Protesters angry over the killing of a young man have set fire to what they claim was a Taliban office in the northwestern Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Tribal leaders in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s southern city of Dera Ismail Khan say hundreds of Pashtun tribespeople torched the office of a pro-government Taliban commander on February 6.
Local police, however, says they have arrested one of the accused and cautioned residents against taking the law into their own hands.
Zafar Wazir, a tribal leader, says a tribal council of Wazir and Mehsud tribespeople decided to set fire to the office after authorities failed to arrest militants loyal to Taliban commander Misbah Mehsud, whom they blame for the February 4 killing of realtor Idrees Wazir.
“The victim’s father had identified these Taliban as the perpetrators of his killing [in a police report],” he told Radio Mashaal. “Two cars were also burned at the Taliban office, and the protesters found weapons and fake license plates at the site.”
The incident comes amid a Pashtun protest in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Since February 1, thousands of Mehsuds and Wazirs have been joined by fellow Pashtuns from across the northwestern Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to demand justice and an end to their oppression.
The protest was prompted by the unlawful killing of shopkeeper Naqeebullah Mehsud in what authorities have confirmed was a gunbattle staged by the police.
Pakistan’s northwestern Pashtun belt -- comprising FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and northern districts of southwestern Balochistan Province -- has paid a steep price for serving as the epicenter of the global war on terrorism for more than a decade.
Zafar Wazir says the protesters in Dera Ismail Khan were dispersed after local authorities assured them they would soon arrest the suspected murderers.
“If the suspects are not arrested swiftly, our protest will mushroom into something much bigger,” he said.
Shafiullauh Wazir, another tribal leader, says they only wish for justice.
“We want the government and the state to fulfill its responsibilities and immediately nab the real culprits,” he told Radio Mashaal. “We will go forward in accordance with the law. If the killing of our youth doesn’t stop immediately and we are denied justice, our protests will continue,” he said.
In a statement late on February 6, police in Dera Ismail Khan said they had arrested the main suspect, Sher Khan Mehsud, and are trying to arrest another, Atta-ur Rehman.
The statement also said the police are searching for those who set fire to buildings and vehicles. “We will not allow anyone to take the law into their hands,” the statement said.
Several protesters told Radio Mashaal they had been assured the alleged killers would be arrested soon.
Misbah Mehsud or anyone affiliated with his group has not commented on the incident.
Pakistani media reports suggest Misbah Mehsud and his followers were seen as pro-government militants after they splintered from the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in 2008. The group was one of several small Taliban splinter groups operating in Dera Ismail Khan and neighboring Tank district in recent years.
This story has been updated to include a statement issued by the police.