April 8, 2018
Thousands of ethnic Pashtuns have held a massive rally in the Pakistani city of Peshawar to call for an end to abuses by police as the country’s military continues its offensive against militants across the tribal belt along the Afghan border.
A senior police official estimated that about 30,000 people attended the rally, which was organized in a field outside the city on Sunday.
In a rare public challenge to Pakistan’s armed forces, the crowd and speakers at the rally chanted anti-military slogans and demanded an end to forced “disappearances” and harassment by authorities.
“I salute the Pakistan army but if they are cruel I hate them,” one female burqa-clad speaker said.
The rally was organized by Pashtun Protection Movement. Pakistan’s Pashtuns have largely borne the brunt of the country’s ongoing war on terror.
“We are not against anyone but this movement is against cruelty,” Manzoor Pashteen, a prominent leader of the movement said, adding, “We are against all cruelty, whether it is from the good Taliban or bad Taliban, or from peace committees, ISI (Inter Services Intelligence), MI (military intelligence) or the army.”
The angry protesters held posters or photos of missing family members and friends, whom they say have been seized by security forces during military operations against militants.
According to the organizers, at least 2,000 new cases of forced disappearances were registered during the rally.
Norab Jan, whose two brothers and son were abducted three years ago, said, “We knocked at every door to get some knowledge but yet we have no clue where they are.”
“If they are alive or dead, we don’t know. We want them presented in a court of law. If they are guilty, they should be punished, if not they should be released,” the 80-year-old said.
The country’s Pashtun belt in the northwest bordering Afghanistan has suffered from violence as the Afghan war spilled over the border, leading to repeated military operations. Pashtuns make up an estimated 15 percent of the country’s population.
Thousands of Pakistani citizens remain missing since the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Rights activists say the missing nationals have been under illegal detention of secret services for years without any prosecution.
The movement rose to prominence in January after the fatal shooting of Naqeebullah Mehsud, a 23-year-old Pashtun shopkeeper, in the southern port city of Karachi unleashed festering anger at extrajudicial murders and at the police, which have been accused of orchestrating them.
Hundreds of people die each year at the hands of law enforcement officers involved in a crackdown on kidnapping, murder and gang crime in a city routinely ranked among the most dangerous in the world. But the killing of Mehsud, whose videos had earned him a large Facebook following, brought thousands onto the streets to urge an end to impunity.