LAKKI MARWAT/PESHAWAR: A protester was killed and more than 20 others, including 10 policemen, were injured in Bannu on Wednesday during clashes between the police and Janikhel tribesmen, who were marching towards Islamabad to stage a sit-in with the body of an elder, who was shot dead around 23 days ago.

Officials and doctors told Dawn that a protester was killed and more than 20 others including cops were injured in clashes that erupted around noon.

Dr Bismillah Khan, deputy medical superintendent of Bannu hospital, said that a dead body and more than 20 injured were brought to the hospital. He said that currently nine policemen and seven civilians were being treated at the hospital. However, he added that all the injured were in stable condition.

Police sources said that the clash took place at Tochi Bridge near Bannu city when a large number of tribal people began a march towards Islamabad along with the body of slain tribal elder Malik Naseeb after 23 days sit-in outside the police station building in Janikhel.

20 others including cops suffer injuries

Malik Naseeb Khan was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Zindi Alikhel area of Bannu on May 30. His murder sparked protest in the town as his relatives and tribesmen staged a sit-in outside the police station placing the body there, demanding arrest of killers and implementation of an agreement signed by the government with them earlier in March following another sit-in and march towards Islamabad after killing of four youth.

On Wednesday, police stopped protesters at Tochi Bridge when they reached there on foot and in vehicles. The cops fired tear gas shells to stop protesters to proceed/ move ahead.

According to reports, the protesters pelted stones on policemen and burnt a police van. Several private vehicles were also damaged in the clash.

A senior official told Dawn that 10 policemen were received serious wounds and one of them would lose his one of his eyes.

The official claimed that police did not use firearms as strength was its personnel were equipped with riot gear, while the protesters fired upon police near Tochi Bridge and Bakakhel and torched a police van.

Another official said that the protesters were camped at the Baran Pul area and their elders were holding talks with local administration.

Bannu Commissioner Shaukat Ali Yousafzai told Dawn that a delegation of 15 elders met the deputy commissioner and presented its demands. He said that the deputy commissioner conveyed the government’s stance to the elders and both sides were going to meet again later in the night.

He said that government stood by the agreement it signed with the tribesmen earlier on March 29. He said that he held talks with them on at least four occasions regarding mechanism for implementation of the deal.

Mr Yousafzai said that government was not oblivious to the issues of Janikhle tribesmen and was serious in implementing the agreement. He said that tribesmen were also demanding release of 50 protesters, who were taken into custody.

On the other side, some protesters alleged that police used teargas shells and fired shots to stop them. They said that protesters were killed in the clash and over 12 were injured.

They said that they wanted a peaceful march towards Islamabad but they were stopped by using brutal force.

According to an official source, the administration has engaged protesters in talks to settle the issue peacefully.

The officials also sought help from elders of Bakkakhel tribe to negotiate with Janikhel elders and convince them to end the protest and perform burial of the slain tribal elder.

Meanwhile, the leaders of various political parties on Wednesday expressed concerns over the prevailing situation in Janikhel area in Bannu and asked the government to accept the demands of the protesters to resolve the issues.

Qaumi Watan Party chairman Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao and Awami National Party provincial president Aimal Wali Khan in their separate statements said that use of police force was no solution to the problems.

Mr Sherpao condemned use of force against the protesters, saying the Janikhel residents were seeking justice and an end to the incidents of targeted killings.

“Staging protest is every Pakistani’s constitutional right, subjecting protesters to teargas shelling and baton charge is sheer violation of the constitution,” he said.

Mr Sherpao said that government should abide by the agreement reached with the residents of Janikhel area in the aftermath of the killings of four teenagers.

He extended sympathy to the bereaved families and urged the political parties to join hands and raise voice against injustice.

Similarly, Aimal Wali said that protest demonstration was constitutional right of citizens. He said that instead of resorting to violence against the protesters, the government should resolve their issues through negotiations.

He said that the protesters had been observing sit-in for the last 20 days. He added that officials should take serious steps to hold talks with them.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2021

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