#PashtunLongMarch: How many more Naqeebullahs have to die before we stop marginalising the Pashtun community?
Nobody could have guessed that the extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud – an aspiring and flamboyant model hailing from South Waziristan – would result in an unprecedented and unyielding protest by the Pashtuns in the federal capital. What had begun as a demand for the arrest of former Malir SSP, Rao Anwar, has now turned into a protest to relay the comprehensive set of grievances of a marginalised people.
The participants of this long march, who are mostly from the tribal areas, are now calling for all cases of extrajudicial killings of Pashtuns to be exhaustively investigated in a judicial commission, under the aegis of the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP). They are also demanding for the perpetrators of such killings to be brought before the court of justice, along with the recovery of all missing persons forthwith, and the immediate removal of landmines in South Waziristan, in which many locals are reported to have either lost their lives or sustained life threatening injuries.
Tents and canopies have been set up at the site of the sit-in protest in front of the Islamabad Press Club. Though Mehsud’s cousin and the organiser of the march, Noor Rehman, clarified that the sit-in is utterly apolitical, he welcomed all the political parties to express their solidarity with the cause – a call several prominent politicians, including Asfandyar Wali, have championed. The protestors can be seen chanting slogans against the harassment of Pashtuns in Karachi and elsewhere in the country, and are unwilling to end their sit-in until all their demands are met. Their foremost demand, however, remains strict legal action to be taken against Anwar, who is believed to have also been involved in other fake encounters, purportedly killing over 300 innocent people.
As the sit-in entered its seventh day, a 15-member jirga met Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and communicated their grievances to him, after which they were assured of all efforts being undertaken to meet their reasonable demands. However, thus far, it all seems like empty promises, as almost a month after Mehsud’s killing, Anwar remains at large.
Yes, Anwar was stopped at the Islamabad airport as he attempted to flee the country. However, despite a suo motu taken by the Supreme Court and a subsequent order to find Anwar, how has he managed to vanish into thin air?
The demands of the tribesmen, on the other hand, are entirely justified, in light of the fact that Mehsud was murdered in a fake encounter when he was presumed to be a terrorist, just on the basis of his ethnicity. The people of the tribal areas are the biggest victims of the war on terror, and have subsequently been displaced from their lands in the aftermath of military operations against the insurgents. Yet, despite their sacrifices, not only are they being doubted and discriminated against, their plight is also being ignored. Pashtun traders and vendors in metropolitan cities like Karachi and Lahore are treated differently, just because their ethnicity and language stands out from the rest. Mehsud’s cold-blooded murder at the hands of the police, and the fact that they did not even stop to verify a Pashtun man’s identity before killing him, only speaks volumes of the vulnerability of the Pashtun community in Karachi and beyond.
The way forward should be for the government to take this sit-in seriously, and truly look at answering the demands of the protestors. They need to address the issue of missing persons, who were picked up by the police without any substantial evidence, as well as grapple with the landmines, which could pose a serious disaster for the country if not dealt with immediately.
The consistent apathy and negligence of successive governments has only brought these tribesmen into the fragile and vulnerable position we see them in today. How many other Naqeebullah’s have to die before the authorities wake up from their deep slumber and realise the sensitivity of the issue which, if not settled amicably, will only exacerbate overtime? Why do the Pashtuns have to stage sits-in to demand the basic tenets of justice which should be guaranteed to all Pakistanis without any distinction? And lastly, why are the Pashtuns generalised and deemed terrorists, even though the fact is they have always stood by and fought for the nation whenever Pakistan is facing its enemies?
If this sit-in and the grievances of the Pashtuns are not taken seriously, one should not be surprised lest we should lose these tribal areas to foreign conspiracies and agendas. We are all Pakistanis first and foremost, and this fact should reflect in the nation expressing solidarity with the cause, with the entire country and not just Pashtuns coming together to demand justice for Mehsud. Displays of provincial and ethnic prejudices are extremely detrimental to the unity and solidarity of the country, and the gap will only be widened if the entire nation does not come together for the Pashtun cause.
The sit-in is the best way to demonstrate how unequivocal and unambiguous we are in our demand for the arrest and subsequent sentencing of Anwar, whose hands are stained with the blood of hundreds of innocent people. The sit-in has thus far remained peaceful and non-violent, which is why it is high time the federal government starts taking pragmatic steps aimed at ending the deprivation and alienation of the Pashtuns. After years of conflict, sacrifices and substandard treatment, this is necessary if they are to begin to live with some semblance of contentment and normalcy in their lives, and can have a reason to remain proud Pakistanis.