Deweaponisation drive stirs worries among Kurram people

PESHAWAR: The government has launched a deweaopnisation campaign in Kurram Agency, asking the local tribal people to hand over weapons to the administration.

However, elders in Parachinar say that recent history of violence against the tribes and fragile security situation in Afghanistan make this move inopportune at this moment.

“The so-called Islamic State has headquarters in our backyard (Nangarhar). Disarming Turi and Bangash tribes in upper and lower parts of Kurram is very inappropriate. Any action against tribes at this moment will create problems,” MNA Sajid Hussain Turi told Dawn.

He said that their people didn’t feel safe from the Afghanistan side as border posts were being attacked from Afghan territory.

Local Brigade Commander Brigadier Malak Amir Mohammad Khan asked tribal elders at a jirga in Parachinar on Tuesday last to voluntarily surrender their “heavy weapons” to the political administration within 45 days otherwise strict action against violators of order would be taken.

“All the tribal areas had been cleansed of terrorists and compliance of law is the collective responsibility of every citizen,” the official Associated Press of Pakistan had quoted the army officer as saying.

Elders say history of violence against tribes and situation in Afghanistan make the move inappropriate

According to the deadline, people could retain AK-47 assault rifles and other traditional weapons for personal safety. Officials said that each tribe in the agency piled and stored weapons to be used in collective action by the tribe against any aggressor.

“These weapons have become liabilities for the tribes now,” they added. The deadline stirred worries among the people, who have yet to come out of trauma of violence that led to three-year long blockade of the main route to Kurram.

Clashes in Kurram from November 2007 to 2010 had left over 3,000 people dead while thousands of families were forced to flee their homes. Majority of the displaced families have yet to return to their native lands.

Unlike other tribal agencies of Fata, Kurram has different dynamics because of sectarian divides and its geo-strategic location. Kurram is surrounded by Afghanistan from three sides and remained in turmoil since 1980 when Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

Although security situation in the area has witnessed remarkable improvement particularly after military operations in North Waziristan, Orakzai and Kurram’s adjacent areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but IS and outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s elements on Afghan territory are considered threat for Kurram Agency.

Former corps commander of Peshawar Lt-Gen Hidayatur Rehman during a press briefing last year had cautioned that “threat warnings in Kurram have been received from across the border.”

Sensing threat from the Afghanistan, local authorities had asked villagers residing along the border to set up posts on the hilltops and keep vigil during night to prevent any attack from Paktia and Khost provinces.

An elder from Upper Kurram said that inconsistency in the statements of decision makers confused people and they did not rely on their assurances. “One day they (officials) ask people to occupy peaks and start night patrolling to stop incursion of militants from the Afghan side and the other day they turn somersault giving deadline to the tribes to surrender weapons. We fail to understand their wisdom,” he said.

Haji Faqir Hussain, head of Anjuman Hussaineia, main decision making body of various tribes in Kurram, said that indifferent policies of successive governments during the past few decades had forced local population to ensure their own safety against the hostile elements in and outside the valley.

“The administration can’t guarantee our safety, keeping in view the harsh realities of recent past. Disarming people at this moment is tantamount to tying their hands and feet,” he said.

Mr Hussain said that state apparatus knew that Turi and Bangash tribes had never fought against the state and supported every action of the government against anti-state elements and criminals.

Political Agent Ikramullah Khan said that local tribes were asked about one year ago to hand over their heavy weapons and ammunitions to the administration.

He said that deweaponisation was part of the plan to purge society from illegal weapons. He added that local administration would hold talks at the clan and village level to ask people to surrender their weapons.

“In the specific context of Kurram the administration has offered tribes to handover heavy weapons, to be documented and will be a trust with the local authorities,” he said, “there is no such example in other tribal agencies, where the people are not allowed even to keep sling shot.”

“The administration is giving the tribe a very respected and legitimate way to pull them out of this dilemma,” said Mr Khan, adding that those people were sleeping over piles of explosives.

A security official said that deweaponisation campaign in Kurram was not against any specific tribe or sect. He said that all tribes and sects would be disarmed in the light of National Action Plan.

“Yes, there was threat from the Afghanistan side few months ago, but now there is a security post after every one kilometre along the border. There is no justification to dump anti-tank mines, anti-aircraft guns and other lethal weapons on the pretext of threat from the Afghan side,” he said.

MNA Sajid Turi denied that people had anti-tank mines or anti-aircraft guns. “If administration has any such proof, the tribes are ready for cooperation, but collecting common rifles from the people would be inappropriate,” he said.

Dr Khadim Hussain, political analyst in Peshawar, told Dawn that government should hold dialogue with the elders through civilian administration and public representatives instead of involving military commanders in the issue.

“Instead of involving brute face of the state, the government should contact local people through civil administration or parliamentarian to hold dialogue with the tribes to solve the issue,” he suggested. He said that the administration should refrain from setting deadlines and should restore people’s trust and convince them to voluntarily hand over weapons to it.