Previously, when the Taliban were ruling in Afghanistan, one thing one cannot deny is that they were known for their unity. Friend and foe alike used to praise them for being “yau las” – acting like one hand. Since the fall of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, the opposite has been the case. On both sides of the border, groups known loosely by the term “Taliban” have been highlighted by their infighting, lack of cohesion and acting with contrasting agendas, and under disparate leadership.
Nowhere has this been truer than in the Orakzai Agency. Sandwiched in between the Khyber and Kurram Agencies, the Orakzais are unique in that they are roughly equally split between Shia and Sunni sub-tribes. Though there have been disputes between Shias and Sunnis over the years, these have never been more than the disputes of Sunni tribes among themselves. In fact, internal disputes have probably been more common than disputes between Shias and Sunnis.
Now a new factor has emerged, which has complicated the situation even more. Militant Taliban groups in the area have emerged. Consequences for Shia-Sunni relations in Orakzai Agency to one side, these Taliban groups have started vying for power among themselves, causing considerable difficulties for the local population.
Local residents say how local Taliban groups, fleeing from drone attacks, have made their way further into villages as well as the surrounding mountains. Along with this, those living in the area state that the Taliban have started intervening in local issues affecting people.
Speaking to residents, PACT Radio/The Saba Story learnt of how several Taliban groups first entered and settled in their villages. They claim that following their initial settlement differences between the various groups began to emerge, as one group tried to exercise their own rules, while others set their own separate agendas, leading people to get caught in between. The Orakzai area has proved attractive to many of these groups largely due to its geographical location, situated in the border regions between Waziristan and Afghanistan.
The situation worsened, when two of the most well known Taliban groups, both hailing from the Orakzai agency – the Maulvi Toofan and Muhammad Nabi groups – came head to head. Maulvi Toofan has control in Sada, while Muhammad Nabi has his centre in the Buland Khel village, where there are no less than another twelve Taliban groups. One of the groups is led by a resident of Buland Khil – Maulvi Shakir – with the remainder being led by people from other areas.
Residents are now speaking up about their suffering as a result of the various groups in the area and how helpless they feel as a result of the current situation. Just last week, a suicide attack from the Toofan group on the Naib group killed twenty people, out of which five were local residents, uninvolved with either of the groups.
Speaking about the recent suicide attack, Samiullah said that the attack took place in the morning “A suicide bomber came to the Muhammad Nabi center and first he opened fire – then he blew himself up. Twenty people died, but nobody knows yet how many more were injured.” Children were also hurt as a result of the incident and the blast was so powerful that it caused damage to nearby homes.
“We have been cornered in our own area. The Taliban build their centers near our homes and we are therefore living in a very vulnerable situation,” says Samiullah. Army posts are also located in the area, with posts on either side of the village, as well as in Waziristan, but they have yet to intervene. “They seem to have heard nothing about the attack and have not taken any action against the Taliban.”
Previously similar incidents of fighting between Taliban groups have taken place, including infighting between two of the Baitullah Mehsud groups, named after the former leader of the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan) from Waziristan. However, residents now claim that the situation has severely worsened, as there are more Taliban groups and a greater risk to people, who remain silent about the situation out of fear. “People are trying to seek some sort of guarantee on their life by having good connections with every group, otherwise it is difficult for people to live here. While on the other hand, the government remains just as spectators,” Samiullah explains.
Traditionally when such disputes take place, the Jirga and peace committees have had an important role to play, but this is no longer the case. “The role of the Jirga has been completely sidelined. Previous Jirga members have instead given their homes to Taliban groups to ensure the safety of their own lives.”
With such hopelessness among residents, the question now remains on what can be done to resolve the situation and more importantly help local people to live their lives without fear of such dangers. Samiullah suggests, “The government needs to play its due role in pushing these Taliban groups back, as they did in the Thal area that neighbors us. Otherwise, all we can do is plead with the Taliban to not cause any harm to common people.”