The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) confirmed yesterday that the group’s deputy Khalid Mehsud, aka Sajna, was taken down by an American drone on February 8.
While Pakistani intelligence officials claim that the drone struck the TTP deputy in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, the Taliban group maintains that the drone had hit the North Waziristan region, on the Pakistani side of the border.
This contrast in locations, only a few kilometres either side of the Durand Line, fits the conflicting narratives of entities that the two spokespersons represent. Islamabad claims that the TTP has found safe havens in Afghanistan, while the group maintains its presence in the Pakistani territory.
While Khalid’s death was yet to catch the airwaves of the local media at the time of filing of this piece yesterday, it was another Mehsud whose killing has instigated a protest that is about to enter its third week, but is enjoying similarly deafening silence among the media.
The extrajudicial killing, or fake encounter as it’s called in our neck of the woods, of Naqeebullah Mehsud on January 13, sparked protests all over the country, beginning with Karachi where he was murdered by the now suspended SSP Rao Anwar, since declared an absconder by the Supreme Court after failing to show up for the hearing in the case against him.
While an ATC has directed the authorities to hunt Rao Anwar down by February 16, a movement that goes by the #PashtunLongMarch hashtag on social media is brewing the country over.
The protest that has been dubbed a rebellion, awakening, uprising and spring of the Pashtun has put forward its list of demands, which includes the arrest of Naqeebullah’s murderers, judicial killings to be brought to an end, all missing persons be recovered and for FATA to clear off land mines that continue to endanger the lives of thousands of tribespeople.
The movement was initiated by the Rehmat Khan led Mehsud Tahaffuz Movement originating in South Waziristan, and was joined by Bajaur, Orakzai, Kurram and other agencies, with a protest erupting parallel to Islamabad in Khyber Agency to reaffirm that it is indeed a nationwide movement with its hub in tribal resentments.
Of course, every time a particular demographic takes up their case against the state, they are conveniently dubbed anti-state. The raison d’etre of this claim is that they refuse to acquiesce to the ‘larger’ Pakistani narrative, even if that narrative might be based on age-old bigotry against that particular group of people.
And so, while Naqeebullah’s killing might’ve been the straw that broke the camel’s back, the eruption of Pashtun nationalism – contrary to being anti-Pakistan – is the pure manifestation against the community’s suffering most notably in FATA, whose much procrastinated merger with KP has meant, among other atrocities, the continued rule of the over century old Frontier Crimes Regulations.
With the FCR underlining entire tribes and communities as criminals, the offshoot of which are the brutally heedless military operations that raze entire towns without much regard, the prevalence of the Riwaj Act further discriminates against the marginalised among the marginalised.
Parallel to this movement is the appointment of Mufti Noor Wali to replace Khalid Mehsud in the TTP ranks. Wali would be tasked to lead militants in South Waziristan, where the tribe of his predecessor and Naqeebullah Mehsid originate from.
The fact that Wali studied in a Faisalabad madrassa would be underplayed when the Pashtun stereotype would be used to put a cross over another Mehsud at the GHQ drawing board in Rawalpindi. The frequency of American drones might’ve picked up under Donald Trump, but they seem to be ones taking down the Taliban leadership.
Khalid Mehsud is the second TTP leader in four months that the group has announced dead, after Umar Mansoor, the TTP ‘caliph’ in Darra Adam Khel and Peshawar, who was confirmed dead in November even though he had been killed in July 2016.
But the tale of two Mehsuds killed a month apart in two separate case of extrajudicial killings underscore the one fallacy common to both the American drone and the Pakistani gun – that of the Pashtun stereotype and disregard for the common tribesperson that has nothing to do with militancy.
And while neither the drone strikes nor the staged encounters would stop, if this racial profiling continues in Pakistan, the Pashtun Spring might become every bit a pan-nationalist movement as the Arab Spring it is named after, putting Kabul and Islamabad at loggerheads in a way India and Pakistan have never been.
The writer is a Lahore-based journalist.