ON THE STREETS FOR JUSTICE

Updated 04 Feb 2018

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PARTICIPANTS of the congregation outside the National Press Club in Islamabad demanding justice for Naqeebullah Mehsud.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star
PARTICIPANTS of the congregation outside the National Press Club in Islamabad demanding justice for Naqeebullah Mehsud.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star

ADNAN, a young student who belongs to the Mehsud tribe, appears optimistic that the ongoing sit-in in Islamabad will not only help them get justice for Naqeebullah Meh­sud, who was killed in a ‘staged police encounter’ in Karachi on Jan 13, but it will also bring an end to the miseries of his tribe.

The 21-year-old is in his final year of master’s at the degree college in Dera Ismail Khan and is among the 22 young men from the tribe, joined by Naqeeb’s cousin Noor Rehman, who began their march from D.I. Khan on Jan 26 and arrived in Islamabad on Jan 31. The young men delivered speeches at several villages on the way. “We demanded justice for Naqeeb as well as for those living in Waziristan Agency.”

They were joined by other protesters in front of the National Press Club in Islamabad.

Naqeebullah was among the four suspects killed in an ‘encounter’ with a police team headed by SSP Rao Anwar in Usman Khaskheli Goth, on the outskirts of Karachi. A joint investigation team (JIT) termed it an “extrajudicial killing”.

Read: The 'encounter' that ended Pakistan's passivity over extra-judicial killings

Following the incident, SSP Anwar, who had claimed that Naqeebullah had been killed in a genuine shootout with police, has gone into hiding after mysteriously disappearing from the Islamabad International Airport, where he had made a failed attempt to flee the country.

The sit-in formally began on Feb 1. At the very outset, some youths in the rally shouted provocative slogans. Perhaps this is the reason why the protesters faced a complete media blackout. Most of the people attending the sit-in subscribed to this point of view. The tribal youths also discussed the option of staging a sit-in in front of army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi if their demands were not met.

They have demanded that SSP Anwar and his team be hanged for killing Naqeebullah and his friends in a ‘fake encounter’; the constitution of a judicial commission supervised by the chief justice, to look into the extra-judicial killings of Pakhtuns; and the recovery of all missing persons. They have also demanded that all improvised explosive devices be removed from the tribal areas.

Adnan said the demands were very reasonable. His association — the Mehsud Tehreek Movement (MTM), which comprises mostly the tribal youths — is determined to do whatever is necessary to press for the demands, including holding protests in front of the Supreme Court, residences of judges and outside the GHQ.

However, as the sit-in enters its third day it appears that several quarters have not only intervened for damage control but are also gaining control over the administration of the venue.

For example, Ajmal Khan Wazir, a senior vice president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), a political party known for proximity to the establishment, has brought over 200 tribal people and others to the venue.

He denied that the tribal youths were against the armed forces but conceded that some emotional young men had delivered fiery speeches. He insisted that they did not represent the protesters.

Clarifying the ‘incendiary’ slogans, he said the youth were chanting slogans against police uniform and not army uniform. “I am also monitoring so that nobody can take the stage as an opportunity to repeat such rhetoric,” he said, stressing that if anyone uttered such irresponsible words again, he would not stay there a minute longer.

Interestingly, his volunteers included Zabeehullah, chief coordinator of the Reham Khan Foundation, who had brought around 100 people with him from Gilgit-Baltistan to participate in the sit-in. He said the sit-in was not a political gathering but a protest to seek justice for Naqeeb. Though Zabeeh does not belong to a tribal area, he supports all the demands.

Answering questions about source of funds for food and other utilities for participants of the sit-in, the cleric said that they had collected donations from Mehsud businessmen across the country. According to him, the businessmen from Tank had donated Rs2 million on the first day of the sit-in, while businessmen from Karachi were donating handsome sums as well.

The spy agencies have been monitoring the activity on the stage as well as on the ground. The easily recognisable officials of various spy agencies could be seen taking notes of the speeches of tribal elders near the venue.

Maulana Abdul Rashid Mehsud, a cleric from South Waziristan and a politician of the JUI-F, said the decision to hold a sit-in was taken at a meeting of the “Daray Mehsud”. It should be mentioned that almost all Mehsud tribesmen hail from three tribes known as Daray Mehsud.

The majority of protesters comprise members of three major clans — Balolzai, Manzai and Shaman Khel. However people from the Barki clan, as well as other tribes living in South Waziristan, were also present at the protest.

“In the meeting, the Mehsud tribes unanimously resolved that until or unless Rao Anwar was arrested, they would continue the sit-in,” he said.

Published in Dawn, February 4th, 2018