The fall of the Tirah Valley to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) is not sudden; the valley, which remains excommunicated from the rest of the country, has been a war zone for three militant outfits — the TTP, the LI and the Ansarul Islam (AI). The LI and the AI have been battling each other for over seven years in the Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency, with turf wars being waged based on sectarian grounds. The area became a stronghold of the TTP after operations were launched in the nearby Orakzai and Kurram tribal agencies. The LI then sought an alliance with the TTP and the AI, previously a banned outfit, which was later considered a tribal militia that was protecting boundaries of the valley from “foreign influence”. In June last year, the TTP took over the majority area held by the Kukikhel tribe, while reports of the presence of the Taliban from as far as the Mohmand Agency also surfaced. Hundreds of people were reportedly killed; however, because of the area being isolated, little information made it to the mainstream media, till almost 90 per cent of the valley went into the TTP’s hands.
On March 16, two press conferences were held at Peshawar Press Club. While the AI spokesperson demanded that the surrounding areas of Peshawar be handed over to the AI because they could protect them “better”, the head of the ANP’s jirga for the tribal areas claimed that there were Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs who had their bases in the area. Ironically, two days later, the TTP took over the Tirah Valley.
As general elections approach, security officials are now concerned that the routes that lead to Peshawar are also under the control of militants. While opening up a new front for a renewed operation in Tirah is inevitable, there is a serious threat that elections may not be held in a peaceful manner. Even though the Peshawar High Court has ordered the election commission to hold election at the IDP camps, the recent bombing at the Jalozai camp is a grim reminder of the volatile security situation.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2013.