Since 1980s, Parachinar, nestled high in a remote, mountainous region of Pakistan and with majority Shia population, has seen the emergence of radical Saudi-sponsored Salafist groups, and sectarian violence has become a disturbing phenomenon, fueled by local and global terrorist organizations like the Taliban and ISIS.
Nestled high in a remote, mountainous region of Pakistan, not many people would have heard of Parachinar – described widely as the ‘heaven on earth’ for its scenic landscape. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1970s, it was used by Americans and Saudis as training ground for militias fighting the Soviets. The same militias later gave birth to the Taliban.
Since 1980s, Parachinar, with majority Shia population, has seen the emergence of radical Saudi-sponsored Salafist groups, and sectarian violence has become a disturbing phenomenon, fueled by local and global terrorist organizations like the Taliban and ISIS. These terrorist outfits have committed horrendous crimes in this mountainous region, killing Shias and rendering them homeless.
Situated along the line dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan, Parachinar is a volatile region where security situation remains fragile and people live dangerously. After the ouster of the Taliban from Afghanistan in 2001, many Taliban militants crossed over into this region and established sanctuaries there. They would often launch targeted attacks against Shias, forcing many of them to abandon their homes. Government forces, instead of helping unarmed people against armed militants, stood paralyzed.
In 2007, almost seven years after the Taliban regime in Kabul was toppled, major violence broke out in Parachinar between local people and Taliban fighters. After years of suffering silently, people rose up and resisted with full might. In the ensuing clashes, more than five thousand people were killed and thousands were injured, most of them still dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, the valiant people of Parachinar refused to retreat or surrender and eventually forced the militants to withdraw from the region.
Since 2007, after being thrown out, Taliban have carried out many dastardly attacks in Parachinar, resulting in heavy civilian casualties. In a disturbing development, according to reports, ISIS is also now trying to gain foothold in the Shia-majority mountainous region. Last year, after the Al Quds Day rally on the last Friday of Ramadan, more than 100 people were killed in two deadly explosions carried out by the militant group, also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh.
Prior to the attacks, some leaflets had been distributed in Kurram Agency, warning Shias to stop supporting Bashar al Assad government in Syria or brace up for more attacks. In Afghanistan also, Hazara Shias are attacked by ISIS on the pretext that they fight in Syria under the banner of ‘Fatemeyon’ brigade, defending the holy shrines.
It is important to note here that a large number of people from Parachinar are fighting in Syria, under the banner of ‘Zainabiyon’, protecting the holy shrine of Sayyeda Zainab (sa). Many of them have been martyred while defending the holy shrines, which is clearly a source of consternation for Salafist groups in Pakistan that receive briefings directly from Riyadh.
Parachinar, a federally governed area of Pakistan, is also a victim of government’s callousness and indifference. The region, through a systematic policy framed way back in General Zia ul Haq’s time, who was fiercely against Shias, has been kept away from the gains of economic progress and development. The economic condition of people is weak and living standards are shockingly poor.
Following the twin-blasts in Ramadan last year, people in Parachinar protested for eight days, refusing to bury the dead, demanding peace, security and economic development. The protest was called off only after Pakistan’s Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa visited the region and gave assurances to the protestors. The assurances proved to be hogwash as nothing much has changed in all these months.
While the security situation remains volatile, economic condition of people continues to go from bad to worse. And, quite appallingly, nobody wants to listen to the woes of people – not the government, not the human rights bodies, not the international community. Their only crime is they are Shias.