Haqqanis’ interest in Kurram deal — US & West worried & Afraid

JNN 19 Feb 2011 ISLAMABAD : No doubt, the Kurram peace deal, which has eased tension in the valley and ended the four-year blockade of the main Thall-Parachinar road and caused jubilation among tribesmen, but it is yet to be seen how long the pact holds ground and helps to maintain normalcy in the region.

It is an open secret that the Haqqani group, one of the outfits on the most wanted list of the US government, brokered the deal between sectarian factions. Commander Jalaluddin Haqqani’s younger brothers – Ibrahim and Khalil – played a key role in brokering the agreement.

While Haqqani’s efforts for restoration of peace in this strategically important part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) have amazed local population, it has worried the Afghan government.

When Haqqani group’s contacts with the dominant Turi tribe in Kurram Agency were reported in the national and international media, senior officials of the Afghan government contacted elders and expressed concerns over the possibility of ‘some concessions’ being given to the group for strategic purposes in return for lifting the blockade of the area.

Before the deal was announced, the Afghan authorities invited local elders for talks which were held in Afghanistan’s Paktia province. A senior Afghan official conveyed the concerns about the Haqqani group being provided some space in Kurram. “We dismissed Afghan government’s apprehensions,” said a source privy to the meeting. The Afghan official was told that the Haqqani group neither demanded any facilities nor the Turis were willing to give their territory to be used for launching activities across the border.

Background interviews and information gathered from various sources reveal that the Haqqani network is the main guarantor of the deal. The security establishment was on board and facilitated the process. In fact the six-point peace agreement was signed in Murree in October 2008, but its implementation was withheld for some unknown reasons.

Two parliamentarians from Kurram deposited Rs40 million with the Haqqanis as surety, according to the sources. Under the deal, the government also pledged a compensation package to win over the local people.

The banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), one of the major actors in the three-year bloodshed, has accepted the deal, reportedly half-heartedly.

The sources said the TTP was not in favour of the agreement, but Commander Fazal Saeed, in-charge of the banned group, finally bowed to pressure and announced support for the deal at a press conference.

According to one source, Commander Fazal, who carries a head money of Rs5 million, was given a stern warning – “Either you are with us or with the other side (TTP).”

Kurram has been returning to normality since the announcement of the agreement. People have started travelling on the Thall-Parachinar Road without security convoys. Members of the tribal jirga headed by former federal minister Waris Khan Afridi are shuttling between Parachinar and Sadda discussing modalities for the complete implementation of the deal. But long-term prospects of the deal are still unclear. The return of the internally displaced families, their rehabilitation and compensation to be paid to them are major issues which require lots of patience and resources.

Haqqanis’ expectations

What can be the motives of the Haqqani group in reaching the peace deal? Sources said that during negotiations the Haqqani brothers never demanded any concession in return for opening the main road.

“Sure, Haqqanis have admitted that situation in Kurram had affected their cause in Afghanistan, but never sought route or passage through Upper Kurram,” said one source involved in the talks.

The Haqqani group started mediation between the elders of Turi and Bangash tribes in early 2009 when militants lost Bagzai, their main stronghold in Lower Kurram. Negotiations, however, remained inconclusive.

Residents of Upper and Lower Kurram were given some concessions, including a partial opening of the main highway and resumption of chartered flights between Peshawar and Parachinar.

But at the same time, the border with Afghanistan in Upper and Lower Kurram was sealed and supply of food items, fuel and other essential goods was stopped. Convoys were attacked on the Thall-Parachinar Road.

The sources said that clashes in Shalozan Tungi area near the Afghan border in September 2010 was the turning point.

“Shalozan was their (militants) last hope, which they thought could put them into a bargaining position,” they said, “but they failed again,” adding that when all options of subduing the local population failed the strategy was changed.

An elder who is familiar with recent arrangements said that the Haqqani network undertook initiatives for restoration of peace in Kurram Agency against the backdrop of growing understanding between President Hamid Karzai and those who had influence over Pakistan’s Afghan policy.

Now, an option for securing stakes for the Haqqani network in Afghanistan’s future political settlement is being reviewed at the highest level. The option is to give the group some share in power in Afghanistan’s southern provinces, which will end violence in the volatile Kurram Agency.

About the Haqqani network’s offers, the elder said that even its affiliates would help the government in maintaining peace in Hangu and Dera Ismail Khan districts, which are facing the worst type of sectarian violence.

To that end, the Haqqani network will use its influence over rouge sectarian elements, which are part of their operations, to end attacking innocent civilians. “If the formula works in Kurram then it can be replicated in other troubled areas,” he remarked.

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