LANDI KOTAL, Pakistan – Members of Pashtun tribes in northwestern Pakistan’s Khyber district are reluctant to end their protest over the alleged extrajudicial killing of a local young man.
On February 25, members of the Shinwari and Afridi tribes continued to block the main trade artery connecting eastern Afghanistan with northwestern Pakistan through the historic Khyber Pass for the fourth consecutive day. They are demanding that authorities investigate and provide justice to the family of Adnan Shinwari.
The counterterrorism branch of the police in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, where Khyber is a district, said Adnan was killed during an “operation” along with four other suspected terrorists on February 21.
But his family says Adnan was no terrorist and that he was picked up during a security sweep three months ago. The family claims Adnan even worked for the local police, called Khassadars.
The conflicting claims have created an apparent deadlock. Many residents of Khyber district, activists, and political parties are continuing to press on with their protest until the authorities admit guilt and accept demands for a judicial probe of the incident and agree to pay compensation to his family. To pressure the government into accepting their terms, protesters have blocked the highway connecting Khyber with Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar Province for eight hours a day.
“The father of the deceased was satisfied when we negotiated with him last night,” Muhammad Imran, a civilian administration official in Khyber, told Radio Mashaal of their meeting with Adnan’s family late on February 25. “But when he went to talk to the protesters, they raised slogans and created disturbance.”
But Ismail Shinwari says his son was wrongfully killed. He says Adnan was arrested by the paramilitary Frontier Corps during a raid three months ago. But he was killed on February 21 and his body was handed over to them the next day.
“I would have gladly accepted his death if he would have been convicted to death by a court,” Ismail told protesters on February 23. “But he was killed with utmost cruelty. I am requesting the tribes here to stand with us because if we are the victims today, you too are likely to be targeted tomorrow.”
Ismail says that after his initial arrest on November 10, Adnan was briefly released before being detained again.
But Tahir Khan, a senior counterterrorism officer, said on February 22 that they had killed five suspected terrorists in a compound in Mathra, a rural suburb of the provincial capital, Peshawar. He said the militants belonged to a banned group and security forces found suicide vests, submachine guns, and other weapons at the scene.
In late December, Khyber Pass was the scene of a protest over the killing of another young man. Family and local politicians claimed Khatir Khan Shinwari, 21, was killed during detention by the security forces. He was picked up along with 19 suspects after a militant attack on a check post in Khyber.
But the security and civilian administration officials in Khyber said Khatir was shot when he attempted to flee detention.
Khyber residents continued a sit-in protest against his alleged extrajudicial killing in the first week of January.
Khyber is one of the seven districts in Pakistan’s former Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA). The mountainous region served as the main theater for Islamabad’s domestic war on terrorism.
Since 2018, the region has been rocked by protests by the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement. This civil rights movement is campaigning against alleged abuses by the Pakistani security forces and its covert support for some militant groups.
Since 2003, tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and more than 6 million displaced by militant attacks and military sweeps in former FATA and the alpine valley of Swat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Pamir Halimzai and Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Radio Mashaal correspondent Farhad Shinwari’s reporting from Landi Kotal. Pakistan.