RAWALPINDI: The relatives of the victims of twin bomb blasts in Parachinar, Kurram Agency, on Friday ended their sit-in, which was continuing for the last eight days after Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited the area and accepted the demands of protesters, including replacement of Frontier Corps (FC) commandant.
General Bajwa visited Parachinar to offer Dua for the Shuhada of the June 24 twin terrorist attacks that left 75 people dead and 261 others injured. General Bajwa is stated to be the first high-ranking officer who went to Parachinar and held a detailed meeting with the local community representatives.
Before him, Corps Commander, Peshawar, Lieutenant General Nazir Ahmed Butt, and Inspector General of FC, Major General Shaheen Mazhar Mehmood, had visited Parachinar and offered condolences to the bereaved families. Emotions were running high in Parachinar and parts of the Kurram tribal region after the back-to-back terrorist attacks in the city only two days before Eidul Fitr.
Military authorities said Army chief General Bajwa had decided to visit Parachinar earlier but he was abroad and then the weather intervened and delayed his visit. Only eight members of the Parachinar Dharna Committee leading the protests were invited to the heavily-guarded Officers Mess for meeting the army chief. Almost all members of the committee were young and had recently completed their studies from reputable universities of the country. They included Muzammil Hussain, Saqib Hussain, an engineer by profession, Mudassir Hussain, college lecturer, Shabbir Hussain, owner of educational institutions, Zakir Hussain, university student, Zamin Hussain, a businessman, Ahmad Hussain, college lecturer, and Mohsin Rasheed, an engineer. General Bajwa after a brief note invited the committee members to present their demands.
The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said the army chief assured the residents and the committee members of full support and cooperation in protecting their lives and properties like other Pakistanis. According to the committee members, the army chief assured them that additional troops would be deployed in Parachinar and the FC would be sent to secure the Afghan border. Also, they said the army chief told them that the firing by FC troops while handling the mob situation after the blasts was being investigated and those responsible shall not be spared.
The FC Commandant in Parachinar had already been replaced notwithstanding the irreparable loss of four and injuries due to the firing. The families of those slain have been given separate compensation by the FC. Besides the relatives of four men who died in the FC firing, the army chief assured them that relatives of all the victims would be provided government jobs and a proper Shaheed package.
“The government has now announced compensation for the Parachinar victims at par with other such victims elsewhere in the country. All Pakistanis are equal and we are here to protect you and your properties,” General Bajwa told the committee members.
He said there was clear evidence of hostile foreign hands in recent incidents, adding local facilitators and abettors have been apprehended and will be tried in military courts. He said the Tori Razakars, or volunteers, were also being detailed on the check posts for better security of the people and their properties.
The army chief said that the safe city project for Parachinar by installing CCTV cameras in line with the ones in Lahore and Islamabad would be undertaken. He said fencing of the Pak-Afghan border is already in progress and more sensitive areas of Fata were being fenced in phase one. He said the complete Pak-Afghan border, including the portion in Balochistan, will be fenced in phase two.
The army chief approved renaming of the Army Public School in Parachinar after Major Gulfam Shaheed and said it would be upgraded to cadet college in due course of time. He assured that the army would establish a trauma centre at the Agency Headquarters Hospital in Parachinar while the local Civil Hospital will be upgraded for better medical care by the civil administration.
General Bajwa announced the military’s full support of Fata’s mainstreaming that is being pursued, adding its early implementation is essential for enduring peace and stability. He said that Pakistan Army would continue its efforts to bring back normalcy in the country. He reminded that threat continues to reside across the border in Afghanistan with the ISIS gaining strength there.
“We need to remain united, steadfast, prepared and vigilant against this threat which has an agenda of exploiting sectarian faultlines,” he said.
General Bajwa remarked that their security forces are symbol of national integration, so is their security apparatus. “We are one nation. Also, a greater Pak-Afghan border coordination and security cooperation is required in this regard,” he opined.
During his meeting with the committee members, General Bajwa constituted a high-level follow-up committee headed by a serving general. “We can only be effective when locals are part of the security and vigilance,” he told the committee members.
He said that we as a nation have given unprecedented sacrifices in the war against terrorism and we shall succeed. “Our enemies shall never succeed to lower our resolve or to divide us,” he stressed.
Appreciating FC Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and local administration for their efforts and sacrifices, General Bajwa acknowledged their contributions.
According to military officials, 126 brave soldiers of FC have laid their lives and 387 have got injured while performing security duties in the Kurram Agency alone. “The FC KP is a professional force inclusive of all tribes and sects performing their duties selflessly,” the army chief said.
The already explosive situation in Kurram Agency after the twin blasts deteriorated further when some personnel of the paramilitary Kurram Militia of the FC opened fire at the local protesters marching towards the Shaheed Park to express their anger over the insecurity prevailing in Parachinar. The FC soldiers resorted to firing apparently to disperse the protestors, but ended up killing four locals and injuring another 12.
The residents, the majority of them stated to be Shia Muslims, had started holding a peaceful protest and sit-in a week ago and vowed to continue their protest till the army chief came to Parachinar and assured them about their security. It was the first time that young and educated residents of Kurram Agency launched an organised protest and successfully conveyed their messages to the people concerned through the mainstream media and social media. Besides the national media, the young men managed to get attention of international media by inviting them to Parachinar, though the security authorities and political administration stopped some of the journalists and didn’t allow them to enter the Kurram Agency.
The government had mishandled the situation as people of Parachinar complained that neither Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra nor Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif bothered to visit the affected families. Citing security reasons, the security authorities had refused to allow a helicopter bringing former interior minister Rahman Malik and other senior Pakistan People’s Party leaders to land at the Parachinar airport.
Also, the protesters complained that it was almost a week later when the federal government announced compensation for the victims of the two blasts and that too when the issue was raised in the mainstream media and social media that “Parachinar doesn’t exist in Pakistan and its residents are not Pakistanis.” The protesters had also rejected the compensation package of Rs1 million for each dead and Rs500,000 for each injured person.
The committee members told The News that their meeting with the army chief was held “in a very friendly environment and he listened to them carefully and responsively”.
Mohsin Rasheed, who represented the committee members and spoke mostly in the meeting said that General Bajwa heard them for more than two hours and accepted their demands except establishment of military hospital in Parachinar. He said the army chief offered “dua” for the victims of the twin blasts and expressed his grief on the loss of precious lives.
“He told us that he was abroad and on return, weather delayed his attempts to visit Parachinar,” said Mohsin Rasheed. He said they had already rejected the compensation package announced by the prime minister. “The prime minister announced Rs2 million for each of the victims of the oil tanker fire in Punjab who died due to their own negligence. But he announced Rs1 million only for the victims of terrorism in Parachinar,” one of the committee members complained.