Shias displaced from Orakzai Agency near the Pakistan-Afghan border and now living with hosts in Hangu and Kohat districts, North West Frontier Province (NWFP), say they feel unprotected and vulnerable living alongside other internally displaced persons (IDPs) who are predominantly Sunni.
“We are terrified. The fact is that most of the IDPs here belong to the majority Sunni tribes. Generally we Shias try to keep a low profile by staying indoors with close relatives so we cannot be identified,” said Miran Shah Khan, a 30-year-old IDP from Orakzai tribal area. He said he had instructed his three children to stay “inside all the time”.
According to a 5 February humanitarian update from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), since December 2009, the number of IDPs from Orakzai has risen nearly tenfold to over 23,000.
The Kohat local authorities have reported the presence of some 3,300 Shiite IDP families in the district. Of these, only around 1,300 have been registered - due largely to the fact that the registration points are in Sunni-populated areas where minority Shiite IDPs are reluctant to go.
Orakzai Agency, one of seven tribal agencies along the Pakistan-Afghan border, has a population of around 450,000, of whom around 8 percent are Shia, according to official data.
Orakzai has recently seen sectarian tensions, with Shias being targeted. Local Taliban militants are believed to be behind the attacks, a spill-over from sectarian clashes in neighbouring Kurram Agency, where 40 percent of the 500,000 population is Shia.
A map of Pakistan highlighting NWFP
“There have been threats warning us to leave the area. The Taliban want to take over the land we own,” said Miran Shah. “We are beginning to wonder if we have any future at all in the tribal areas. The Taliban have created so much tension it is hard to consider going back.”
Fazal Khan, 50, another IDP from Orakzai in the town of Kohat, echoed that view. “We left our homes with almost nothing. The military operation near our village was very fierce and we fled in December. We have been staying with relatives. We are miserable, but things are still too tense to go back to Orakzai,” he said.
According to the Sectarian Terrorism in Pakistan During 2009 - International Terrorism Monitor - Paper No. 599, Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban suspected Pashtun Shias from the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Dera Ismail Khan District of NWFP of collusion with the Americans in their operations against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
This resulted in Al-Qaeda joining hands with the Pakistani Taliban and Punjabi organizations such as the LEJ and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) in attacking the Shias in Kurram Agency and Dera Ismail Khan, the report said.
The Orakzai tensions appear also to have affected life in Kohat. “The presence of Shia persons here raises the risk that we could be targeted along with them,” said Razak Ali, a local Shia in the host community. There have been various incidents of sectarian violence in Kohat and Hangu recently. At least 35 people died in a September 2009 bomb attack on Shias in a village in Kohat District.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions