ANGER: Demonstrators hold up pictures of missing family members and friends at the rally in Peshawar


IN A rare public challenge to Pakistan’s powerful armed forces, thousands of Pashtuns rallied last Sunday (8) in the northwestern city of Peshawar to call for an end to abuses by police and troops.  

The crowd chanted anti-military slogans as speakers took to the stage demanding an end to forced “disappearances” and harassment by authorities.  

“I salute the Pakistan army but if they are cruel I hate them,” said one female burqa-clad speaker to roars of applause.  

Hundreds held posters or photographs of missing family members and friends, whom they say have been seized by security forces during military opera­tions against insurgents.  

Speakers at the rally organised by the Pashtun Protection Movement demanded better treatment for ethnic Pashtuns, who make up an estimated 15 per cent of the population and have largely borne the brunt of Pakistan’s war on terror.  

Norab Jan’s two brothers and son were abducted three years ago.  

“We knocked at every door to get some knowl­edge, but yet we have no clue where they are,” the 80-year-old said. “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.”  

A senior police official estimated about 30,000 people attended the rally in a field outside town.  

“We are not against anyone but this movement is against cruelty,” said its leader Manzoor Pashteen as heavy rain drenched the crowd.  

“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.”  

Organisers said at least 2,000 new cases of forced disappearances were registered during the rally.  

The Pashtun Protection Movement rose to promi­nence after the killing of a young social media star in Karachi earlier this year unleashed festering anger at extrajudicial murders and at the police accused of orchestrating them.  

Hundreds of people die each year at the hands of law enforcement officers under pressure to crack down on kidnapping, murder and gang crime in a city that is routinely ranked among the most danger­ous in the world.  

But the fatal shooting in January of 23-year-old Naqeebullah Mehsud, an aspiring model whose dance videos and airbrushed brown locks had earned him a large Facebook following, brought thousands onto the streets to urge an end to impunity.  

The Pashtun belt in the northwest bordering Af­ghanistan has suffered from militant violence for over a decade as the Afghan war spilled over the border, leading to repeated military operations. (AFP)