‘Because they were Shia’
14 Shia passengers killed in a roadside bomb attack in Orakzai Agency point to a new pattern of sectarian killings across the tribal Agencies, which is cause for serious concern. The Parachinar Shia tribes of Kurram Agency are no strangers to long-standing sectarian differences that often erupt in episodes of violence, but the latest round of attacks, particularly this Orazkai incident, indicates an unprecedented blueprint, one that betrays logistical improvisation. Historically, Kurram has been the ideal staging post for all sorts of covert operations into Afghanistan. Its strategic ‘Parrot’s Beak’ enclave provides by far the most convenient infiltration point into Afghan territory. Hence its tactical significance, be it for mujahideen waging holy war against the Soviets, or al Qaeda/Taliban elements crossing over to disrupt NATO/ISAF forces. And whenever indoctrinated jihadists have passed through there, their Salafist tendencies have sought fit to engage in genocidal pogroms against the native Shia tribes. Of course, crushing a community they so openly oppose also serves to intimidate other potential pockets of resistance. Should continuing signs of unrest in Kurram, and now the obvious spillover in neighbouring Orakzai, be a fallout of the same proxy-sponsoring tendencies of the intelligence agencies, then there is an extremely disturbing, potentially existential, problem confronting Pakistan that the country ignores at its peril. Furthermore, intelligence chatter indicates that renewed attacks might spring from the move of the Haqqani network to the area, which is even more disturbing.
Apparently no longer able to deflect pressing US demands for an offensive in North Waziristan to pursue the Haqqanis, elements in military intelligence saw fit to move them to Kurram and Orakzai, fearing a unilateral external hit. That their presence would embolden indigenous Taliban elements is natural, as the sectarian flare-up in normally non-controversial Orakzai seems to indicate. It may well be that the Haqqani hand in the recent violence is indirect, with those strengthened by their presence seeing fit to carry out their own agenda. Still, the responsibility must first be placed on the Haqqani network, then, and more seriously, on the sponsors that got him there. On an even more alarming note, with the US House of Representatives now urging the State Department to officially declare the Haqqanis terrorists, Pakistan may not be far from being sanctioned for failure to dismantle this network specialising in IEDs, targeted killings and genocide. As things stand, Islamabad must urgently undertake a number of steps to bring a semblance of normalcy to the situation.
One, it must take official notice of targeted victimisation and murder of the Shia minority, especially in the tribal Agencies. This must include ending their isolation and ensuring protection along the Kurram-Kohat highway, which has been the target of Shia slaughter for far too long. Two, it must immediately order a detailed investigation into the present situation in Orazkai-Kurram, especially with regard to Haqqani’s movements. Three, it must investigate, expose and eliminate all forms of official clandestine help to elements like the Haqqanis, who are in violent revolt against secular society and should have no place in a progressive state. Four, it must brush up its own information outreach. Militants seem to leverage the media muscle far more effectively, be it the Mulla-FM of Swat, use of the internet or serious publications and fliers. Even in Orakzai, the Taliban openly took responsibility for the attack that killed, among others, two eleven-year-old and one three-year-old children, “because they were Shia”. They also vowed more attacks, with the government mum as usual.
Eager elements in our security establishment are reminded that sheltering forces that, directly or indirectly, facilitate pitiless slaughter on our home soil for some sort of strategic gambit amounts to cutting off one’s nose to spite the face. Already sectarian violence has spread from its more usual centres to the Agencies. This is a self-defeating strategy that must be abandoned.