Carrying the blood soaked bodies of their dear ones on their shoulders, chanting "we want justice", on January 16, Tribesmen from Pakistan’s Khyber Agency crossed barricades in the heavily guarded military cantonment in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and reached the Governor House.
They put the 14 dead bodies, shrouded in made in china blankets, one after another on Sher Shah Suri road in front of the magnificent and white-washed building, from where Governor Masaud Kausar rules the tribal region. The tribesmen said 18 people were killed by the security forces in Alamgodar area of Bara sub division in Khyber Agency.
In this video http://www.mashaalradio.com/content/article/24825382.html a grey-bearded man from Bara Khyber Agency says "the security forces are committing these atrocities. They have also killed women and children in Bara but not allowing us to pick their dead bodies". The grief-stricken tribal elder further said that in the whole Bara area security forces enter people houses and kill innocent people.
For sometime they were allowed to stay around the dead bodies crying and tears of helplessness rolling on their cheeks, around 3000 protesters were baton charged by the local police and forced to vacate the place with the coffins. They blamed the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) led government for torture of the protestors; however a police official privy to the incident told this scribe on phone from Peshawar "there was immense pressure on the provincial government from the military authorities to disperse the protesters."
Pakistan military reject the charges and claim that the people were killed by the militants. After 5 days a rejoinder was issued by the Frontier Constabulary (FC), paramilitary forces under the command of Pakistan Army, claiming "To avenge their deaths, the terrorists ransacked the house of an FC soldier and killed five of his family members. To stage a drama, the terrorists threw dead bodies including that of their colleagues in parts of Bara and also orchestrated a demonstration in Peshawar".The rejoinder said “The security forces take utmost care to protect lives and properties of people in Bara and other parts of Khyber Agency and shall never indulge in killing of innocent civilians in any case,”.
Khyber Agency has vital strategic importance both for the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as the militant groups who want to impose their world view on the people of the region. An estimated 70 percent of NATO supplies to landlocked Afghanistan pass through Khyber Agency.
Three and a half year ego Pakistan launched a series of small and large scale military operations with “ridiculous names” to dismantle and destroy terrorist networks of Lashkar-e-Islam (The Army of Islam) and Tehrik-e-Taiban Pakistan (TTP). Locals say all the main roads are blocked to Bara and the area is under constant curfew. However the military campaign has achieved little in terms of eliminating terrorists and restoring peace to the volatile region.
Demands of targeted operation against the militants and protection of the lives and properties of the common people were already coming from the conflict-ridden region, but this time, it seems, they wanted their voice to be heard, at all costs, by the authorities. Their hopes dashed to the ground when the doors of the Governor House never opened for them. Instead heavy contingents of Police supported by the paramilitary forces were deployed to restrict the protestor’s movement and to discourage other to join them. Journalists complained of ill-treatment at the hands of the officials of the security agencies when they tried to cover the protest.
For years Pakistan deny media and rights activists’ access to 'the forbidden land' or Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where Pashtun tribesmen are caught in the conflict between the Pakistan security forces and Pro Al-Qaeda Taliban militants. The conflict also displaced thousands of families from the region, majority of who are living as Internally Displaced People (IDP) in dismal conditions in refugee camps closed to Peshawar.
The tribesmen have formed a Jirga (tribal council) to seek justice for the people of the conflict-torn Khyber Agency. On January 19 the Jirga in its session in Bagh-e-Naran Peshawar warned the government if their demands are not met within 48 hours, they would resume protest demonstrations. The Jirga demands of ending military operation in Bara, formation judicial commission to investigate Bara killings, Clearing roads and marketplaces, and compensation for the victimized families. http://www.khybernews.tv/newsDetails.php?cat=3&key=MjcyMzU=
Amnesty International has also called on the authorities to investigate and bring anyone identified as responsible for unlawful killings to justice in fair trials.
The tribesmen I talk to every Tuesday in my show about Pakistan Tribal region on RFE/RL Mashaal Radio over the past two years cite Pakistan's policy of so-called strategic depth in Afghanistan is the main reason behind lawlessness and poverty in FATA. On different occasion in my live interviews with tribal elders and rights activists, they say Pakistan military half-hearted operations have not only destroyed the already fragile health and educational infrastructure but also damaged the social and cultural foundations of the tribal society. They argue delay in implementation of reforms in the British era Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), lack of economic opportunities, absence of health and educational facilities and state refusal to engage the tribal people in the decision making process are the root causes of religious fundamentalism in the region.
Shaheen Buneri works as journalist for RFE/RL Mashaal Radio in Prague. He is a fellow of the Pulitzer Center On Crisis Reporting for 2011.