PESHAWAR: The ongoing protest in Parachinar over the arrest of 30 tribal elders seems to be the sign of a bigger problem, which can plunge Kurram Agency into deep crisis yet again.

After the failure of the political authorities to respond to the situation, a brigadier on Thursday stepped in and spoke to tribal elders, but to no avail.

The elders told protesters that they met Brigadier Nadeem Ahmad at the Governor’s Cottage in Parachinar and apprised him of their demands.

They termed meeting with the army officer successful but the protest continued afterwards.

The trouble began on Tuesday when people after attending Eid prayers occupied roads in front of the office of the political agent to press for the acceptance of their demands. The authorities used in vain the force to disperse the mob. The bazaars remained closed.

Currently, tense calm prevails in the entire town.

Protesters demand release of 30 elders languishing in the Central Jail, Bannu for around seven months. The elders were held when they failed to develop consensus over the selection of office-bearers for a body, which handles all affairs and matters of the two major tribes i.e. Turi and Bangash.

Another demand is the lifting of ban on the entry of the Parachinar central mosque’s chief cleric Allama Nawaz Irfani to Kurram Agency. The cleric was held around two months ago.

Allama Nawaz hails from Gilgit and had been in Kurram Valley for one and a half decades.

The local people hold Allama Irfani in high esteem.

The joint body of the Tense calm prevails in Parachinar over protest Turi-Bangash tribes having central office in Parachinar also functioned under the authority of Allama Irfani. He became controversial when he supported sitting MNA Sajid Hussain Turi against two other candidates, including Air Martial (r) Syed Qaisar Hussain and Syed Iqbal Mian, in the last general elections.

Controversy over the elections turned into a tug of war between supporters of Allama Irfani and Qaisar Hussain.

The latter demanded equal representation and share in the main body called Anjuman-i-Hussainia that sought order and guidance from Allama Irfani.

The body was created before the Partition and tribes elect its office-bearers for one year.

In light of the situation, the local administration dissolved the body, put 30 elders behind bars and expelled Allama Irfani from Kurram Agency.

It, however, didn’t resolve the issue.

Allama Irfani and Qaisar Hussain are reportedly sitting in the foothills of Margallas, while the local residents are in trouble.

The elders said the political administration had agreed to release 30 prisoners but didn’t agree to the lifting of ban on the entry of Allama Irfani to Kurram Agency.

The cleric’s supporters alleged the political administration favoured the group led by Qaisar Hussain.

An official in the local administration said the ban on the entry of Allama had been taken ‘at the highest level,’ highlighting the overbearing role of certain powerful quarters in the affairs of Kurram Agency.

The direct involvement of the army in administrative affairs in Kurram puts big question mark on future of the office of political agent, the Fata Civil Secretariat and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor, who is the president’s representative on Fata.It undermines the role of civil bureaucracy in the tribal area, which has already diminished.

There is an administrative chain of command for Fata which functions under the command of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor.

The governor implements decisions and orders through political agents, commissioners and Fata Civil Secretariat.

In case the relevant political agent is unable to handle a particular issue, then the commissioner is sent to help the administration.

According to experts, the government had established a law and order department to strengthen political agents and resolve issues.

The crisis management cell was also created for the purpose. The experts said the government spent huge sums of money on the maintenance the said offices.

“If every issue is referred to the army, which has already been overburdened due to combat operations, then what is the use of the civil bureaucracy? The Fata Civil Secretariat has focused on the internally displaced persons of North Waziristan Agency. Governor Sardar Mahtab Ahmad Khan should take prompt action to address genuine demands of the people of Kurram, too, instead of shifting responsibilities to irrelevant quarters,” an expert said.

Published in Dawn, Aug 3rd, 2014

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