Imran Khan / Al Jazeerah – 2010-07-11 00:58:48
TORA BORA (July 7, 2010) — Standing in the valley, I look to the North East and Afghanistan. The Tora Bora mountains seem to push towards the sky and even in July ominous clouds lurk overhead.
The Pakistani army have brought me to Khurram agency in the remote tribal belt in the North West of the country. It’s stunning, rugged and everything you’d expect it to be. The Tora Bora mountains was the site of Osama Bin Laden’s last stand.
According to some accounts, in December 2001 bin Laden narrowly escaped coalition fire here before he fled to Pakistan. Since then, Pakistan has seen a wave of almost daily bombings and attacks across the length and breadth of the country.
In recent years the army have taken on the fighters, and the battle has been hard and bloody. However, they insist the tide is turning. The army says it has successfully beaten back the Pakistani Taliban and secured Khurram. They certainly present a good argument, and a good show.
We are taken around in pick-up vehicles with machine guns at the ready, we see bombsites and tunnels, we are shown a vast array of captured weapons and drugs.
In a PowerPoint presentation, facts and figures whizz across the screen at breakneck pace. At one point the colonel in charge of the region says in answer to a question “[there is a] 200 percent chance the Taliban won’t come back.” And perhaps they won’t.
Azmat Ali Khan is not so sure. He is a journalist with decades of experience living and working in Khurram.
“The Taliban are in the lower portions of Khurram, watching and waiting.” To be fair the army acknowledges that there may well be Pakistani Taliban in the area, but they say they are not a threat. But it wasn’t just the Pakistani Taliban who were a threat in Khurram.
In the 1980s Sunni fighters moved into the predominantly Shia area and violence broke out lasting for decades. When the fighting was at its worst, Khurram was effectively cut off from the world. The main road to the Pakistani city of Peshawar was split in two and controlled by armed Shia and Sunni fighters.
Khurram, geographically speaking, juts into Afghan territory. To go anywhere outside of Khurram the locals had to cross into Afghanistan and then back into Pakistan.
The sheer lawlessness of the situation allowed the Pakistani Taliban to move in and set up a base. The army decided to attack in December 2009. A bloody battle ensued. The Taliban fled to other areas and now the army rule the roost. Khurram, it would seem, is at peace.
Unlike neighbouring Orakzai and South Waziristan, where hardened pockets of fighters are still battling it out with the army. That fighting, just a few kilometres away, feels like a whole other world.
There is an old Pashtun saying in these parts: “Me against my brother, my brother and I against our father, our father and us against our tribe, our tribe against the world.â€ Put simply, the tribes of this area do not forget easily and they forgive trespass even less easily.
The Pakistani Taliban may be hiding, the Shia and Sunni’s may be friends, but at night, sat around in the tranquility of the hills, tales are told of insults to this one, of the murder of another. Peace may have come to Khurram, but memories live on for a very long time.
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