Jummatul Wida is one of the holiest days in the holy month of Ramzan, but the Friday falling on June 23 turned out to be the day when the biggest-ever tragedy hit Parachinar.
Eidul Fitr is a day of rejoicing for the fasting Muslims, but this Eid was spent mourning the dead, nursing the injured and consoling the bereaved.
One tragedy has followed another in this remote corner of Pakistan. Kurram Agency, surrounded on three sides by Afghanistan and bordering the restless, conflict-hit provinces of Khost, Paktia and Nangarhar, was once again in mourning. Unarmed civilians in bazaars have been targeted time and again.
It was a familiar story as the residents of Parachinar and the rest of Kurram Agency complained of neglect not only by the government of Pakistan, but also by the media, civil society, parliament and other institutions of the state.
The suicide bombing in Turi Bazaar, named after the biggest Pakhtun tribe living in Parachinar and most of Upper Kurram Valley, was followed by another bomb explosion when rescuers ran towards the site of the first explosion to help the injured and retrieve bodies. This caused more deaths and fatal injuries to the rescuers and survivors.
As if this wasn’t enough, the protestors who spontaneously took to the streets to demand better security were fired at by the soldiers from the Kurram Militia, part of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, apparently to stop them from marching towards the so-called “red zone” where the political administration, government departments, and the security forces have their offices. Four more deaths were caused and several others were wounded. The death toll quickly rose to 75 while another 261 suffered injuries.
The patience of the Parachinar residents finally ran out. It was the third big terrorist attack in Parachinar, stated to be the biggest city in Fata, in 2017. There was one in January claimed by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami and a splinter TTP faction led by Shahryar Mehsud and another in March for which the responsibility claim was made by the Jamaatul Ahrar.
The responsibility for the third one on June 23 was again claimed by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami, which is virulently anti-Shia and has been targeting the Shias whether in Quetta, Karachi or Parachinar. The total death toll in the three bombings was about 133 while the injured numbered 555. These figures are high considering the population of Parachinar.
On June 30, which was the eighth day of the incident, Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, finally flew to Parachinar. The army officials said the delay was caused by bad weather and also by the fact that General Bajwa was abroad. He met the local elders, accepted some demands and gave certain assurances, mostly concerning security matters.
Every effort is now geared to prevent further terrorist attacks in Parachinar, but the militant group Islamic State and its allies, such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami and Jamaatul Ahrar also appear determined to inflict more harm.
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The protestors, dominated by the youth and including relatives of the victims of the bombings, finally ended the eight-day protest sit-in, or dharna as it is known in local languages, at the Shaheed Park. The youngsters had come of age as the army chief gave them special time and listened to their animated talk.
By just paying the visit, the army chief accepted one of the main demands of the protestors, who wanted him and the federal Interior Minister to come to Parachinar, witness their plight and personally hear their 11 demands. He agreed to set up a trauma centre in Parachinar to save lives in the event of such brutal bombings, removed the Kurram Militia commandant, Colonel Omar Malik, and ordered investigation into the firing by his men on the protestors and announced deployment of additional troops in Parachinar and on the border with Afghanistan.
He said the Frontier Corps had separately compensated the families of the four protestors killed by the Kurram Militia personnel. He also approved renaming of the Army Public School in Parachinar after a local hero, Major Gulfam Hussain, who died fighting the militants in Orakzai Agency and upgrading it into a cadet college.
The safe city project for Parachinar was also announced to secure the city from future attacks. He promised to assign the local Turi Razakars, who volunteer for security duty, to accompany the troops during patrolling and for deployment at the roadside checkpoints.
The demand concerning doubling the compensation package announced by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and making it equal to the amount paid to the victims of the oil tanker blaze in Ahmadpur Sharqia was left for the federal government to decide. The Prime Minister had announced Rs1 million each for the dead and half a million for the injured.
By saying that all Pakistanis would be treated equal, the army chief sent a clear message that the compensation package for every citizen should be uniform. Punjab and Sindh presently offer higher compensation and Shaheed (martyrs) packages.
Rather belatedly, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor, Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, reached Parachinar on June 4 on a two-day visit. It is no secret that members of the civilian set-up, including the President, Prime Minister and Governor, need security clearance from the military before undertaking a trip to the conflict-hit areas, such as Fata. The Governor met the elders and the relatives of the victims, visited the hospital to enquire after the health of the injured, and handed over compensation cheques to the heirs of those killed and injured.
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Bruised and battered yet again, Parachinar gradually returned to life as the bazaars and schools reopened and offices resumed work. The scars of the tragedy though would take time to heal.
The big question is whether Parachinar could be secured from future attacks. It now resembles a city under siege with trenches stretching for nearly 24 kilometres already dug and now being widened to eight feet wide and eight feet deep.
The number of roadside checkpoints is being increased and the total strength of the local Turi Razakars (volunteers) being recruited would likely be enhanced from the promised 70. Every effort is now geared to prevent further terrorist attacks in Parachinar, but the militant group Islamic State and its allies, such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami and Jamaatul Ahrar also appear determined to inflict more harm on its residents. Every institution in Pakistan has a duty to protect the life and property of each and every of its citizen.