The sit-in following the Pashtun Long March, dubbed as the All Pashtun National Jirga has entered its ninth day in Islamabad. For the last nine days varying crowds of between 1000 to 3000 people have been braving Islamabad’s winter to demand their birth rights as citizens of Pakistan.
As was the case of the Hazara mourners in 2013, the Pashtun Long March was welcomed with a complete media blackout for the first 48 hours. It was only after #PushtunLongMarch began trending on Twitter – and remained among the top trends for over three days – that mainstream media felt the need to give it partial coverage.
Unlike bigots who spray profanities and resort to the use of extremely vulgar language – ironically while proclaiming to uphold Islamic principles – the participants of the Pashtun Long March do not have any media-savvy entertainers among them.
Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen, a human rights activist hailing from the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) led a crowd of protesters from Dera Ismail Khan on January 26 2018. After passing through Lakki Marwat, Kohat, Charsaddha, Mardan and Swabi, the protesters reached Peshawar on 28 January. Having added more citizens to their numbers, the peaceful protesters entered Islamabad on 1 February 2018, lodging themselves outside National Press Club.
Women too, have become part of the movement demanding peace in the tribal areas.
In a Fiery speech, Samina Afridi, shared, “Our women, our sisters became widows and homeless following the war…We lost our homes – Homes that we had nurtured with a lot of love and efforts…People say Pashtuns are terrorists, today the Pashtuns and the Pashtun women have proved that we don’t want war, we don’t want torture! We want peace, we want justice, we want our rights!”
Despite sleeping under the open sky in the dead of winter, the protesters have been unsuccessful in capturing the empathy of the government or the media.
What are the Demands of the All Pashtun National Jirga?
The movement was sparked by the extra-judicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in Karachi at the hands of the notorious – and now fugitive – police officer, Rao Anwar.
The protesters however, soon came up with a charter of demands that called upon the Federal Government to end all forms of racial discrimination against the Pashtun citizens. The basic demands put forth by the demonstrators condense down to four primary points.
Arrest of Rao Anwar and His Accomplices
After the extrajudicial murder of a young shopkeeper and aspiring model, Naqeeullah Mehsud in Karachi last month, there was immense pressure on the federal and provincial government (in Sindh) to bring Rao Anwar to justice.
#JusticeForNaqib remained a top Twitter trend once gory images of his cold-blooded murder went viral. What added to people’s rage were his numerous photographs where the once handsome Naqeeb was seen posing for the cameras. A young man, full of life and mirth had been killed on false charges and Pakistan was in rage.
However, no one could come close to the anguish felt by the Pashtun population, especially those hailing from the Mehsud tribe.
This was not the first time an extrajudicial killing had claimed the life of an innocent Pashtun but it was perhaps the first time that the rest of Pakistan was waking up to this injustice.
Faced with unprecedented pressure, the government pledged to bring Rao Anwar to justice. However, before he could be apprehended, the encounter specialist vanished into thin air.
Needless to say, this deeply enraged the Pashtuns forcing them to come out in the streets to demand justice before Naqeebullah’s murder was brushed under the carpet by the rich and powerful who stand behind Rao Anwar.
End to Extrajudicial Killings of Pashtuns
Ever since the war on terror reached Pakistan in 2001, Pashtuns have become the front runners for racial discrimination in the country. This is despite the fact that tribal population forms a significant chunk of the Pakistani civilians who have lost their lives at the hands of terrorism.
The rise in this indiscriminate racial profiling has made the Pashtuns not merely vulnerable to unfair scrutiny by security officials but has also left them an easy prey for extrajudicial murders that are often used as a cover-up to protect actual offenders by corrupt police officers.
Removal of Landmines from FATA
According to the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS), over 2000 cases of landmine explosions have been reported. Most of the people who either lost their lives or their limbs in these landmine blasts were women and children.
In this age and time when the repercussions of landmines for innocent civilians and the herculean task of clearing them is very well-known, one fails to understand the wisdom of spraying a portion of one’s own country with these hazardous explosives.
It is only natural for any family or community that has lost scores of its loved ones, (including little children) to landmines to demand their removal from their area.
Recovery of Missing Persons
The fourth and final demand put forward by the All Pashtun National Jirga is for all the tribesmen who have been picked up by the security agencies to be produced before the courts. The protesters are asking for free and fair trials so that those who are innocent can finally be reunited with their families.
None of the demands put forth by the All Pashtun National Jirga are unreasonable. Not in the least. In fact a more sensible and clear charter of demands as the one issued by the Jirga has not come out from the many politically motivated sit-ins that we have seen since 2013.
However, it is the indifference on the part of the government and the media that should be a cause of concern for any individual who identifies as a Pakistani. By not rising to the occasion and restoring the lost trust of the Pashtun people in their national identities, the establishment is unwittingly making room for anti-Pakistan elements to take advantage of the situation.
It is unfair to expect bereaved Pashtuns who have seen years of war, displacement and discrimination to feel patriotic. It is thus, not their but every patriotic Pakistani’s responsibility to stand with the Jirga and demand an end to the darkness that shrouds the plight of our Pashtun brothers, sisters and children who are as much citizens of Pakistan as you and I.