Peace finally?

July 30, 2023

Life returns to a semblance of normalcy after a ceasefire in Kurram district

Peace finally?


ribal elders and the local administration have brokered a truce between two rival groups in Kurram district, reinstating peace after a week of fierce fighting. A year-long ceasefire was included in the peace agreement signed by both sides, last Sunday.

This development comes after a dispute over community property earlier this month escalated into a full-fledged sectarian conflict.

Thirteen people lost their lives and more than 70 were injured in the clashes that broke out in two villages before it spread to Parachinar and other parts of Kurram Agency.

A delegation of 30 tribal elders belonging to Hangu, Kohat and Orakzai districts, led by Dr Azmatullah Wazir, the deputy commissioner of Kohat, visited the area at a time when tensions were running high.

After several rounds of dialogue that spanned over two days, the delegation was able to negotiate a peace agreement. Both parties agreed to comply and disarm, restoring a semblance of normalcy to the region after days of violence.

“This is an airtight agreement,” Moazzam Khan Bangash, the additional deputy commissioner, informed the media. “Anyone who violates it will have to pay a fine of Rs 120 million,” he said.

Clashes had erupted in some parts of Kurram on July 7. These later took the form of full-fledged sectarian conflict that continued till July 13.

“Despite the efforts of local administration and law enforcement agencies (LEAs) and tribal elders in Upper, Lower and Central Kurram the fighting spread.”

A grand jirga was then called under the directives of Kohat Division Commissioner Mohammad Ali to seek a solution. The peace agreement is a result of the efforts of that jirga.

The conflict originated in two villages; Boshehra with a Sunni majority and Dander which is predominately Shia.

It is worth noting that residents of both villages, regardless of their sect, belong mainly to the Bangash tribe. Both villages are located in Parachinar tehsil of Kurram district.

The clashes started when an individual allegedly tried to forcibly grab community land about which there was already a dispute.

This skirmish was resolved by a local jirga in two days. However, by then the fighting had already spread to five other flashpoints in Upper and Lower Kurram where tensions were running high already, lending a sectarian colour to the property dispute. Both sides made allegations on social media, adding to the friction between the two communities.

As fighting spread to Parachinar, routine life was disrupted. Educational institutes shut down and business activities were halted as fearful citizens rushed home. Internet services were also suspended, casting the city in an information blackout.

A map of Kurram Agency which was merged in 2018 with KP and is now known as Kurram district.
A map of Kurram Agency which was merged in 2018 with KP and is now known as Kurram district.

“We don’t want more conflict. Conflicts disproportionately affect the common man,” says Muhammad Tariq, a student from Parachinar. “None of us [residents] want to fight. We just want peace.” 

“We don’t want more conflict. Conflicts disproportionately affect the common man,” says Muhammad Tariq, a student from Parachinar. “None of us [residents] want to fight. We just want peace,” he says.

“We don’t want disruptions. Whenever tensions rise here, we are fearful,” he adds. “You see, there are only two main bazaars in this area. When there are armed conflicts, all the routes leading to those shut down.”

“We suffer because then there is a shortage of businesses that sell essentials such as food items and medicines. As a student, I can go neither to the main Parachinar bazaar nor the Sadda bazaar to buy books and stationery. I cannot even access resource material on the internet,” he reports.

“Most of these disputes are land disputes. The temperature rises when they take on a sectarian colour,” Tariq tells the News on Sunday.

Journalist Riaz Chamkani, who hails from Kurram, agrees with Tariq. “Most of these conflicts are basically land disputes,” he explains, “…but they take on a sectarian color. The current dispute started over possession of land but then spread and was referred to as a sectarian conflict.”

According to Chamkani, after a few people got injured in the clashes and skirmishes, a Sunni man claimed that members of the Shia community were issuing calls to people from far-flung areas to come over and fight. “This lent a sectarian colour to a conflict that was, at its core, a dispute over land. Tempers ran high after that and clashes erupted all over the district,” he adds.

Chamkani tells TNS that both parties used heavy weapons in this conflict. “While some people were disarmed after the recent spate of clashes, many people are still armed to the teeth. We got reports that some people were stockpiling weapons in the upper part of the district,” he added.

“These disputes are nothing new,” says Ali Afzal, chairman of Parachinar Press Club. “Disputes over resources such as land, water and land routes are quite common in this region,” Afzal tells TNS. “But when the disputes escalate along sectarian fault lines, the fighting spreads and becomes truly dangerous.”

Before this, on May 4, a Sunni cleric, Muhammad Sharif, was killed by unidentified assailants who opened gunfire at him near Parachinar. After this, four teachers and three labourers belonging to the Shia sect, were killed at a school in Teri Mangal, a Sunni majority locality.

Disputes over ownership of community property or shamlat land are becoming more frequent in the region. These swathes of land used to be owned collectively by a tribe. Shifting demographics have made disagreements a flashpoint.

Stretches of disputed community property exist all over the province, especially in Kurram, Waziristan and southern parts of Balochistan. In Kurram district alone, there are eight zones where the ownership of property is disputed since pre-independence times, according to a press release issued by the Home Department.

The writer is a freelance reporter 

Peace finally?