Video clip that brought KP metropolis to a grinding halt
By Afzal Hussain Bokhari
Crowd that descended on Peshawar Press Club was visibly angry. It is human nature to rebel against injustice. Young men shouted themselves hoarse. They demanded justice for a youth (an Afghan refugee) named Radiullah alias Aamir (Aamray in Pashto). On June 25, staff of Tehkal police station took this youth into custody. They stripped him naked, beat him up mercilessly and the brutality got recorded on camera. Out of two recorded video clips, one was uploaded on social media. Within minutes it became viral. Mainstream television news channels played it during their prime time talk shows. This hugely offended sensibilities of the citizenry.
In Saddar (Peshawar cantonment), the enraged crowd, mostly from Tehkal, blocked traffic on the busy Sher Shah Suri Road. They burnt old tyres and billowing black smoke darkened the sky. To highlight the issue, protesters started marching towards the KP Assembly building. Sleek Toyota pick-up vans of police raced up and down the cantonment roads. The administration called out extra force from various police stations and also from police lines. Parts of Khyber Road and GT Road were cordoned off with rolls of barbed wire. Clashes between both sides erupted. Protesters pelted police with stones. Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) fired tear gas shells. Pungent fumes filled the hot end-of-June air. Riot police in battle gear baton-charged the protesters. Those leading the crowd were picked by commandos and shoved into waiting police vans. FIRs were registered against 30 arrested rioters.
Despite hurdles, the protesters managed to reach the Sooray Pul, where they offered the ‘Zohr’ prayers. When protesters refused to budge and public pressure grew, the administration ordered the Tehkal SHO Shehryar Khan to report in police lines. It appointed Sardar Ali Shah as new SHO in Tehkal. Meanwhile, during hearing of routine cases, a two-judge bench of Peshawar High Court (PHC) took special notice of Tehkal incident. The bench comprised Justice Qaiser Rashid Khan and Justice Mohammad Naeem Anwar.
Justice Qaiser lauded the sacrifices of top police officers like DIGs Abid Ali, Malik Sa’ad and Safwat Ghayyur, who got targeted one after the other, while protecting the civil society from militants. He said that times seemed to have changed. He made the observation that Tehkal incident had shaken the foundations of society and terrorised the people. He ordered PPO and CCPO to appear in the court in person. From the neighbouring Central Police Office (CPO), they promptly made it to PHC. Justice Qaiser posed the question to them as to why abnormal policemen were being appointed as SHOs. He added that the incident brought a bad name to the police department.
Meanwhile, CM Mahmood Ahmad Khan conducted a hurriedly-called meeting with Chief Secretary, IGP and other senior officers. Initially it was decided that a high-level committee comprising additional IGP and CCPO would probe the matter. Later, when agitation spread to Charsadda, Swat, Mohmand and Bajaur districts, and situation got out of hand, the government acceded to public demand that probe be conducted by a judge of PHC.
Sources said that police was in possession of the second video which showed Tehkal youth being subjected to sexual violence. IGP Dr Sanaullah Abbasi did some timely crisis management. He tried to pacify the public by announcing that he had dismissed SSP (operations) Zahoor Babar Afridi, for his role in Tehkal violence. In his place, he picked the new SSP (operations) in the person of DPO Kohat, Mansoor Aman (an officer of Grade 18). At lower level, three officials of Tehkal police station – ASI Zahirullah, constable Naeem and constable Tauseef – were produced in the court of Judicial Magistrate Farooq Shah, who handed them over to FIA on two-day physical remand.
Meanwhile, in order to monitor developments regarding how the KP government was proceeding against culprits of Tehkal incident, the Afghan ambassador in Islamabad, Shukrullah Atif Mashal, travelled to Peshawar. He met the IGP in CPO. Earlier, the Afghan Consul-General in Peshawar, Najeebullah Ahmadzai, Attache for refugees, Abdul Hamid Jalil, and second secretary (protocol), Jauhar Khan, had also a meeting with the IGP.
Hide-and-seek between police and the angry residents of Tehkal has been going on for four days. Protest demonstrations have not petered out despite repeated tear gas shelling and heavy baton-charge. This has created a serious law and order problem for the general public. Methods used by police to control agitation are primitive like those in the 1857 mutiny against British rulers. There are about a dozen of civilian law enforcing agencies in Peshawar but they have not been able to control demonstrations from one locality (Tehkal).
Vital installations happen to be there in Peshawar cantonment. These include the Bacha Khan International Airport, Governor’s House, Chief Minister’s House, Civil Secretariat, PTV Centre, Radio Pakistan, High Court, Sessions Court, District Courts, Judicial Complex and Central Jail. All of them need to be protected. As stated above, East Cantt (Sharqi) police station arrested 30 rioters and registered FIRs against them. Inside police stations, the arrested persons do not enjoy any picnic. Old ‘thana’ culture is as dreadful as ever. Even then the protesters have been showing very stiff resistance to police.
Summary dismissal from service, with one stroke of pen, of SSP (operations) Zahoor Babar Afridi and prompt suspension of Shehryar Khan, SHO of PS Tehkal have sent a wrong message to police force. Instead of protecting general public, police officials have started self-protection by shutting themselves up inside police stations. Several wounded policemen are in hospital for treatment. When these lines were being written on Sunday evening, there were no reports that any responsible person from the government side had initiated negotiations with the aggrieved party. After all, force is not the only option available to bring back normalcy and sanity to city thoroughfares. However, Adviser on Information, Ajmal Khan Wazir, said that CM had personally visited the affected family in Tehkal. He gave assurance that justice would be done in the case.
It may not be out of place to mention here how Afghan refugees got involved in Peshawar’s law and order. After the Saur Revolution in 1979 up to 2020, the coming and going of Afghan refugees was a common phenomenon. In-between these 41 years, there came a time when from Tanbwan bus stop, near the runway, up to Hayatabad and Karkhano Markets, the area was virtually inundated by Afghan refugees. Daily commuters rightly named this belt as ‘mini-Afghanistan’. New signboards appeared on shop-fronts, which announced the arrival of food items like ‘Sheer-i-Yakh’, Afghani ‘pulao’ and ‘Mantoo’. In Board Bazaar, most of the shopkeepers were Afghan nationals. Fleets of Mercedes-Benz mini buses operated from Hayatabad to Kamboh Adda near Garhi Nawab Din. It was said that these buses used to ply the roads in Kabul. These were owned by wealthy transporters but some of the drivers and conductors stole those vehicles and brought them to Peshawar. The owners wanted to sue the culprits but Afghan laws did not apply in Pakistan.
For ragtag groups of hand-to-mouth refugees, the government set up the sprawling Shamshatoo Camp to the east of Peshawar and an equally spacious Kacha Garhi Camp to the north of Phase-III Chowk. To take care of the refugees, the federal as well as the government of KP (then NWFP) received plenty of money in the shape of aid for refugees. This aid came from Saudi Arabia, UAE, USA, Britain and international donor agencies. This was less for love of refugees. This was more for hatred against the former USSR, which was said to be behind the Saur Revolution.
Actually, the Afghan leftists belonging to the pro-Beijing Parcham faction and the pro-Moscow Khalq faction toppled the Afghan King Sardar Mohammad Daud. They installed a left-wing government in Kabul in 1979. USSR privately said that Afghanistan was a hugely tribal society, which was not quite prepared for a revolution. However, it said that once the Afghan leftists had undertaken a pre-mature adventure, Moscow would help to make Saur Revolution a success. As early heads of Kabul government continued to be deposed or assassinated, the exodus of Afghan refugees continued. On crossing into Pakistan, the Afghan refugees naturally faced untold hardships.
The first and foremost problem was to find a shelter. Many of the refugee families which could not afford to live in the expensive Hayatabad Township found way into the old ‘village’ known as Tehkal Bala and Tehkal Zereen’. They put up in houses with cheap rents. Clashes were natural between refugees and local people, at times even with police. So, that was roughly the background in which the love-hate relationship between refugees and police developed.