MAKEEN, Pakistan — As millions of Pakistanis prepare to vote in the July 25 election, residents of one remote village in a restive northwestern corner of the country are boycotting the polls.
Residents of Nargosa Shabi Khel village in the mountainous South Waziristan tribal district on Afghanistan’s border say they will not vote until authorities arrest the alleged murderers of a local teenager.
The family and residents of Nargosa claim that heavily armed men killed Abdul Kalam, a 16-year-old, on July 21.
His father, Khandan Khan, says that “surrendered Taliban” and security forces surrounded their house around 6 a.m. on July 21. Surrendered Taliban locally refers to former members of Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militant organizations that virtually controlled South Waziristan and six more districts in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which were merged into adjoining Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province this year.
“They forced me and my two sons to go before them. Three of these ‘surrendered Taliban’ then shot and killed my son Abdul Kalam in front of women and children [in our family],” Khan told Radio Mashaal. “We are now boycotting the election, and we will not vote until we see justice for my son’s murder.”
His neighbor, Malik Adam Khan, agrees. He says the entire Shabi Khel clan within the Pashtun Mehsud tribe is boycotting the polls.
“He [Kalam] was innocent. It is beyond cruel what happened here,” he said. “All members of the Shabi Khel clan will not vote until we see the murderers of Kalam being brought to justice.”
The incident appears to be related to renewed Taliban influence in Waziristan and other parts of former FATA, where tens of thousands of civilians, militants, and soldiers were killed during more than a decade of Taliban attacks and military counterinsurgency sweeps. Millions were displaced by the fighting.
Last month, scores of protesters were killed and injured in clashes between armed former Taliban and mostly unarmed members of the Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement in Wana, the administrative capital of South Waziristan. Officials, members, and supporters call these Taliban the Aman (Peace) Committee, which mostly operates as a government-backed militia.
Sher Amal, another Nargosa resident, blamed the government for bringing back hard-line members of militant organizations under amnesty deals that locals say require them to not attack the security forces but offer little protection to civilians.
“We have endured displacement for more than 10 years. We still live in the tents [because our houses were ruined] and don’t have any weapons to protect ourselves,” he told Radio Mashaal. “We were not interested in fighting these people [militants] even when we used to bear arms. Our complaint is that the government is bringing them back.”
Sheraz, another local resident who goes by one name only, says that the surrendered Taliban were accompanied by the army when they came looking for Kalam.
“He was killed in front of his parents and siblings and then the army took away his Watan Card (identity card),” he said.
It was not possible to contact the surrendered Taliban. Radio Mashaal attempted to reach the Pakistani military’s media wing for comment. Repeated attempts to contact Colonel Shafiq of the Inter-Services Public Relations for comment were also not successful.
In the past, the Pakistani military has denied helping militants. But last month chief military spokesman Asif Ghafoor said the Wana Peace Committee comprising former Taliban had played a major role in stabilizing the region.
“The peace committee has fought in the war against terrorism for years,” he told journalists on June 4. “They fought in the war against terrorism and are now doing their part in the [current] phase of stabilization.”
The PTM, however, plans to protest the murder. Shah Faisal Ghazi, a leader of the movement, told Radio Mashaal that they will launch a protest campaign soon after this week’s election is over.
“We still don’t have any courts and justice in Waziristan and other regions of [former FATA],” he said. “These people [militants] are protected by the government and are still killing people.”
Abubakar Siddique wrote this based on Radio Mashaal correspondent Sailab Mehsud’s reporting from Makeen, South Waziristan.