Parachinar is the last border town of Pakistan with Afghanistan and a capital town of Kurram district former tribal agency. Parachinar holds immense strategic importance for Pakistan because of its location from an economic and security perspective. Parachinar necks into Afghanistan by sharing a border with four Afghanistan provinces: Khost, Paktia, Logar, and Nangarhar.
Parachinar holds immense potential for trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia due to its connectivity and is the closest border town of Pakistan with the capital city of Afghanistan Kabul, just 65 miles away from Kabul. The mighty Koh e Sufaid hovers over the city of Parachinar with its highest Peak known as Sikaram ( 4755 m) locals in Pashto call it Spin Ghar which means white mountain because of its glaciers and high altitude which has immense potential for tourism, mountaineering, and expeditions.
The Kurram Valley possesses fertile soil and abundant water resources because of melting glaciers and natural springs and people living on the peripheries of Kurram Valley mostly depend on agriculture and livestock. Parachinar having immense economic potential, which can positively contribute to the overall economy and GDP of Pakistan, has instead been in the news for the wrong reason varying from sectarian conflicts to terrorism and military operations and is the second most affected city by terrorism after Peshawar due to its close proximity to Afghanistan and surrounding tribal belt which were under the control of TTP and other banned sectarian outfits.
President Pervez Musharraf in his book In the Line of Fire stated that Osama Bin Laden slipped from Tora Bora into Koh e Sufaid mountain range to dodge the American forces who invaded Afghanistan to apprehend the masterminds of the 9/11 terrorist attack since the geography that should have been a blessing for the people of Parachinar and Pakistan has turned into a curse and the region fell prey to perpetual terrorism, sectarian conflicts, and military operations.
The recent takeover of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2021 has rejuvenated the terrorist threat in the Kurram Valley and since then border security has been a challenge for Pakistan because of the usual intrusion from the Afghan side into Pakistan and rooting out the border fence by Afghan Taliban on the basis of their so-called historical claim that Durand line is not an International border between Pakistan and Afghanistan and that Pashtun belt stretching till Baluchistan belongs to Afghanistan.
The eastern Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan, which is a stronghold of (ISKP) Islamic State of Khorasan Province an affiliate terrorist faction of the Islamic State, is very close to Parachinar and due to its close proximity, they have been successful in carrying out major terrorist attacks in Parachinar since 2016. Islamic State has a sectarian agenda there and Parachinar is a soft target for them where they can easily flare up the sectarian tension thereby manipulating the sectarian fault line.
Talking of sectarian issues, we must not forget that this region has been deprived of the very basic education that one needs so religious madrassas have filled that vacuum, and their textbooks are also not regulated by the state which mostly contain hate speech and the primary focus of madrasas are on teaching Jihad to juveniles by cherry-picking Quranic verses and misinterpreting them, which results in extremist tendencies in the youth and minds like these can be easily manipulated to fight for the sectarian cause. The underlying reason for extremism in the Kurram Valley is poverty, lack of education, and foreign influence.
The silver lining in the whole of this man-made mess is that dynamics are changing. The local population, and most importantly youth, is now rejecting the extremists and they want peace, development, education, and economic opportunities now. Young vloggers from Parachinar are promoting the beauty of Kurram Valley to attract tourism from all over Pakistan and shed the negative image that has been portrayed due to the war on terror. People here have learned conflict resolution on their own and whenever some dispute arises the Jirga’s from both sides sit in an agreed-upon place and decide the terms on which peace be established and cease-fire take place, for instance, the recent sectarian clashes that took place in Lower, Upper and Central Kurram after the killing of teachers in Tari Mangal Government high school were controlled by Tribal elders in a peace Jirga and cease-fire was established within a week after rigorous meetings.
Challenges to peace and development are many in Parachinar, but so are the opportunities, after successful military operations by the Pakistan army against terrorists now they are working on different social welfare projects which include schools, hospitals, communication, small dams, tourist resorts, and poverty alleviation projects to better integrate the tribal society into the mainstream.
As we know that the strategic location of Parachinar offers potential trade routes with Afghanistan and Central Asia so there is a long-term project of connecting Pakistan and Afghanistan via a railway line and 4-lane motorway further to central Asia and this project comes under the ambit of flagship project CPEC, upon successful completion these projects can change the future of this conflict-ridden region for good.
The tourism industry is another potential revenue-generation source, Young social media vloggers from Kurram Valley and adjacent districts promote and showcase the beauty of Parachinar and the valleys of Koh e Sufaid but the primary responsibility of developing proper industry is of the government. For instance, Mount Sikaram which is the highest peak of the Koh e Sufaid range was last summited by British surveyor George Batley Scott in 1879 when he was surveying for the campaign of Afghanistan since then nobody has gone on the expedition to summit Mount Sikaram.
The state of Pakistan can benefit economically from the natural resources and strategic location of Parachinar through inclusive policies, which will attract domestic and foreign investors to invest in different potentially profitable sectors in the region.