Tahir Ali

ISLAMABAD - Mehsud tribesmen feel under siege. The sense of insecurity hounds them not only in their tribal homeland but is chasing them even hundreds of miles away in Karachi.

“The Sindh police harass the displaced Mehsud tribesmen living in Karachi. They raid their homes and demand money under different pretexts. Those who fail to pay the money are brutally tortured and killed in fake encounters,” said Kalimullah Mehsud, a lawyer by profession.

Addressing a protest rally of the tribesmen last week in Tank district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Kalimullah said, “The Sindh government has turned a blind eye to ‘policegardi’ and extrajudicial killing of Mehsud tribesmen.”

Nearly 300 Mehsuds, the majority of them students, took to the streets and protested against the Sindh government. The enraged protesters also burned effigies of Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah and Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad who ‘failed to protect’ the Mehsud tribesmen living in the province.

Thousands of Mehsud tribesmen fled their homes ahead of military operation Rah-e-Nijat in October 2009 against Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The operation left around 62,000 (82,000 according to unofficial estimates) families homeless, out of them around 11,000 families were repatriated to their homes while the remaining are still living in different parts of the country.

The majority of the displaced Mehsuds took shelter in Karachi, as a large portion of this tribe is settled in Sindh province since decades. According to an estimate, presently, nearly half a million Mehsud tribesmen are residing in Karachi.

Those who are settled in Karachi allege that the local police and Rangers have made their life miserable. They are settled in Sohrab Goth, Shah Latif Colony, Gulshan-e-Buner, Ittehad Town, Northern Bypass, Manghopir and Kunwari Colony. They are being persecuted on the bases of their tribal background.

“More than a thousand tribesmen have been kidnapped, tortured or killed in fake encounters by the Karachi police and the Rangers,” said Sherpao Mehsud, who is leading the Tehrik-e-Mehsud Qabayal. “If the government does not take notice of the target killing and kidnapping of Mehsuds, we will stage a sit-in in Islamabad from December”, he warned.

Talking to The Nation, Maulana Jamaluddin – who represents South Waziristan in the National Assembly – said, “The Pashtun and especially the Mehsud tribesmen are being harassed by the police. They are being picked up during raids; if they pay, they can return to their homes otherwise they are put behind bars or killed in fake encounters.”

Some critics are of the view that as Baitullah Mehsud, the founding head of TTP, and his successors Hakimullah Mehsud, Qari Hussain and Commander Waliur Rehman etc all belonged to the Mehsud tribe, now the whole tribe is being “persecuted”. Jamaluddin said that because of the acts of some individuals, the whole tribe should not be punished. “Only the criminals should be punished, not the whole tribe”.

On October 23, a group of armed men wearing police uniforms reportedly raided a showroom of cars and made away with 3.4 million rupees and other important documents. “They were in six police vans and one bulletproof vehicle,” one Fazal Rehman wrote in an application submitted in the office of Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Malir the day after the incident. So far the culprits are traceless.

Some of the tribesmen also allege that the hardcore militants are at large in the city and police are harassing the common tribesmen. A tribesmen who recently shifted his business from Karachi to Rawalpindi said, “Earlier the tribesmen were compelled to pay extortion money to the militants and now the police have adopted the same profession”. He said that without paying a ‘safety fee’ to the police, no one can survive in Karachi. “In case of refusal, your house will be raided. Either you will be put behind bars or killed in fake encounter”.

Many of the Mehsud tribesmen, settled in Karachi since decades, are amongst the leading businessmen of the country. They are the owners of heavy machinery, transport companies and gasoline stations etc. More than 100 Mehsud tribesmen are members of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce. “Now the police are grabbing money from the businessmen and those who refuse are punished heavily,” he said.

Last Friday, November 14, JUI-F’s local leader Mufti Shah Faisal Mehsud was killed during an alleged encounter with the police. According to his family, he and his brother Noor Wali were picked from their homes in Surjani Town on August 23. After remaining in police custody for almost nine days “Noor Wali was released after paying Rs25,000” to the police as bribe. The police allegedly killed Mufti Faisal during an encounter in Quaidabad area of the city.

Recently, a jirga of Mehsud elders, headed by Maulana Jamaluddin, visited Karachi and met different officials of the Sindh government, including Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, regarding the harassment of Mehsud tribesmen. The CM assured the jirga about the safety of the tribesmen and asked the latter to form a committee to help the government differentiate between militants and peaceful tribesmen. However, according to locals, no one is ready to be part of such a committee and thus endanger one’s life.

Earlier, some leaders representing the Awami National Party (ANP) were active in protecting the rights of the tribesmen in the city but they were eliminated by the militants. “At the moment everyone (representing the ANP) is worried about their own safety. There is no local leader to voice the tribesmen’s rights,” said Alam Mehsud, a resident of Sohrab Goth.

When contacted, Atiq Sheikh, the spokesperson of the Sindh police told The Nation, “There is no truth in such claims. Those with such objections should go to the courts, the media and police stations”. He said, “So far 138 policemen have been martyred in encounters with criminals while last year we lost 171 of our men. Real encounters are taking place and people from both sides (police and criminals) are being killed.”