Islamabad: Over the few years, the unrest in FATA has resulted in the securitization of the Pashtun identity and stereotyped the tribals as terrorists, writes Jessica Kroner in Peace for Asia.

The process began at the time of General Pervez Musharraf and continued with the security establishment's media influence campaigns.

The Pakistan Army has abused its power and used the legal system and its control over the administrative levers to aggressively target the Pashtuns risking the inflammation of social divisions in the country.

The extrajudicial killing of Naquibullah Mehsud, a budding model from the ex-FATA region in 2018 by Senior Superintendent Rao Anwar is a case in point.

His killing galvanized the Pashtun community and institutionalized its collective efforts into the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) under Manzoor Pashteen's leadership, said Kroner.

So-called "encounter killings" are common in Pakistan. Rights groups say when police lack enough evidence for a court conviction, they extrajudicially kill suspects.

A few weeks ago, former police officer Rao Anwar spoke to a leading Pakistani media channel discussing his stance on the killing of Naquibullah Mehsud.

Anwar, along with around two dozen of his subordinates, has been charged with killing the aspiring model from South Waziristan and three others after dubbing them "Taliban" in a "fake shoot-out" on January 13, 2018.

The matter was investigated under the direct supervision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The Sindh government had ordered IG Sindh to form an inquiry committee. After all investigations, Naqeebullah Mehsud was found innocent, reported Peace for Asia.

Anwar's infamy was long known in Karachi due to the nexus between big property interests, mafia and the police. It is also presumed that Rao Anwar was merely addressing the security concerns that emerged in the aftermath of mass displacements that took place after military operations in the FATA region. Anwar is accused of killing over 400 people in allegedly fake police encounters.

There is a substantial Pashtun population in Karachi, naturally making it vulnerable to suspicion by the authorities and the city witnessed regular incidents of abductions of Pashtun youth.

Sanaullah Abbasi, head of the government committee, admitted before the Mehsud Jirga that Naqeeb Mehsud was innocent and had been killed extrajudicially killed. During the trial, Anwar tried to flee the country several times but failed.

According to a report, in the year 2017-18, 140 people were killed by the police in Karachi in police encounters, reported Peace for Asia.

Also, it becomes impossible to investigate the larger interests and institutions that could be behind Naqeeb's killing, said Kroner.

Pakistan's Anti-terrorism Court ruled on January 24, 2019, that Naqeebullah Mehsud and three others killed along with him were innocent and their killing was extrajudicial.

According to the court order, Rao Anwar was present along with other police officers at the time of the killings. The PTM, under the leadership of Manzoor, Ali Wazir, Mohsin Dawar, and Zubair Shah Agha collectively staged large-scale protests against the involvement of state institutions in human rights abuses.

However, the State's response to PTM's peaceful activism has been to double down on the sort of authoritarian behaviour that the PTM has been protesting, reported IFFRAS.

Many members of the PTM have been arrested on dubious charges of terrorism or strained interpretations of provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code on the grounds of sedition, incitement of violence, defamation and similar charges. A number of leading PTM members have also been killed.

Treating the PTM and other groups as insincere and externally funded agitators rather than as well-meaning activists is a miscalculation that is likely to have grave ramifications for Pakistan, reported IFFRAS.

The draconian response to PTM has not only failed to subdue it but has strengthened its resolve and popular support and risked the inflammation of social divisions.