Several thousands of Pakistani ethnic Pashtuns have taken to the streets in the southern city of Karachi, calling on the country’s powerful military to end what they call years of alleged abuse and discrimination against the minority group across the country.
The rally, organized by the rapidly-growing human rights group, known as the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), was held in Karachi’s remote Sohrab Goth suburb on Sunday.
Paramilitary and police forces were deployed to thwart the peaceful demonstration. They briefly detained several members of the group.
The movement’s leader Manzoor Pashteen, also attended the gathering after arriving in Karachi from Islamabad.
Addressing the crowd, he denounced what he called extrajudicial killings in Karachi and across the country.
“This country has one constitution, the state must run according to the constitution. You cannot just rule as you please,” he told the crowd. “The courts, the parliament, they have all been captured [by the military] ... and we must end this.”
“If they kill us now, we’ll die with our heads high. We’ll die with some dignity," he added.
The civil movement was founded in January after police killed Pashtun youth Naqibullah Mehsud in Karachi. It is demanding authorities confront accusations of involvement in the death and disappearance of hundreds of Pashtuns.
Among the protesters were families holding images of their missing loved ones, who they say were taken by security officials.
They said they have not received any news since the disappearances, some of them more than a decade ago.
Pakistan’s military, however, has called the movement “terrorist” and accused its leaders of sedition.
Many of PTM members have been threatened or detained so far. The group, however, has successfully staged demonstrations across Pakistan in the last four months.
Most of the Pashtuns live in Pakistan’s northwestern region — close to the Afghan border — where the military has been carrying out its operations against the Pakistani Taliban.
Activists say several thousands of Pashtuns have been killed under the guise of operations against the terrorists in the region. But the military has rejected allegations of involvement in extrajudicial killings and abuses in its long-running war against militants in the tribal region.
The military killed a group of Pashtun men in Karachi back in January, saying they were militants.
The ethnic Pashtun population makes up about 15 percent of the 207 million population in Pakistan.
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