By Islam Sajid
Three weeks ago, 62-year-old retiree Nabi Hussain received a telephone call that every parent dreads -- his son’s family had been caught in a terrorist attack and were receiving emergency treatment.
However, for Nabi, who lives in Parachinar, a city in the Pakistani tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, the news was perhaps less unexpected than if he had lived in another part of the world.
“It was a doomsday moment when I first heard that my elder son got injured in a bomb blast and [had been] shifted to hospital,” he told Anadolu Agency this week.
“I rushed to the hospital but didn’t find my son in the emergency ward. Moments later, what I saw no father could ever imagine in his life.”
Nabi’s son Kifayat, daughter-in-law Rubaba and two of their children Qayam Haider and Zuhra had been killed in an apparent sectarian suicide attack as they drove through the city.
Their two other sons, Muhammad and Ismail, were orphaned in the blast.
The March 31 explosion outside a Shia mosque in Parachinar’s central market, left 29 people dead and more than 50 wounded.
A splinter group of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Jammatul Ahrar, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they had targeted Shia Muslims to avenge their assumed support for the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
Describing the events leading up to the tragedy, Nabi said: “My son took his kids -- one-year-old son and two-year-old daughter -- to hospital for a chest infection check-up.
“He was on his way home along with his wife and kids when the blast took place. They all died on the spot.”
Nabi’s story is a familiar one to those living with the threat of attack, particularly in the Afghanistan border areas where terrorists are able to cross with seeming impunity.
Of Nabi’s four sons, Kifayat -- working as a laborer for a daily wage of 800 Pakistani rupees (around $8) -- was the sole breadwinner for both his wife and children as well as his father and 18-year-old younger brother.
“This incident has broken my spirit,” Nabi said. “I cannot work anymore while my youngest son is still going to school. I don’t know how I will be able to finance his education and raise my two grandsons… who were left orphans by the tragic death of their parents.”
Parachinar is the capital of Kurram Agency, one of Pakistan's seven tribal agencies on the Afghan border. It is the only tribal district with a significant Shia population and has a long history of sectarian violence.
Shias make up between 10 and 15 percent of Pakistan’s population and have often been targeted by terrorist and sectarian groups, which has been a major destabilizing factor in Pakistan’s political, social, religious and security order.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, a website that tracks terrorism and sectarian violence in the region, more than 5,000 people have been killed in sectarian-related incidents in the country since the 1980s.
In the last two months, terrorists have struck Parachinar twice, killing 54 people and injuring more than 100. Jammatul Ahrar claimed responsibility for both attacks.
A Shia leader in Kurram Agency, Haji Faqir Hussain, said terrorists were slipping across the border to carry out attacks.
“The Daesh terrorist group is behind these attacks,” he told Anadolu Agency. “They have hideouts in Afghanistan near Kurram Agency and we are aware that Pakistani Taliban has a close relationship with Daesh.”
“We repeatedly warned the security agencies that foreign agencies had established a camp office in Khost province of Afghanistan and they were using Daesh and TTP to spur sectarian tension in Kurram Agency.”
Last year, several international media outlets reported that Iran had recruited hundreds of young Shia from Kurram Agency and Afghanistan to fight in Syria.
Hussain confirmed that young men had travelled to Syria but said they had gone to protect the shrines of Bibi Zainab and Bibi Sakina -- the Prophet Muhammad’s granddaughter and great granddaughter respectively.
“Both are holy places for us and it’s our sacred responsibility to protect them from terrorists,” Haji Faqir Hussain. “Those who fight for Assad or any other group have nothing to with us.”
Sectarian violence in Kurram Agency has worsened since 2007 following the emergence of Taliban groups in South and North Waziristan agencies.
“We know after restoring peace in our areas now some elements are again hatching a conspiracy to pit Sunni and Shia against each other but we will never let them succeed in their evil designs,” Haji Salim Khan, a Sunni tribal leader in Kurram Agency, said.
He repeated his Shia counterpart’s warning that terrorists has established sanctuaries across the border and used mountainous paths to target Kurram Agency.
Khan also accused the Indian and Afghanistan spy agencies of fomenting unrest in the tribal belt.
“These agencies are behind the attacks as they provide support to terrorist outfits,” he said. “But our people understand that their aim is to destabilize peace in our areas.”
A military court in Pakistan recently passed a death sentence on Indian Navy officer Kulbushan Sudhir Jadhav after convicting him of involvement in sabotage activities, a claim the Indian government has rejected.
Pakistan recently announced it would build a fence along sections of its 2,610-kilometer (1,620-mile) frontier with Afghanistan in a bid to close illegal entry.
According to the Pakistan army, the TTP established hideouts in Paktika, Nangrahar, Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan after being forced from Pakistan during Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which was launched in June 2014.