Sunday, 24 June 2012

Comments from Khyber

The fall of Tirah valley to the Taliban in Pakistan's Federally administered tribal areas has triggered a wave of internally displaced refugees. As part of our focus on challenging the narrative; local researchers Farooq and Shabir with help from writer  Noreen Nasser compiles information on the region for Qissa Khwani.
The mandatory orientalist reference for any article on the tribal areas

Some information and names have been changed to protect the identities of people.

Background: Located in the northwest of the Khyber Agency is the  beautiful and fertile Tirah Valley, the original home of all the Afridi and Orakzai tribes. Tirah Valley has two parts: one is in  Khyber agency and other is in Orakzai Agency.  In Khyber agency, eight tribes of Afridis are residing and are at war with each other for power between the militants groups ( Qamber Khail, Koki Khail, Malak din Khail, Zakha Khail, Aka Khail, Adam Khail, Sipah and Kamar Khail).

Presently in Khyber Tirah there are five major militants groups fighting for power and control: Lashkar- e -Islam (Mangal Bagh group, Mangal Bagh a bus conductor by profession). Ansar –ul- islam     (Mehboob group, Mehboob an imam of local Madrassa). Tehrik- e- Taliban (Tariq Afridi group an extraneous group, Tariq Afridi came from Dara Adam Khel a college graduate and brother of a Judge, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Judiciary), Tauheed-e- Islam (Aman lashkar of Zakha Khel sponsored by Pakistan Army: sarcastically referred to as ' good taliban' ) and 'Amar bil maroof wa nahi ul munkar' ( Haji Namdar group controlling lower Khyber Agency).  Lashkar- e- Islam apparent agenda is to implement Islamic Sharia but according to local people Mangal Bagh has no knowledge of Islam, he simply wants to control Khyber Agency. This group has people from  all the tribes of Afridis, it was controlling Bara area but now due to military presence they are carrying out their activities covertly.

In Tirah, it is presently occupying Aka Khail and Sipah tribes and also has some presence in small pockets of Malak din Khail and Kamar Khail areas. No body exactly knows about this group hideouts as they are constantly changing places. But it is believed that Mangal Bagh a Sipah himself resides near Pak-Afghan border in the area of Sipah tribe and guarded by young boys age 15-21.Ansar- ul- islam group is the main militant group in Tirah. It controls Tirah Zakha Khail, partial Qamber Khail area, Malak din Khail, Adam Khail and Shalobar (was part of Qamber Khail now known as independent tribe area). They are staunch rivals of Mangal Bagh group in the valley. Due to their skirmishes and differences hundreds of people lost their lives and thousands were displaced in lower parts of Khyber Agency. Tehrik-Taliban Tariq Afridi group of Dara Adam Khel is presently stationed and controlling Koki Khail area of Tirah Valley. It is also one of the strongest opponent of Mangal Bagh in the valley as well as in the lower parts of Khyber Agency. Tariq Afridi group moved to Tirah valley due to Pakistan Army operation in Dera Adam Khel. This group influenced by Sipah-e-Sahaba was involved in sectarian violence and kidnapping. Besides kidnapping and killing, Tariq Afridi was also fighting another group back in Dara known as Momin Afridi Group supported by Pakistan Military (good Taliban). Momin Afridi group stationed in Dara Adam Khel has Pakistan Army’s support against Tariq because its activities are more based in Afghanistan. Tauheed-e-Islam (good taliban) is a newly formed group with the blessing of Pakistan Army to counter Lashkar -e -Islam also called Aman lashkar. It has limited control over the territory of Zakha Khail and failed to contain Lashkar-e-Islam in Tirah. Amar bil Maroof Wa Nahi Ul Munkar group founder was Haji Namdar later assassinated by a young boy while praying in 2008. In Khyber Agency, it was the pioneer militant group created to fight evils of the society. Lashkar-e-Islam is its splinter group but even they are not on good terms, clashes occurred several times between them.  Amar bil Maroof Wa Nahi Ul Munkar control Qamber Khail Bara area and some parts of Tirah.

The major questions are : who are fighting and killing thousands of innocent people of  Tirah, Khyber Agency? why they are fighting?, where they are fighting? and who suffers the most in their lust for power?

Lashkar- e -islam and Ansar –ul- Islam are the two major militant groups in confrontation with each other. Initially their clashes started in Malak din Khail area of Tirah Maidan and according to local people it was the peak of their cruelty and violence, brothers and cousin were forced to fight against each other. Here I would like to narrate a tragic story of Najib hailing from Tirah Valley. He was a student of intermediate (computer science),studious, humble, calm and a normal boy of eighteen and never harmed any one. He was forced to fight for Lashkar-e-Islam against Ansar- ul –Islam as he was the only young boy in his family, his elder brother was in United Kingdom and father was too old.
 It is mandatory for the people living in these militant controlled areas to handover one young man to fight the rival group. Najib was not trained for war, therefore he was used as a shield to protect the trained militants. This strategy was adopted by both the groups that untrained would be in the front line to protect the trained militants and if anyone tried to escape or leave, either his family would be harmed or that person would be slaughtered. Najib fate was no different from those who tried to escape, he was cut into pieces and delivered to his family in a sack. These  atrocities terrorized Tirah people so much that they never tried or had the courage to oppose any group. After taking over the Malak din Khail areas in Tirah, Ansar- ul -islam started its aggression in  Kamar Khail (Sokh Area), Akka Khail (Dars Jummat), Sipah (Saanda paal). But again after furious fighting with Lashkar-e-Islam surrendered back these areas except Shalobar.  According to informal sources more than 1500 people are killed from both sides and nearly 2500 were injured (these are estimates of militant death toll, local population is not included that was killed in a collateral damage). Interestingly both groups claimed their dead as martyred of Islam (Shaheed) and the other “murdaar”,(derogatory word of Pashtu used for dead).

In Zakha Khail area rein of terror was unleashed when Lashkar- e -Islam killed a religious scholar . In reaction to the assassination of their scholar Zakha Khail tribe formed a group with the help of Pakistan Army Tauheed-ul-Islam (good taliban). Before the emergence of this group Zakha Khail area was under Lashkar-e-Islam, major conflict areas are Nari Baba and Sur Ghar. During their skirmishes almost three hundred people lost their lives.

Who suffered the most?

All Afridi tribes were affected but we have tried to generally categorize on the basis of death toll, displacement, and other financial and property losses: Malak din Khail is the most affected tribe in terms  human, financial losses and displacement. Sipah tribe was affected financially due to closure of Bara Market since 2007, human losses are also there as they were forced to take part in those clashes. Shalobar is the second largest tribe in terms of human losses and also suffered a lot due to displacement. Kamar Khail occupies the third position in death toll and financial losses. Aka Khail can be placed at fourth position that suffered a lot after Kamar Khail Zakha khail their losses are less as compare to other tribes but after creating its own group suffered human losses recently from Mangal Bagh group (local people are quite skeptic about this army supported group).

Pakistan Military and its role?

Pakistan Army for the first time enter into the area of Tirah Valley in 2002, formed several check posts at Pak-Afghan border and also in Morga ( which connects with Tora Bora via Kurram Agency).

In 2007-8, army pulled out of Tirah and now there is no army camp, post or base. The FC and Militia is looking after the Pak-Afghan border and whenever needed Pakistan Air force is called upon to target militants causing huge casualties and displacement.  According to locals a Pakistan Army major excuse for pulling back was the lack of facilities in the hard terrain which creates problem in the supply for the security forces.

Why government  and army failed in controlling the situation:

According to local opinion government and army is not interested to eliminate militancy in Tirah. Government and Army excuse is that Tirah is a difficult terrain and they don’t have the resources to combat militants. The recent fighting in the Tirah Valley between Lashkar-i-Islam and Ansar -ul -Islam is for the control of Saanda paal. This area is strategically important because through Saanda paal peak the whole valley of Tirah can be guarded and controlled. Whoever gets the control of this peak, can control and if needed target Tirah areas.  Nowadays it is under the control of Mangal Bagh. It is pertinent to mention that Pakistan Army has left these groups to their own devices, waiting and watching but in this process of indifference hundreds of innocent people have lost their lives.
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