When Sunni and Shia tribesmen in the strategically important Kurram Agency in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas signed a peace agreement in February this year, it was clear that something was afoot. The two groups had been at each other's throats for several years. Shia members of the Turi tribe living in Upper Kurram had been the subject of a murderous campaign by neighbouring Sunni Bangash tribesmen and had been cut off from the rest of Pakistan by ambushes and road blocks that had seen hundreds of Shias taken out of buses and murdered at the side of the road. The main road to Peshawar, for example, had been closed since 2007, despite attempts by the Pakistani army to keep it open. According to some accounts, the Shias have been armed and supported by the Iranian regime, which is also predominantly Shia.
Much of this anti-Shia violence has been directed by Hakimullah Mahsud, now leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, but once its emir in Kurram, Orakzai and Khyber. Mahsud is vehemently anti-Shia, regarding them as 'pagans'. He has encouraged his fighters fleeing the Pakistani offensives in both South Waziristan and also Swat to regroup in Orakzai and Kurram and to take on the Shias.
The peace agreement was brokered by the Haqqanis, the family/tribal group who make up one of the main factions of the Afghan Taliban - whose members come from the Zadran tribe. The so-called Haqqani network is now recognised as the most sophisticated and capable insurgent organisation in Afghanistan, operating out of its main bases in North Waziristan.
Under pressure from the CIA drone campaign in North Waziristan and with the support of elements of the Pakistan military, who provide their finance and weapons, the Haqqanis have been looking to move their operations into Kurram, which provides easy access to Afghanistan. Kurram suits the bill perfectly, as it served as a major staging post for attacks against Soviet forces during the 1980s. Osama bin Laden helped build some of the training camps in the region and it is thought that the remnants of al-Qaeda - as well as other foreign forces in the region such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan - and also Pakistani jihadist groups close to the military such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba will benefit from the peace deal with the Turi tribe.
According to a new report from the Institute for the Study of War and the American Enterprise Institute's Critical Threats Project , written by Jeffrey Dressler and Reza Jan, the Haqqani's move into Kurram will have negative consequences for security and stability in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. They say it will become more difficult to identify, track and strike these groups once they have relocated.
This may be true, although it can hardly be in Iran's interests to allow the Taliban to come to power in Afghanistan. Nor is it likely that the deeply sectarian Sunnis under the command of Hakimullah Mahsud will be able to restrain themselves from killing Shias for very long, thus provoking yet another round of bloodletting in the region. This is a very shaky peace agreement indeed.
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