A gang of Pakistani militants executed two Afghan prisoners in front of thousands of cheering supporters Friday, beheading one man and shooting the other after accusing them of aiding a U.S. missile strike.
The executions in the Bajur region highlighted the power of local Taliban forces in lawless tribal areas near the Afghan border.
Also Friday, a top U.N. official expressed fears that Pakistan's peace deals with militants were sparking a wave of similar abuses.
Militants calling from the loudspeakers of mosques summoned people to the banks of a stream outside the town of Khar, about 120 miles northwest of Islamabad. At least 5,000 people gathered to watch the executions.
Masked militants pulled the two blindfolded Afghans from a car and forced them to kneel on the ground.
Waliur Rehman, a local Taliban commander, told the crowd that the two men had confessed to aiding in the strike on a house in the border town of Damadola that killed 14 people last month. The men disclosed the names of others accused of involvement, who would be killed as well, Rehman said. Pakistan's army lodged a formal protest to “allied forces” in Afghanistan after saying Pakistan had concluded the attack was launched by drones from across the border. The U.S. did not comment on the incident.
“Whoever, for the sake of money, for the sake of America, harms the interest of the Islamic world will meet the same fate,” Rehman said.
Gunmen with daggers then pounced on one of the men, identified as Jan Wali, 36, decapitated him and waved his bloody head to the cheering crowd, according to an Associated Press reporter and AP Television News footage from the scene.
The militants then argued over how to kill the other man because he may have been a teenager, before one lost patience and shot him with an assault rifle.
The crowd erupted in cheers of “God is great!” and gunmen fired in the air in jubilation. The celebratory gunfire killed two bystanders and wounded six, local official Fazal Rabbi said.
There was no immediate reaction to the killings from U.S. or Pakistani officials.
The recently elected Pakistani government has supported negotiations that would give local tribes and militants broad authority over some tribal areas. The U.S. says those deals will only give Taliban and al-Qaida forces in the border region more freedom to attack Afghanistan.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said Friday she was concerned that the peace deals undermined state authority and left residents vulnerable to a range of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings.
Minorities and women were particularly in danger, she said.
Hours before Arbour spoke, suspected Taliban militants torched two girls schools in the Swat region, the latest in a string of attacks on the female education system in the area, police said.
The attack on the schools cast doubt on efforts to shore up the collapsing peace deal in Swat. Local government officials said talks Thursday with representatives of a pro-Taliban cleric were a success, however both sides acknowledged serious disagreements remained.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met with Arbour on Friday to discuss the human rights situation in the country.
A statement released by his office did not directly address her concerns about abuses in tribal areas.
He also assured Arbour he was committed to women's rights and to ensuring that girls have access to education, the statement said.
Arbour also expressed concerns about the human rights violations in the government's counterterrorism operations, including the disappearances of hundreds of people.
She also called on the ruling coalition to resolve its dispute over reinstating dozens of senior judges fired by President Pervez Musharraf last year, saying the crisis was paralyzing the government. AP writer Habibullah Khan reported from Khar. AP writer Ravi Nessman reported from Islamabad.