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Mehsuds struggle to find a voice

Islamabad is witnessing yet another dharna in the shape of ‘Pashtun Long March’, and the PML-N-led government is again at its wit’s end how to handle the situation

Mehsuds struggle to find a voice

Naqeebullah Mehsud, a 27-year old tribesman from South Waziristan Agency, who aspired to be a model, has become an unlikely hero for his Mehsud tribe and the larger Pashtun community following his murder at the hands of the police in Karachi.

He has also become a catalyst for bringing Pashtuns on one platform to stage a sit-in as a mark of protest in Islamabad against the racial profiling of the Mehsuds and other Pashtun tribes and seek justice for Naqeebullah Mehsud.

Since February 1, the protestors have been staging their dharna outside the Islamabad Press Club and attracting a growing number of Pashtuns. Politicians from different political parties, particularly those led by Pashtuns, have visited the camp and made speeches to show solidarity with the protestors.

The Mehsud tribe has suffered the most from militancy and military operations as the TTP was founded in their area by Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud. Their ordeal hasn’t ended but now they have found a way to express themselves.

Some became emotional as they addressed the crowd of Pashtun protestors belonging to not only South Waziristan and rest of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), but also Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and other parts of the country. Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) head Mahmood Khan Achakzai demanded rights and respect for the Pashtuns. Awami National Party (ANP) leader Asfandyar Wali Khan remarked that he was proud of being an Afghan. Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) chief Aftab Ahmad Sherpao said he won’t be at peace until absconding cop Rao Anwar Ahmed Khan, responsible for Naqeebullah Mehsud’s extrajudicial killing, is arrested. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan told the protestors he was ready to join them in the search for Rao Anwar and get him arrested even though the police officer was being backed by certain political elements.

The protest movement has evolved and become wider and all-encompassing since January 13 when the police announced that four ‘terrorists’ belonging to the Islamic State, or Daesh, and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had been killed in an encounter in eastern Karachi. Naqeebullah Mehsud, who had been seized by gunmen in plainclothes from a restaurant in Sohrab Goth on January 3, was one of them. It wasn’t surprising that Rao Anwar, who was often referred to as an ‘encounter specialist’ for claiming police encounters killing militants and criminals was involved in the killings.

This time though the situation took a different turn as Naqeebullah Mehsud’s killing caused outrage and soon a campaign, ‘Justice for Naqib’, was launched. It has now become the ‘Pashtun Long March’ and is being joined by Pashtuns from across the political divide.

Read also: A real encounter with Mehsuds

Islamabad is witnessing yet another dharna, and the PML-N-led government is again at its wit’s end how to handle the situation.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, under tremendous pressure from all sides while dealing with one crisis after another, met a 15-member delegation of the protestors and gave the assurance that all resources would be used to apprehend Rao Anwar as this issue concerned the state. He promised that all ends of justice would be met and a college would be built in South Waziristan and named after Naqeebullah Mehsud.

The issue also concerns the military as some of the demands made by the Mehsud protestors could only be addressed by the Pakistan Army. One such demand is starting demining operations in South Waziristan to prevent further loss of life and limbs from blasts caused by unexploded landmines and improvised explosive devices (IED). According to the Mehsud Tahaffuz Movement, which spearheaded the protests on Naqeebullah Mehsud’s killing and is led by young men, 18 persons have been killed by the exploding landmines and nearly 60 were wounded. Another demand is ending the harassment to which the tribespeople are allegedly subjected at the security checkpoints in South Waziristan. The protestors are also calling for doing away with arbitrary arrests after incidents of violence and expediting reconstruction activities and infrastructural development to enable returning internally displaced persons (IDPs) to start a new life.

As other Pashtuns have been joining the protest campaign, more demands are being added to the list. The question of racial profiling of Pashtuns has been raised and the talk of denial of Pashtun rights and under-development in the Pashtun-populated areas are being highlighted. Women too have joined the protest and the protest campaign and concerned issues are being animatedly discussed in the social media.

The mainstream media hasn’t covered the dharna the way it had reported previous sit-ins in Islamabad. Apparently, some of the slogans raised by the sentimental young protestors in the early days of the Islamabad sit-in caused problems as these were deemed objectionable. However, the government and the security agencies have made no effort to dislodge the protestors or make arrests. It seems the protestors are being allowed to vent their pent-up feelings as it is the first time that tribal people from Fata are protesting at such a scale in the federal capital and highlighting issues in such a forceful manner. Many tribespeople have been saying that they have finally found their voice and are no longer scared to speak for their rights.

All this would not have been possible if there had been no Naqeebullah Mehsud. He is no more but his death has inspired his fellow tribesmen and many other Pashtuns to speak up instead of suffering in silence. His Facebook page had attracted many followers during his lifetime, but now his images are all the rage among young people from his tribe and race. There is now great sympathy for the handsome man dancing the traditional Pashtun dance, attan and displaying his modelling style and hairstyle. Nobody believes the police claim that he was a terrorist and this is the reason the protestors are refusing to budge until his killer Rao Anwar is arrested and brought to justice.

Naqeebullah Mehsud hailed from Makeen in South Waziristan and belonged to the Abdullahi clan of the Behlolzai sub-tribe, one of the three main branches of the Mehsud tribe. Before the start of the October 2009 Pakistan military operation against the local and foreign militants in the Mehsud area of South Waziristan, his family along with thousands others were forced to leave their homes and villages. Since then the Mehsuds have been searching for means of livelihood and shelter all over Pakistan. Many moved to Karachi, Pakistan’s most populous city and biggest commercial hub where the Mehsuds have been migrating since years and making a living running timber stalls, becoming transporters and doing other menial jobs.

The Mehsud tribe has suffered the most from militancy and military operations as the TTP was founded in their area by Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud. Their ordeal hasn’t ended but now they have found a way to express themselves. Showing them the way is the soul of Naqeebullah Mehsud.

Rahimullah Yusufzai

rahimullah yusufzai
The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. He can be reached at [email protected]

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