Pashtuns Call for Justice After Years of Ethnic Targeting in Pakistan

Naqeebullah Mehsud
Rao Anwar (left) and Naqeebullah Mehsud. Photo: Twitter

The cold-blooded extrajudicial killing of a young ethnic Pashtun in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi last month moved hundreds of thousands of his community members. They rose against decades of racial profiling, bullying and stereotyping Pashtuns as terrorists, organizing a movement that may have a long-lasting effect on the society.

The body of Naqeebullah Mehsud, a 27-year-old man from the restive Waziristan tribal belt between Pakistan and Afghanistan, was found in Karachi days after he was picked by Pakistani security officials on the outskirts of the city.

The Supreme Court was told that Rao Anwar, the infamous policeman who had presided over at least 444 killings, was responsible for Mr. Mehsud’s death.

The Pashtuns living in Pakistan and Afghanistan have been bearing the brunt of the war on terror and militancy for nearly two decades. On February 1, Pashtuns from different corners of the country marched on the capital city of Islamabad to protest this particular “encounter” and the systematic state oppression, initiating a sit-in.

Unlike recent protests by religious and political parties, the Pashtun Long March remained peaceful and dispersed in ten days after the government promised to respond to the demands of the people.

The main demand on the list was apprehension of Mr. Anwar. On Friday, the individual was still free, but the search for him was underway.

Manzoor Pashteen became the main organizer of the Pashtun Long March. He issued a video statement explaining his motives for the rally.

“There are so many landmines in the tribal areas, so whenever these mines blew up, the army would round-up the civilians. An ailing son of a mother was beaten to death by the Army in front of her,” he said implying that the community has been the victim of both the militants and the Army.

“We told the director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations [Army’s media wing] that you are presenting the Pashtuns as terrorists, you are racially profiling us,” he said, adding that the government acknowledged the need to address the issue of missing people, allegedly abducted by security agencies, and fake-encounters.

However, authorities refrained from including these points in a written agreement where they promised to serve justice in Mr. Masood’s case, clear landmines, and address other grievances.

Mr. Manzoor’s video statement on the end of the Long March on February 10 extended gratitude to many women who actively participated in the rally.

“This is the demand of our Pashtun women that our brothers and children kept in these Guantanamo-Bay-style prisons in Pakistan are released and handed over to us,” Gulalai Ismaeil, one of the female activists, said in her speech during the march.

Despite the end of the sit-in, observers believe the movement spearheaded by common people will have a long-lasting effect on the society.

Social scientist Khadim Hussain, an author and the managing director of the Baacha Khan Trust Educational Foundation, told The Globe Post that the movement would push the marginalized groups in Pakistan to issue more demands regarding their civil, political, economic and cultural rights.

“The Pashtun Long March seems to be the trigger of pent-up emotions of the Pashtuns in Pakistan against the mindset that carries out their profiling, that has established war economy in their land, and that tries to dissolve their nation’s identity,” he said.

Like many other backers of the movement, Mr. Hussain said the march busted the stereotypes associated with Pashtuns.

“It proved that Pashtuns are non-violent, that they have the political maturity and that they can organize themselves for a greater cause,” he said. “This march broke fear that had engulfed the people living in the Pashtun lands for several decades. It has also rekindled hope among the Pashtuns that they can negotiate their social contract with the state. This march seems to be a big step in the long walk of the Pashtuns as a nation.”