After a week of a protest sit-in outside the Janikhel police station in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Bannu district, local tribesmen and relatives of four teenage boys whose bullet-riddled bodies were found last week began a protest march towards Islamabad on Sunday.
The tribesmen and relatives have been protesting the brutal killing of the four boys — aged between 13 to 17 years — whose bodies were found in a field on Sunday, for the last six days. The boys had gone missing three weeks ago.
The victims were identified as Ahmadullah, Mohammad Rahim, Razamullah, and Atifullah.
On Sunday around 10am, around 10,000 people from the Janikhel area of Bannu bordering South Waziristan started a long march to Islamabad along with the bodies of the slain boys, demanding action against anti-state elements.
Police blocked the main road in Bannu and stopped the protesters from marching for several hours before they were allowed to proceed on their path.
The situation turned tense when the protesters tried to cross blockades to enter Bannu city, with police firing tear gas at them and resorting to aerial firing. In response, the protesters pelted stones at the police and managed to remove the barricades.
A video showed the protesters raising the slogans of "What do we want? Peace!", "We want justice!" and "negligent state!".
"In the start, the march was smooth and peaceful," Lateef Wazir, a resident of Janikhel participating in the march told Dawn.com, adding that upon reaching Toche Pull, they faced a blockade and resistance from the administration and police.
He alleged that police stopped the protesters forcibly and used tear gas to disperse them, saying a large number of policemen had been deployed to stop the march.
Wazir said they were protesting peacefully and demanding of the government to take action and expose the elements behind the killing of the four young boys.
"Disappointed with the provincial government, the elders of Janikhel decided to march to Islamabad and agreed to not bury the bodies till the arrest of the killers," he told Dawn.com.
After keeping the road blocked for several hours, police allowed the march to continue, according to Wazir.
On the other hand, police in Karak district took Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) leader and tribal MNA Mohsin Dawar into custody to prevent him from travelling to Bannu to join and lead the march. PTM chief Manzoor Pashteen was also taken into custody in Kohat, according to PTM sources.
Meanwhile, KP social welfare minister Hisham Inamullah Khan along with some elders of the Marwat tribe reached Bannu in the form of a jirga to hold talks with the protesters.
He told leaders of the protest that the tribes of Marwat and Bannu had brotherly ties and the former shared the grief of the local residents over the boys' killing.
The minister urged the protesters to bury the bodies, saying he would convey their "legitimate demands" to the chief minister and Prime Minister Imran Khan.
As a gesture of goodwill and in accordance with local custom, Khan also sacrificed three sheep, which the protest organisers accepted.
There was no immediate result of the negotiations, with the protest leaders seeking time to consult the Janikhel tribe.
KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan reached Bannu in the afternoon and was expected to meet the Janikhel elders to resolve the situation.
Earlier, the protesters had placed the four bodies outside the local police station, demanding a shuhada package for the victims' families, bringing perpetrators of the crime to justice, and taking steps to restore peace and harmony in the region.
A relative of the boys had told Dawn that the families of the deceased had no enmity with anyone.
Political and social activists, representatives of traders, and people from different walks of life also participated in the protest to show solidarity with the bereaved families.
Provincial Minister for Transport Malik Shah Mohammad Khan and local administration officials failed to convince the protesters to call off the sit-in.
A day earlier, a delegation of religious scholars also reached Janikhel and held talks with the protesters, highlighting the importance of immediate burial of the dead in light of the teachings of Islam.