(First Published On Personal Blog 16/1/2013)
Today, much to my concern I awoke to the following message on my Facebook from a journalist friend in Peshawar which read,
“18 dead bodies recovered from Bara, sub division of Khyber agency. Dear, I am in protest now going to governor house with 18 dead bodies so please give coverage and spread it on all media and social media” (15 bodies were taken to Peshawar, 3 left at home).
I was soon to learn that the previous evening houses had been raided in Bara Tehsil, Khyber Agency allegedly by men in military uniform and a number of villages shot dead. It appears those shooting were seeking out insurgents but the relatives of the dead claim those killed were not terrorists. Relatives blamed the security services who in turn claimed militants were responsible. There was some suggestion that militants disguised in military uniforms could have carried out attacks to discredit security services but protestors thought that unlikely.
It seems once again the people of the Tribal Areas are caught between a rock and a hard place. Many claim repeated drone strikes in the region have led to more people becoming displaced, radicalized and greater insecurity in the region. Civilians are now caught between the military and the Taliban.
Venting their anger, tribesmen proceeded to transport the bodies of their deceased relatives blocking some roads on route to the Governor House in Peshawar where they were lain out for all to see…
Express News reported that a scuffle broke out as Senator Hameedullah Jan Afridi attempted to address the sit-in:-
“The mob attacked the senator by hurling stones and shoes at him. Soon after, a supporter who was accompanying Afridi fired in the air to disperse the mob and the senator was escorted to his car to escape the clash.
The protestors said that they had not seen the senator, who hails from the Bara region, for almost four and a half years. They said that Afridi resided peacefully in Islamabad, while the situation in Bara worsened over the years.
A 12-member delegation has been constituted to negotiate with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s governor. The committee will put forth the demands of the protestors, including ending military offensive in Bara and compensating the heirs.”
I received a number of photos of dead bodies and a video of the demonstration. One placard read simply, “stop killing Pakhtuns”. The victims were named as follows:- Umargul, Haji Umar Atiq, Hazart Ali, Fazal Khaliq, Minhaj, Hazart Ali, Alamgir, Nor Jamal, Jahangir, Nihar Khan, Abdul Jalil, Samo Din, Lal Haider, Gul Jamal, and Rehamat Khan. There were said to be 7 persons killed from one family.
DAWN reported that,
“Security forces denied the allegations, claiming that the dead included a former Frontier Corps soldier’s father and four brothers – all five gunned down by militants on Tuesday night, they claimed.
Military sources said that militants from the banned Lashkar-i-Islam group had raided the house in Dogra area of former FC-man, Shabbir Ahmed, and gunned down his father and brothers.
“I was a government servant but I don’t know why this injustice done to me,” former FC official, Shabbir, who was also among the protestors outside the Governor House, told Dawn.com.
“I am serving the nation and working for the security of the country but don’t know why and who has killed my four brothers and father. The government must answer why this has been done to me,” he said… “ http://dawn.com/2013/01/16/relatives-of-slain-bara-tribesmen-march-towards-governors-house/
An Amnesty International spokesperson reiterated the findings of a December 2012 report “The Hands of Cruelty” which documented abuses by both the armed forces and the Taliban http://amnesty.org/en/library/info/ASA33/019/2012/en Mustafa Qadri tweeted that “according to activists Barra has been under continuous curfew for the last 40 months”. He stressed the importance of all sides working within the law, stating, “a very careless attitude towards distinguishing civilians from combatants and failure to follow rules of law create system of abuses”. He also reminded followers that “even in war there are rules, burdens of proof, prosecution for unlawful killings, otherwise people will continue to die needlessly, and their lives will only be remembered after their loss, and only after people take to the streets”.
Protestors raised concerns that their story would not receive adequate media coverage and were worried about revealing their identity. One local community worker sent messages throughout the day and told me,
“There is only one news channel covering,(Khyber) no other media because government does not allow them to cover, on the other hand street light is also shut up, thousands of people here in the night, they eat their dinner from Alkhedmat org. People are set on roads and 20 member Jirga busy with giving their demands, I want to tell you that still shelling is going on in Bara.”
I spoke with a representative of Alkedmat.org who confirmed that the organisation had also provided coffins and hands on support to the bereaved.
There were repeated worries about what one blogger called “the media black out of FATA” saying “nothing comes out from there only what the military or the militants say. Pakistani mainstream news channels have shown their bias today. DSNG Vans were there but there was zero coverage from them.”
One message read, “I am on stage but govt shut the lights, no media coverage, please cover this, I am in touch with you.”
So what are the demands of the Tribal people? I was informed that the Jirga had come out from Governor House and the demands are… to stop mortar shelling, release all prisoners, remove curfew, open Bara Bazzar which should be open, compensation to affectees, stop all killing of all innocent people and to make an open judiciary to investigate. The governor had apparently agreed and a joint statement was to be released.”
Prime Minsiter Raja Pervaiz Ashraf called Governor Khyber Pakhtukhwa Massod Kasaur over the sit-in according to News International. The Governor informed Prime Minister Ashraf that a report will be presented after speaking with the tribesmen and the Prime Minister assured that the federal government would provide assistance to resolve the problem.
The last update of the evening was that young protestors were refusing to end the demonstration wanting greater guarantees for their security.
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”.