Footprints: The crime of being Mehsud

Published January 4, 2015
A policeman stands guard in front of a mosque in Karachi on January 3, 2015.  — AFP
A policeman stands guard in front of a mosque in Karachi on January 3, 2015. — AFP

Outside a house in Chatta Gabol Goth, a neighbourhood on Superhighway in Karachi, dozens of Mehsud tribesmen gathered to offer condolences to Abdullah Mehsud’s relatives.

Abdullah was a 32-year-old truck driver killed in an alleged police encounter on Dec 22, 2014, in the Deluxe Town area of Sohrab Goth, Karachi.

That day police claimed killing 13 suspected militants belonging to Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Al Qaeda during combat.

Read: The year of encounters — police, Rangers killed 925 suspects across Karachi

Mehsud tribesmen say that they are being persecuted on the basis of their tribal background as key TTP leaders — Baitullah, Hakimullah, Waliur Rehman and now Khan Said alias Sajna — belonged to the Mehsud clan. “Police now treat every Mehsud as a TTP militant and have adopted ‘arrest and kill’ policy for us if we fail to pay them bribes,” says Muhammad Din, a tribal elder.

Also read: The walking wounded of Waziristan: The lost tribes’ search for spring

Law enforcement agencies in Karachi have stepped up counterterrorism operations against Taliban groups in the Pakhtun neighbourhoods of the city in response to the Dec 16 attack on Army Public School in Peshawar; alongside, accusations of extrajudicial killings have also increased.

Since Dec 16, police and Rangers in Karachi have claimed killing a number of suspected militants allegedly belonging to the TTP. Among them was Abid Mehsud, alias Mucharh, the operational commander of the TTP Mehsud faction in the city. He was killed on Dec 18 along with three deputies in an ‘encounter’ with Rangers in Musharraf Colony. The operation was considered an achievement by the law enforcement agencies and a blow to the TTP in the city, say police officials as well as Pakhtun political activists.

However, a number of recent operations have been controversial. For instance, residents of Deluxe Town, where Abdullah was killed along with 12 other suspects, say that the “encounter was fake”. “We have seen a number of such fake encounters in the last few months in our locality,” says the owner of a house in the neighbourhood, requesting anonymity. “Police bring suspects arrested from other areas and kill them here.”

Interviews with Pakhtun tribal elders, political activists and families of those killed suggest that police regularly harass people from tribal areas, especially those belonging to the Mehsud clan. They agree that the TTP has a strong presence in Pakhtun neighbourhoods and that law enforcement agencies have killed a number of TTP militants in recent months. However, they also say that the police have started “picking up” Mehsud tribesmen and releasing them after payment of money. This criticism is so rampant, they say, that Rangers, who used to hand over suspects cleared of suspicion to the police, have started releasing them directly because of complaints of police bribery.

“Sachal, Sohrab Goth and Gulshan-i-Maymar police picked up more than 30 Mehsud tribesmen recently and their whereabouts are still unknown,” says a local Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader.

The alleged “custodial killing” of Nazeerullah Mehsud, a PTI member from Kunwari Colony, and his friend, on Dec 28, and the killing of Mufti Shah Faisal Mehsud, a leader of Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) on Nov 17, in what is being claimed was a fake encounter, triggered big protests in the city. In both cases the police claimed that the killed were Taliban militants, while leaders of the two political parties insist that they were innocent. “The police took away Mufti Faisal and his brother Noor Wali from their house in Surjani town in August. Wali was released by the Sachal police after a payment of Rs25,000 but Faisal was killed in a fake encounter, ” says JUI-F’s Karachi chief, Qari Usman.

Mehsud transporters and elders say that they have been forced to pay millions of rupees as “protection money” to avoid being targeted by the TTP, mainly because of the failure of the government to provide them security. “Now police harass the community, saying that they have been involved in providing financial support to the TTP,” says a Mehsud trader, adding that a number of police officers in Taliban strongholds have also paid “protection money” to local TTP leaders.

Maulana Jamaluddin, MNA from the Mehsud area of South Waziristan, says that he not only raised the issue of the targeting of Mehsud tribesmen in Karachi in parliament but along with Saleh Shah, a senator from the same area, also discussed the matter with Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah. Reiterating the complaints of Mehsud tribesmen in the city, Jamaluddin said that “Police pick them up during raids. If they pay, they can return, otherwise they are killed in fake encounters.” He also asked authorities in Sindh to “direct law enforcement agencies to present suspects in court instead of killing them in fake encounters” and to make better use of intelligence sources.

Spokesperson for the Karachi police, however, rejects claims of extrajudicial killings. Atiq Shaikh says that police “face reprisal” when they “raid terrorists’ hideouts,” adding that 143 police personnel were killed in Karachi in 2014, mainly by the TTP.

Meanwhile, human rights activists say that extrajudicial killings are not a new phenomenon in Karachi. “If someone is involved in a crime, courts should decide his case,” says Asad Iqbal Butt, an official of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). Fake encounters are giving rise to a sense of insecurity among people, he says, adding that according to HRCP statistics, around 450 people were killed in police encounters in Karachi in 2014.

Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2015

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