People walk past shops closed due to a strike to condemn the death of prominent Pashtun rights activist Arman Luni, in Quetta, Pakistan, Monday, Feb. 4, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/Arshad Butt

Ethnic Pashtuns in Pakistan have been protesting the death of activist Arman Luni on February 2 as the latest outrage against this beleaguered community.

Luni, a leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), a social movement for Pashtun rights, died during a sit-in in Balochistan province’s Lorelai district. The police reported that Luni died of a heart attack following clashes between police and protesters. But his supporters allege he died from torture while in police custody. Balochistan’s chief minister has ordered an inquiry into the death.

Many Pashtun Pakistanis live in the region previously known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the embattled area bordering Afghanistan that in recent years has endured attacks by the Taliban armed group, government military offensives, and US drone strikes. The tribal areas were governed by colonial-era regulations that allowed collective punishment for entire communities, including property destruction and denial of access to courts.

The PTM protested loudly the alleged extrajudicial killing by police of Naqeebullah Mehsud, 27, a shopkeeper and aspiring model in Karachi in January 2018. Demonstrations have since taken place across the country, and authorities have responded by cracking down on the protests and filing criminal charges.

In May 2018, Pakistan’s parliament passed a constitutional amendment merging the tribal areas with the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and extending the constitutional protections previously denied to the people of the tribal areas. Prime Minister Imran Khan has constituted a taskforce to oversee the integration of the tribal areas in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

Prime Minister Khan has been vocal about the plight of the residents of the tribal areas throughout his political career, and in April stated that he would address many of the PTM’s grievances, such as easing of checkpoints in the former tribal areas and removal of landmines. In January 2019, he approved a draft law criminalizing enforced disappearances – another key demand of the PTM that would benefit all Pakistanis.

Pakistani officials should recognize the country’s diversity as a strength and not a weakness. The government should listen to and engage the concerns of the country’s many communities and allow for peaceful expression of dissent. As a start, the authorities should ensure the investigation into the death of Arman Luni is effective and transparent.