Karachi Despatch | International

Pakistan’s angry young Pashtuns

Members of Waziristan Students Federation chant slogan during a rally to condemn U. S. drone attacks in Waziristan tribal regions, Saturday, March 19, 2011 in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Members of Waziristan Students Federation chant slogan during a rally to condemn U. S. drone attacks in Waziristan tribal regions, Saturday, March 19, 2011 in Peshawar, Pakistan.   | Photo Credit: AP

Over the past few weeks, young Pashtuns from Pakistan’s restive tribal areas have been staging protests in major cities against the situation in the restive border belt of the country. The tribal areas on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border have been a battleground for years, with both Pakistani security forces and U.S. drones carrying out a war against militants. The tribal people are caught in this conflict. The protesters who turned up in Karachi and Islamabad raised voices against the inhuman treatment of the tribals by the terrorists as well as by the security personnel.

Thousands of tribal people were killed in the fighting while hundreds remain missing, kidnapped either by the terrorists or picked up by the military. With no access to the media in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan, truth remains the biggest casualty. For years, tribal people in FATA are facing stringent security checks and have no access to Internet and cellphones. To make it worse, no court in Pakistan would hear their grievances as the Constitution does not apply to these areas. “All tribesmen want peace, humane treatment from security forces at check posts, removal of landmines, access to basic facilities and return of missing persons suspected to have been picked up by the military or Taliban,” said Manzoor Ahmed Pishteen, one of the leaders of the movement.

Mr. Pishteen, who holds a Master’s Degree in veterinary science from Gomal University in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told The Hindu that the tribals in the area were stuck between the Taliban and the security forces. “In movies and dramas, we are shown as terrorists. In reality, we are peace-loving people, who have faced worst form of terrorism by the Taliban and worst form of security by the forces.”

Encounter killings

In Karachi, which hosts a sizeable Pashtun population, what triggered the protest was the killing of a young Mehsud tribesman. Naqeebullah Mehsud, an aspiring model, was killed by a police officer, Rao Anwar. Mehsud was declared a terrorist and killed in an encounter in January. This was followed by a massive protest in Karachi’s Pashtun neighbourhood, Sohrab Goth. The protest led the authorities to start a probe and later they concluded that it was a fake encounter. Rao Anwar was arrested last week.

Islamabad witnessed a similar protest led by the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). After a weeks-long protest in front of the Press Club, the tribesmen were called to the Prime Minister’s House and later to the military headquarters for talks.

They were promised that their demands would be met. But most promises remain unmet, say protesters. “There is a check post every 2 km in Waziristan. At every check post, we are lined up as suspects, even our women and children,” said Mr. Pishteen. He was accompanied by only 20 people when he went out to protest against the extra-judicial killings of tribesmen. “Today, thousands support my cause. Our protests will not stop unless our demands are met, a judicial commission is set up to probe extra-judicial killings and missing persons are produced in courts,” he said as he prepared to begin a new set of protests in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa this week.

Security forces, the government and the mainstream media in general see these protests as being driven on some else’s behest. But Mr. Pishteen remains determined to stay the course. “Even my father, a schoolteacher, is asking me to shun the protest path. I know he is doing it for my protection,” he added.

Mubashir Zaidi writes for The Hindu and is based in Karachi

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2020 2:16:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/pakistans-angry-young-pashtuns/article23343101.ece

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