June 11th, 2021 

By Hamid Riaz & Arshad Mohmand


LAHORE/PESHAWAR

For the twelvth consecutive day now, the Jani Khel tribesmen belonging from Bannu, Lakki Marwat have been protesting for peace outside their local police station. The protest camp was set up first on May 31, after the targeted killing of one of the tribe elders, Malik Naseeb Khan. Malik Naseeb was shot dead in broad daylight on his way home by unknown assailants.

Even though the police have registered an FIR of the incidents the locals are tired of the state’s inability to protect them from, what can be described as an organized campaign of targeted killings being carried out in the area by local militant Islamist outfits, and though no one has formally accepted responsibility for the attack, the locals point fingers at the militant groups which they claim have been ‘allowed’ to operate in their area and remain unruffled by the dozens of check posts set-up by the security forces, which otherwise pose several problems for ordinary citizens.

An activist for peace

In particular, the tribesmen are angered by the killing of Malik Naseeb, because in addition to being a tribal elder he was also a veteran activist who had spent a lifetime advocating and campaigning for peace in his area.

“For as long as I remember my father had been struggling for peace in our tribal homeland,” says Rafiullah Khan, the son of Malik Naseeb. “Now even in death, his name has become a rallying cry which sparked this movement in our area. I believe that his blood will herald an era of peace in our land.”

But being killed is a risk that all peace activists from Bannu are aware of.

“This is not the first time my father was attacked,” Rafiullah. “About three months ago he, along my brother and some other family members, were intercepted by militants on their way back home from a family event. That time the militants had missed their mark and thank God no one was hurt.”

“After the first attack our family approached the authorities countless of times begging them to provide protection to my father, more so because he was a well-known public figure of the area.”

But Rafiullah says no protection was given, an now the deed was done.

“The militants have finally succeeded,” he says. “And now that he has been killed, the government is trying to make up for their failure by offering me monetary compensation. I say to them ‘bring me your fathers, your brothers, and your sons and let me kill one of them and then accept money in exchange for their lives just like you are expecting me to!” cries Rafiullah, his voice trembling in emotion.

Though painful enough in its own right Malik Naseeb’s death is far from the only incident in Jani Khel which has caused an uproar in the area. This is the second sit-in of its kind in the last couple of months alone.

The March to Islamabad  

On March 21, a shepherd’s dog discovered bullet-riddled bodies of four Jani Khel teenagers in a freshly dug grave. Before the bodies were discovered, the teenagers had been presumed missing by the tribe. The boys had gone out on a hunting trip and had never returned.

As soon as the bodies were discovered the people of Jani Khel dug them out and placed them in front of the same police station initiating a week-long sit-in which later evolved into a long March towards Islamabad, after the failure of several rounds of negotiations.

At first, the local authorities tried to stop the march by force but despite the severe pressure by authorities, the protestors pushed forward with all force. The episode came to a close on March 29, when a special delegation of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government led by Chief Minister Mehmood Khan personally met with the Jani Khel elders in the dead of the night (4 am) and signed an agreement accepting all of their demands and gave them a personal guarantee of lasting peace in their tribal homeland.

But for the tribesmen, for whom agreements are held over everything else, the government has not kept its side of the understanding.

A long battle for peace

“The government has refused to take their own word seriously,” says Latif Wazir, a member of the local unit of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) and also one of the organizers of the current sit-in. “Except for paying compensation to the boys’ families, nothing has been done. The government has not bothered to meet any of the demands they agreed to and as for the Chief Minister’s peace guarantee, I can tell you that three of our tribesmen have even been killed since the agreement was signed about two months ago.”

Wazir claims that one of them was a Frontier Core (FC) personal, Muneeb, who had come back home on leave. “If FC personal are not safe in our area then who is?” he asks. “When we met a senior official of the armed forces after the recent attack to complain about the continued insecurity in our area he shunned us and asked us to contact the CM because we had made an agreement with him and not the armed forces. Even now when an elder from our tribe has been killed, instead of consoling us the state is trying to break our sit-in through formal and informal means. Almost 19 people from Bannu who were on their way to attend our sit-in were arrested by the police and are now being held at the Haripur jail,” adds Wazir.

But despite such hurdles, common citizens and important social and political figures have been visiting Jani Khel from the start of the protest.

“I would personally like to thank Manzoor Pashtin, Moshin Dawar, Aimel Wali Khan, Farhatullah Babar, Afrasiab Khattak, and members of the JUI-F for visiting the protest site. Their visits have helped highlight our plight,” explains Rafiullah.

Why are the militants back?

Meanwhile Member National Assembly (MNA) Mohsin Dawar visited the protest site twice and re-affirms Wazir’s claim that the government was not allowing citizens to reach the site of the protest camp.

“The first visit I did was unannounced, so the authorities did not have any idea of my arrival but even then we took alternate routes to avoid being held up by the law enforcement agencies,” he reveals. “My second visit was public knowledge so from the beginning of the journey my companions and I took less known routes.” He alleges that the insecurity in Jani Khel was only part of a greater game being played by the Pakistani establishment at the behest of international powers.

Moshin waived aside the idea about the CM Mehmood Khan playing an important role.

“The CM is nothing but a pawn he does not have real power,” says Dawar. “I don’t think he has been able to hold even a single meeting to start working on the demands he agreed to. I think local resistance, as is demonstrated through the sit-in of the Jani Khel tribe, is the only way to ensure lasting peace in the tribal areas of our country.”

Voicepk.net made several attempts to contact government officials (including the local DC and ACs) to get the government’s version of events but to no avail.

But sources present at the Dharna have claimed that negotiations between the authorities and the tribal are taking place behind closed doors. A delegation of the governing authorities is expected to meet with the tribal leaders very soon. While the tribesmen have demanded the release of all people being held at Haripur jail as a pre-condition to the start of the negotiations.

But even if the negotiations start there is still a streak of distrust among the tribespeople and the situation cannot be expected to become hopeful overnight.

“The government has betrayed us once before,” says Rafiullah. “This time we will not settle for a mere piece of paper. We want them to take concrete steps to assure us of their seriousness. Otherwise, the dharna will evolve into a Long March to Islamabad and then it will become impossible for the government to stop us,” asserts Rafiullah.

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