Communal riots have been a recurring issue in the Kurram district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since 1938, even before the partition of the Indian sub-continent. Over the years, hundreds of human lives have been lost in these clashes.
Previously, the wars lasted for a short period of two to three weeks or at most a week, after which both sides would live peacefully in each other’s territory. However, after 9/11, like other tribal districts, Kurram district experienced a period of unrest.
The unrest in Kurram district was unique as it manifested as Shia-Sunni riots that lasted for years. Additionally, the Tal-Parachinar Road remained completely closed for four to five years.
In recent years, incidents continue to occur in the Kurram district every month, and there is a risk of escalating tensions throughout the district. Unfortunately, no adequate steps have been taken to end the Shia-Sunni riots, leaving local people dissatisfied.
In the aftermath of the recent tragic incident in Kurram, a new war may break out on one side, while on the other hand, trade with Afghanistan has stopped and ongoing matriculation examinations in the area have been postponed indefinitely.
Notably, on the 4th of this month, eight people, including school teachers, were killed in two different incidents in Kurram district.
A Brief Historical Background
In the post-2007 clashes in the Kurram district, thousands of Shia and Sunni people burned each other’s houses. Although the government and tribal elders found a solution through Jirga to restore peace, the ongoing conflicts for the past 10 years have led to the blockage of roads, mobile networks, educational institutions, and business centers throughout the district. Innocent people are targeted and killed in other areas of the district after such conflicts or target killings.
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Regarding the recent incidents, Saif ul Islam, the Deputy Commissioner of Kurram District believes that they happened due to a land dispute. He stated that a dispute between the Gedu Mengal tribe (Sunni) and Pewar (Shia) tribes over the annexed property has existed since 2009, which has resulted in many clashes in the past.
Abdul Qadir, a member of the Mengal Welfare Committee, said that this issue has caused a war many times, with over 25 people killed on both sides. Apart from the decisions of the Jirgas, the case of this dispute is also being heard in the court, for which a commission was formed.
Furthermore, small villages, including the Upper Kurram’s Muqbal tribe, Bushehra, Para Chamkani, Balash Khel, and Kunj Alizai, have property disputes among themselves, leading to frequent clashes. If these conflicts are not resolved, war may start again in these areas at any time. The government needs to seriously address these problems and establish its writ to prevent these incidents from occurring.
A few months ago, a clash occurred between Bushehra Sunnis and Parachinar Shias over a land dispute, resulting in the deaths of four people. Like the recent clash, this also led to the blockage of roads throughout the district, and some miscreants attempted to stir up communal tensions.
Earlier, a member of the Shia community was detained by people for alleged blasphemy in Sada Bazar of Karam district, he was later rescued by the police and the district administration. However, a schoolboy was killed during the firing.
In 2011, the Murree Accord was signed between the Shia and Sunni tribes, in which both sides gave assurances that no one would be targeted on the streets or in public places during the settlement of property disputes. It was agreed that a dispute in one village would not impose war on the entire district. However, due to the non-implementation of the agreement, clashes started once again on the annexed lands of different places in Kurram, leading to sectarian conflicts.
How to End Communal Riots?
According to Zahoor Khan, a social worker in Kurram district, suspicious persons are detained by the police after any incident, but not a single criminal has been punished yet. He believes that if the police and security enforcement agencies apprehend the criminals and get them punished by the courts, then no one would blame each other. Unfortunately, this has not been possible.
The Kurram Police, on the other hand, claim that actions have been taken after every incident in the district, and the accused involved have also been produced in court.
On the other hand, the President of District Kurram Anjuman e Hussainea, Tajmal Hussaini, says that the reason for not maintaining peace in District Kurram is the failure to distinguish between oppressors and victims, leading to the targeting of innocent people without investigation. The recent incident in Tari Mangal is a perfect example where, after the murder of one person, seven people were killed without any proper investigation.
According to Hussaini, conflicts exist in all tribal areas, but no one supports the oppressor. He added that the leaders of the Shia and Sunni tribes have unanimously demanded that the government take action against the oppressors and people involved in these incidents and work towards resolving the conflicts in Kurram district so that an atmosphere of peace can be established in the district. The peace of Kurram district, he believes, lies in punishing the criminals severely and resolving disputes promptly.
Malik Munawar Khan, the tribal leader of the Mengal tribes and president of the Mengal Welfare Committee, believes that the proper implementation of the Murree agreement can help solve all the problems in the Kurram district.
He points out that the property dispute between the Mengal and Pewar tribes has been going on for a long time, and the Mengal tribe is willing to accept the decision of either the local Jirga (council) or the court. However, he stresses the need for an anti-arms search operation in the Kurram district from Tari Mengal to Chhapri before any decision is made, as some people may not accept the decision and resort to violence, which would destabilize the area.
According to Khan, the restoration of peace in Kurram district requires an indiscriminate operation against arms throughout the district and prompt resolution of property and other disputes.
Geographical Importance Of District Kurram
Kurram district holds significant geographical importance as it comprises two provincial constituencies, two national constituencies, three sub-divisions, and three sub-districts, with a population of around 600,000 people. The majority of Lower Kurram’s population is Sunni, with only two or three villages in Central Kurram being Shia. Meanwhile, in Upper Kurram, except for Tari Mangal, Muqbal, Bushehra, and a few small villages, the population is predominantly Shia.
The district shares a border with various regions, including District Hangu, Waziristan, and Orakzai to the east of Tehsil Lower Kurram. Orakzai district is located to the east of Central Kurram, and Khyber district is located to the north. The Pak-Afghan border lies to the west of Upper Kurram, situated at the foothills of Koh e Sufaid. Additionally, the border of Central Kurram and Lower Kurram is also located here.
Upper Kurram has trade routes to Afghanistan via Kherlachi, Tari Mengal, Shurqa, and other locations along the Pak-Afghan border. Presently, only the Kherlachi border is open for mutual trade, while the other routes remain closed.