where, at least, some of our residential problems would be solved.”

Instead of going back to their villages, most of the returning refugees are settling in cities where they could find jobs easily. “Due to the prevailing insurgency in Pakistan’s tribal areas and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, thousands of Pakistani Pashtuns are coming to Afghanistan for jobs,” said Basir Ahmed Hotak, an Afghan journalist.

Majority of refugees hailing from worst-hit provinces of Afghanistan, where security situation is still critical, were reluctant to go back to their homeland. “Majority of those returning belong to northern provinces like Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat where the security situation is better,” informed Arshad Khan, a refugee from Helmand. “How can we return to places like Helmand and Kandahar where security situation is worst?”

UNHCR’s officials and refugee leaders confide to TNS that a large number of repatriated refugees are coming back to Pakistan after taking money from UNHCR. “Going back to Afghanistan was a mistake as the security and economic situation is not good in Afghanistan,” said Hafeez Shah, who recently returned to Karachi from Afghanistan.

Some of the returning refugees complain that there is no shelter, electricity, schools, hospitals and employment opportunities in Afghanistan which compelled them to come back to Pakistan.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), in its report tilted ‘Afghan Refugees in Pakistan: Push Comes to Shove’ expressed concerns over closure of refugees camps and intimidation of refugees at the hand of police.

But Najamuddin Khan, Federal Minister for SAFRON (Ministry of State and Frontier Region) said their repatriation was completely on voluntary basis and the government wants their respectful return. The ministry had suggested to UNHCR to give $5000 to each Afghan family returning to Afghanistan for shelter and livelihood there.

(The writer is an independent journalist and researcher and works on human rights, conflict and development. Email: zia_red@hotmail.com)

 

 

By Zia Ur Rehman
For CentralAsiaOnline.com
2010-10-01

KARACHI – The outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)’s network in Karachi is completely shattered, senior police sources claim.

Police have arrested dozens of Taliban militants fleeing from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and tribal areas after the 2009 military operations in those regions, the sources said.

Karachi, the country’s commercial hub and a city of 18m, is considered an ideal place for militants to lose themselves in the crowd. So far this year, police have arrested 75, compared to 79 all of last year, according to a survey of media reports.

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The suspected TTP members came mostly from Swat, South Waziristan and Orakzai, and some possessed ready-to-use suicide jackets and huge quantities of explosives and weapons, police said.

Terrorists caught include high-profile figures

On September 22, two Afghan Taliban suspects, Abdullah Al-Hajri and Qari Hamza Ali Shah, were arrested on Super Highway, police sources said. They were planning to kill Faisal Raza Abidi and Farooq Sattar, two Karachi parliamentarians who belong to the Pakistan People’s Party and Mutahida Qaumi Movement, sources added.

Another high-profile catch is Fawad Ali, a reputed aide of Swat TTP leader Maulana Fazlullah. Police seized the suspected bomb-maker August 30 in Qasba Colony. He was arrested with 1kg of explosives, Criminal Investigation Department (CID) senior official Omar Shahid told Central Asia Online.

On August 30 police arrested Ashgar and Riaz, said Irfan Bahadur, a senior police officer overseeing Sohrab Goth and adjacent areas. The pair allegedly ran the South Waziristani TTP branch’s financial affairs, Bahadur said.

“Police have largely broken TTP’s network in the city because we have arrested consecutive amirs (heads) appointed for Karachi, including Akhter Zaman Mehsud and his successors, Bahadur Khan Mohmand – alias Sadiq – and Maulvi Saeed Anwar,” one anonymous official claimed.

Police accuse the detainees of beheading innocent civilians, attacking security forces and police, destroying private property and committing other crimes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal areas.

Still another arrest on June 3 netted four heavily armed suspected dacoits (bandits) in Ali Garh Colony after an attempted bank robbery. Police later identified the suspects as TTP members.

The arrest of the Afghan Taliban’s suspected second-in-command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in January spotlighted the city’s role as a Taliban sanctuary.

“I personally know that a dozen hard-line militants who killed innocent Swatis and burnt their houses have been arrested in Karachi by local police,” Jamal Nasir Khan, a former Swat district mayor, told Central Asia Online.

Militants raise money in Karachi, send it to camps in tribal regions

“Most of the militants coming to Karachi are low-profile members of the TTP,” said Raja Omar Khitab, a senior police investigator who runs the counterterrorism operation in the city. “They hide here and work as labourers. Some of them are perhaps waiting for the right time to return to the tribal areas and fight Pakistan’s security forces.”

They raise funds through extortion, bank robberies and kidnappings and send the money to training camps in tribal areas where militants plan terrorist acts, Khitab said.

TTP-affiliated clerics in tribal areas have issued fatwas authorising their followers to commit crimes to fund the fighting, according to media reports.

Many suspected militants admit during interrogation that they came to Karachi to raise money for activities in tribal areas, police said. The suspects reportedly have admitted to hijacking oil tanker trucks and committing robberies and kidnappings. They send half of their ill-gotten gains to commanders in tribal areas, police added.

Taliban insurgents from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa prefer not to stage militant acts in Karachi, preferring instead to raise money there, a senior police official and counterterrorism specialist told Central Asia Online on condition of anonymity.

Militants are fleeing tribal areas to escape the threat of aerial attacks, a political activist hailing from South Waziristan but living in Karachi said.

“We are getting information that the TTP is forming links with other jihadist networks or splinter groups in the city and recruiting people from here to fight in Pakistan’s tribal areas and Afghanistan,” a police official said, adding that authorities are cracking down on TTP-linked jihadist groups.

A recent wave of sectarian targeted killings in the city left dozens dead. Evidence leads to links with TTP Waziristan, said Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik.

Militant groups trying to re-establish contact with each other have been foiled and have suffered numerous arrests, he added.  The crackdown on militants has taken a toll on police, as dozens of them have died, one official said.

End