For the last six decades, Pakistan’s Pashtuns have been oppressed by the establishment. Marking opponents with the black stamp of treason has been the establishment’s most effective tool for silencing the ethnic group’s leaders when they dare to criticize state policy-makers.
The promotion of Pashtun cultural stereotypes – the portrayal of the Pashtuns as a violent and extremist ethnic group – has led to them being internally exiled as the war against militancy is waged in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a semi-autonomous tribal region in the country’s northwest). Young Pashtuns are targeted by the security forces and many have been killed extrajuducially, which has had a radicalizing effect.
Since 2001, the indigenous Pashtuns living in the FATA, a safe haven for Afghan mujahedeen, have been enduring the dreadful consequences of the so-called war against terror. Grievances have been fuelled by ethnic predjudice and unjust treatment at the hands of law enforcement agencies.
On January 12, the extrajudicial killing of 27-year-old shopkeeper Naqeeb Mehsood by Karachi counterterrorism police sparked outrage in the Pashtun community. The Sindh provincial government and police allegedly tried to cover up the incident, but Pashtun youths took to social media to raise awarenesss of the more than 443 young Pashtuns that they say have been killled extrajudicially in Karachi.
On January 12, the extrajudicial killing of 27-year-old shopkeeper Naqeeb Mehsood by Karachi counterterrorism police sparked outrage in the Pashtun community
The ongoing policy of using extrajudicial killings to counter militancy highlights the violent nature of Karachi’s police. To end the extrajudicial killings and bring about change in the FATA, thousands of Pashtuns led by Manzoor Pashteen marched 400km from Dera Ismail Khan District in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to Islamabad, the capital, earlier this month to tell the government that enough is enough.
They staged a sit-in until January 10 in front of the National Press Club in a peaceful manner, challenging the notion that they are unruly and violent. However, Pakistan’s media ignored the protest, providing no coverage. Only the international media covered the sit-in and publicized the protesters’ five key demands. Their list of demands is as follows:
The return of missing Pashtuns
Since the war against militants in the FATA and other Pashtun areas, tens of hundreds of Pashtuns have been arrested by law enforcement agencies. The protesters demand that they be released or be given an open trial.
The mysterious disappearance of young Pashtuns is an unacceptable violation of international law. Pakistan is a country that has a constitution, courts, and set penalties for those who commit crimes. The arrest and torture of young people on mere suspicion is wrong and undermines and discredits the justice system.
An end to discrimination against Pashtuns
Whether one accepts it or not, ethnic discrimination is on the rise in Pakistan, where being Pashtun means being viewed with suspicion. Pashtun cultural stereotyping; the arbitrary imposition of curfews, the disrespectful behavior of army personnel when interacting with youths, women and tribal elders; unnecessary check posts; security checks targeting indigenous Pashtuns in their home area; and surprise raids on homes are among the grievances forming the basis for the second demand. The government of Pakistan has never taken this issue of cultural discrimination into account and this must change if ethnic harmony is ever going to become a reality.
There are deadly landmines all over the FATA. In 2017 alone, more than 73 children became landmine victims, and the number of disabled people in the region is increasing at an alarming rate. Providing a safe environment for citizens is the most important duty of the state, and it must do much more to address the problem, say the protesters.
A judicial commission on extrajudicial killings
Since the 1951 assassination of the statesman Liaqat Ali Khan and the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, judicial commissions have been demanded to investigate the killings of key figures in Pakistan, but nothing has been done yet.
The passiveness of judicial commissions has resulted in culprits escaping justice. A judicial commission under the supervision of the chief justice to investigate extrajudicial killings of Pashtuns is another demand of the protestors. Extrajudicial killing is an open and direct challenge to rule of law. The failure of rule of law amounts to the failure of the state.
Police officer must be brought to justice
The final and most popular demand of the Pashtun long march participants is the immediate arrest and execution of Rao Anwar, a former ssenior superintendent in the Karachi police’s counterterrorism department. The fugitive rogue policeman has the backing of former president Asif Ali Zardri (co-chairman Pakistan People’s Party). Despite having a salary of just 70,000 rupees (US$635) per month, Rao is believed to have assets, including property and luxury vehicles, worth 4.5 billion rupees.
Since 2011, Rao has allegedly extraudicially killed more than 443 innocent young Pashtuns and Urdu speakers in Karachi alone. The fact that he remains at large is unacceptable. Everyone should be equal before the law. Flouting the rule of law and backing killers will lead to anarchy and ultimately a failed state.