ISLAMABAD: The recent deadly attack on Parachinar was not the first one this year. In fact, sect-based attacks on Shias in Parachinar are not a new phenomenon. The conflict dates back to the colonial era and has been erupting every Muharram since the 19th century. But in recent years, especially after the advent of Sunni deobandi sectarian organisations in the wake of Afghan Jihad in 1980s and religious revolution in Iran in 1979, this conflict became worse. It only got worst after Pakistan’s tribal areas became sanctuaries of Sunni deobandi terrorist groups of all ilk in the post-9/11 Pakistan. Kurram is one of the seven tribal Agencies of FATA and is divided in three distinct regions of Upper Kurram, Central Kurram and Lower Kurram. Upper Kurram is predominantly Shia whereas Central & Lower Kurram are Sunni majority areas. The Agency stretching over more than 3000 square kilometers is bordered with the North Waziristan in the South, Hangu, Orakzai and Khyber Agency in the East, whilst it shares its border with Afghanistan’s area of Nangarhar in the North West and with Paktia province in South West. Both these Afghan provinces have been strongholds of Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network. In fact, many districts of Paktia and Nangarhar were fallen to Taliban in last two years. In 2016 however, Islamic State in Khurasan Province (ISKP) took many Nangarhar districts from Taliban, few of which Taliban have captured back. But because of the strong presence of these terrorists groups across the border, Kurram became excellent sanctuary for Pakistan based terrorist groups, who work in mutual cooperation at operational level, with the Afghan terrorist groups. In lieu of safe havens in each other’s area of influence on both sides of border, these groups provide on-ground operational support to each other – a fact contested by the security agencies however. The arrival of ISKP in this Taliban-Taliban equation on both sides of Kurram-Nangarhar border has been used by Pakistan based militant groups, all of whom are anti-Shia across the board. Shia majority of Upper Kurram has been sandwiched between the anti-Shia Haqqanis & Afghan Taliban on Afghan side and a mix of terrorist outfits like Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Lashkar-e-Jhangavi (LeJ) etc. in Central and Lower Kurram. This siege like situation continued for more than a year and half in 2008-9, when Pakistan’s security agencies launched Operation Koh-i-Sufaid I and II, which concluded in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Parachinar being the headquarter of Kurram Agency and the central city in Shia majority Upper Kurram, has been under attack by these terrorist outfits since 2005. This seat of Shias enveloped by Sunni militant groups on all sides is strategically very important for these groups to cross the border to reach sanctuaries in Afghanistan. It was for this reason that TTP, LeJ and latter Jamaat-ul-Ahrar have kept attacking it for not only ideological reasons – to eliminate Shias – but also for the strategic reasons – to get safe passage across the border. This importance increased with every operation starting from Rah-e-Nijaat in South Waziristan that pushed these militant groups in North Waziristan bordering Parachinar in south. From 2009 onwards when CIA’s drone strikes in North Waziristan were intensified, these groups started relocating gradually to Kurram, from where they needed passage to Paktia and Nangarhar. It was, thus, important for them to keep Parachinar troubled and uproot well equipped Shia groups from there so there won’t be any resistance for them. Looking at the trajectory of terrorist attacks in Parachinar, the period from 2013 to 2016 has been the bloodiest. At an average, there have been attacks in Parachinar every three months. From July to December in 2013 alone, there were 8 attacks. Since January this year, Parachinar has had two deadly attacks killing dozens. Despite the claims of clearing 95% territory in Kurram Agency in the wake of Op Koh-i-Sufaid and Operation Khwakh Ba De Sham (I will fix you), cantonment in Parachinar, military posts and massive operations in neighboring Orakzai and Khyber Agencies, a wide ranging Zarb-e-Azb operation and recently launched Radd-ul-Fasaad Operation, the plight of Kurram’s helpless Shia population has not changed. The impunity with which the groups like LeJ, JuA, JeM etc. are working reflects really badly on Pakistan’s efforts against terrorists organisations across the board. The recent situation must raise antennas in Pakistan and Afghanistan both. Terrorists especially the ISKP and allied groups are taking advantage of tensions between the two countries. Moreover, providing havens to JuA and TTP on Afghan side would prove very dangerous for Afghanistan itself, as these groups are ideologically aligned with ISKP. The Pakistan side must also think again about the Afghan Taliban without whose operational support TTP’s JuA faction and LeJ cannot afford to operate. Despite working closely with ISKP, none of these groups have withdrawn their oath of allegiance to Afghan Taliban. This dangerous episode of great game must be concluded by both the states of Afghanistan and Pakistan. This strategic game, otherwise, would worsen the sectarian conflict in the rest of areas of both countries especially Pakistan.