Toronto Pashtuns rally against Taliban ‘genocide’

It was her chance to speak out about the conditions her people are enduring at the hands of the Taliban in Pakistan, but she couldn’t even make it through her first sentence.

About 150 Pashtun Canadians gathered at Queen’s Park on Sunday afternoon for what organizers said was the first anti-Taliban rally ever held in Canada. Men, women and children held signs and chanted, ‘Long live Pashtuns!’ ‘Long live peace!’

Amna Bakhtiar stood in front of the steps of the Ontario Legislative Building and described what she called ‘genocides’ in Swat Valley, a territory in northern Pakistan. But she was interrupted by a small group of men after uttering just a few words.

Following a brief yelling match, she was able to continue.

“There is genocide and murder of human beings by the Taliban,” Bakhtiar said. “It’s wrong and it must be rejected by the Pashtuns and everybody else… This is a global issue.”

According to the Pashtun Peace Forum of Canada, the Taliban presence is transforming the once peaceful tourist destination of Swat Valley into a battle zone.

The PPF claims that hundreds of innocent people have been beheaded and butchered and 300 educational institutions, including schools for girls, bombed and destroyed. It says that the fighting in the territory has displaced more than 300,000 people around Islamabad.

Amnesty International believes that as many as 3,000 Taliban are taking shelter in villages in the Swat Valley and an estimated 15,000 government troops have been deployed in the area to confront them.

Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director, claims that innocent civilians are often caught in the crossfire.

“The Pakistani Taliban have shown their contempt for the lives and rights of the people of the Swat Valley, whilst Pakistani military forces have often violated the human rights and safety of the people that they are ostensibly trying to protect,” he said.

Jahan Keb, one of the organizers of the Queen’s Park rally, said the gathering was meant to create awareness of these alleged atrocities in Pakistan.

“We want to convey the message that Pashtuns want peace and only peace,” he said.

Yar Taraky, chairman of the Pashtun Research Advocacy and Policy Centre, also addressed those assembled at the rally..

“I would like to say that this is a great cause,” he said.

Taraky also said that Pashtuns do not share any ideas or ideologies presented by the Taliban.

“The Pashtuns are fair and moderate Muslims,” Taraky said. “We do not want to kill or destroy. We want to be part of the rebuilding of our society and the international community.”

Filed by Brittany Prince