In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Help End the Humanitarian Crisis in Parachinar, Pakistan

An Appeal to

All People of Conscience…

Please support the victims of organized terror in Parachinar, Pakistan

More than 200 people have been killed, another 2500 badly wounded in the last fifteen months in Parachinar. The main road that connects this remote area to Peshawar and the rest of Pakistan has been effectively blocked by criminal elements for the last ten months. Those who tried to travel through this road have been literally slaughtered. To get their daily supplies of food and medicine, the people of Parachinar are forced to take the longer route to Peshawar which requires crossing the Afghan border. The cost of daily supplies and travel to other parts of Pakistan has therefore multiplied five to six times. The Afghan route is not very safe either. At least twice, the passengers from Parachinar have been abducted by the same criminal elements, who move freely across the Pakistan-Afghan border. The Afghan forces were able to rescue the passengers in the first case. There is no sign yet of passengers in the second. Many fear that they have been killed already. The Pakistani state has turned a deaf ear to various appeals requesting security and emergency supplies to Parachinar. Rogue elements within the state institutions are actively backing the criminals in their protracted, low-scale ethnic cleansing of the Parachinar people.

The humanitarian crisis in Parachinar demands urgent action. We can’t afford to sit idle by and wait for the Pakistani state to attend to its responsibilities. Thousands of people are on the verge of death. The objective of the protracted, low-scale ethnic cleansing is to drive them out of their ancestral lands. The brave people of Parachinar have been able to defend themselves for many years now. But their capacities can't be compared to the organized terror machinery of their opponents. They are in desperate need of our help. In the name of God and in the name of humanity, please come forward and help your brothers and sisters in need.

- Concerned Citizens of Pakistan

What YOU CAN do!

Educate yourselves and people around you about the situation.
Organize prayers, vigils, and workshops in your localities - school, campus, public libraries, Friday prayers, mosques and community centers, embassies and press clubs. Prepare large posters with images and concise information.

Write op-ed columns and letters to your local and national newspapers with an informed perspective. Also write to your governments and local and international human rights groups. Hold poster and letter writing sessions in your communities.

Demand that the Pakistani state ensure the protection of all of its citizens. The state should immediately end the blockade of the Peshawar-Parachinar route. The government should set up an independent commission to investigate the complicity of security officials and intelligence agencies. They should also estimate the level of damage and compensate the victims duly.

Generate emergency funds in your localities through donation and public service. Establish these funds as part of a regular project (with a target amount to be generated each year) to help the victims of oppression in various parts of Pakistan and elsewhere.

As you help these victims with basic humanitarian aid (food, medicine, shelter), also empower them for the longer term by establishing and supporting sustainable development projects, relating to education, health, media/communications, micro-financing, and community building.
Keep up with the latest developments in Parachinar and other affected areas in Pakistan.

Historical Context: The Rise of Extremism in Pakistan

Over the 1980s and 1990s, the Pakistani state actively pursued a policy of making sectarian groups and those tribes subscribing to similar ideology dominate FATA region. Poverty and illiteracy, among other factors, provided a fertile ground for extremism. Where persuasion did not work, violence was actively employed to take over the mosques and properties of other Sunni tribes. Terror was often the weapon of first choice against the Shia tribes. Tribal rivalries now also took cover of sectarianism in various instances. Politics and state policies reinforced the sectarian divisions. The leaders in the local jirga committees who worked to promote sectarian and tribal harmony were systematically targeted with threats and violence.
It is hard to imagine that the numbers, the arm supplies, the training, the organization, and the autonomy that these extremist groups have today in the independent territories of FATA would have materialized in the short span since the 1990s without an active involvement of the Pakistani state apparatuses and investments of money and strategic support from outside. The continued ties of these extremist groups with rogue elements in the Pakistani state and their experience of guerilla warfare against the Soviets make their capacity to create organized terror far superior to other terrorist movements that CIA has created in the past, including the Renamo in Mozambique and the Contras in Nicaragua. Although not as strong as these organized extremist groups, the local tribes in many areas of FATA are to this day bravely resisting the extremist influx. The prominent among these areas has been the Kurram Agency, where Parachinar is situated.
Since 9/11, in the name of fighting the American ‘war on terror’, the Pakistani state has often breached the basic constitutional and human rights of its citizens, especially, in dealing with its political opponents in Balochistan, NWFP, and FATA. Hundreds of missing people, widely believed to be abducted by the intelligence agencies and kept at unknown places (documented by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)), is a case in point. A parallel to this political use of ‘war on terror’ is in Bush administration’s targeting of anti-dictatorial, anti-imperialistic, and anti-corporate-globalization movements in various parts of the world. These resistance movements are conveniently labeled as ‘terrorists’ and dealt with accordingly. ‘War on terror’, in this politics, is quite functional for the powers-that-be to maintain and expand their dominance. Many commentators have also argued that through their policies and manipulations these powers breed the same terrorists that then seek to fight off. Current bombardment by NATO forces in FATA areas are only going to result in the same.
The Parachinar Crisis: Who is Responsible?
Parachinar, the capital of Kurram Agency in the north western FATA region of Pakistan, has always attracted attention of various local and regional powers due to its strategic location and the predominantly Shia Muslim population. Since the 1980s, the competition among various local and international powers has often flared up tribal and sectarian tensions in the area and its surrounding. Apart from sporadic clashes among various tribes, there have been instances of organized marauding, where militant bands, comprising of thousands of extremists as well as local bandits and thugs, systematically attacked various Shia areas in the Kurram Agency, including Parachinar and Pewaar (which is located right next to the Afghan border). The organized terror was meant to force the local inhabitants to migrate out of these areas. In 1988, a similar episode occurred in the areas of Gilgit and Baltistan in the North-eastern Pakistan. Gilgit-Baltistan region is another strategically important location, near the volatile Kashmir region and China and Afghanistan, and home to thousands of Shia Muslims. The local officials and security forces have usually stayed silent during such episodes of violence. No serious investigations have been carried out on these tragedies to this day. At times the state officials have also supported the criminal elements by providing safe harbors and supplies. Yet, it also should be noted that several times in these crises, people from surrounding areas belonging to different sectarian and tribal backgrounds have come to the help of these victims with food and shelter.
The ongoing humanitarian crisis is but a link in the long chain of atrocities and plots against the Parachinar people. The rogue elements within the Pakistani state institutions are directly responsible for their suffering. The newly elected civilian government has failed to enforce its writ so far. However, the solution to this humanitarian crisis is not in a brute use of force against the criminal elements. Such violence only breeds more violence. The solution is in controlling the hands that control these criminals. The rise of extremism in Pakistan is essentially a political problem and its solution is also in the political process. The civilian government and the establishment need to ensure the protection of basic constitutional and human rights of all citizens of Pakistan, irrespective of their color, creed, racial and ethnic affiliations. The criminals and those who supported them should be brought to justice, but through fair trial in the courts. Independent functioning of the civilian government and the justice system is crucial in this regard.
Lastly, in any assessment or condemnation of crimes against the Parachinar people, especially in the international media, it is important to hold accountable not only the front-end Taliban forces but also the hidden hands that created and promoted them over the years and that continue to use them to advance their political and economic interests. Focusing purely on the Taliban conceals the crucial role of the bigger powers in this game. The same powers can also effectively control these criminals. Therefore, these powers should be the main target of international pressures.
Merely denouncing the Taliban without denouncing the powers that originated them and for whose interests they are still working develops a misperception in the eyes of the world that the problem is with Islam and its teachings. It is a conflict instigated by rogue elements of the Pakistani state and militant elements for their shortsighted gains. Any simplistic characterization of this problem in “sectarian” terms erases more than it explains.

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