Pashtuns Remember Last Year’s Massacre of Peaceful Protestors

It is one year since the Khar Qamar massacre. On May 28, 2019, 14 people were killed and more than 24 wounded after gunfire erupted near a Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) protest against enforced disappearances in the northwestern Pakistani region of North Waziristan. Soldiers fired on unarmed protestors led by the two MNA’s of the region, Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar, near a checkpoint in the Khar Qamar area of North Waziristan.

The SAATH Forum, a group of Pakistani activists and dissidents, released a statement marking the first anniversary of this massacred and demanding an independent commission to investigate this killing of innocent civilians by Pakistan’s security forces.

The statement is below

Pakistani State Continues to Wage War Against its Own People

The Pakistani state has viewed all ethnic movements, political parties and ideologies as anathema to the very existence of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.  From Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Fazlul Haq, G.M. Syed and Nawab Akbar Bugti to Asfandiyar Wali Khan, Brahamdagh Bugti, and Nawab Khair Buksh Marri and his sons, all have been and continue to be viewed as traitors, foreign agents and unpatriotic individuals. Their political movements and parties have been subjected to state repression.

Ever since 2018, the nonviolent, Pashtun-led movement, Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) has not only faced repression from the state apparatus. PTM has attracted tens of thousands of people to public rallies that denounce heavy-handed operations undertaken by the Pakistani military in tribal regions that have killed thousands of Pashtun civilians and forced millions more to abandon their homes since 2003.

However, all peaceful rallies organized by the PTM or its leader, Manzoor Pashteen have been banned. Leading members, including Pashteen, but also the two MNAs from the region – Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir have been arbitrarily detained and prevented from traveling within the country. PTM activists have also faced charges of sedition and cybercrimes. Further, their family members have been arrested, tortured or killed.

On May 2nd, Pashtun rights activist and political leader Sardar Arif Wazir died of injuries sustained in a shooting attack in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal district. Wazir was injured when the vehicle he was traveling in came under fire in the city of Wana. The attackers, who fired from another vehicle, have not been identified. The attack came days after Pakistani police arrested Arif Wazir on April 17 for delivering what they described as an “anti-Pakistan” speech during a recent visit to Afghanistan. He was only released on bail a few days before his killing.

On his microblogging website, Mohsin Dawar wrote “It is with heavy heart that I report that our comrade Arif Wazir has succumbed to his injuries. Arif Wazir’s father and brother were also killed by militants years ago. Arif Wazir murdered by ‘good’ terrorists. Our struggle against their masters will continue.”

Former Senator and mentor of the PTM, Afrasiab Khattak, noted: “I met Ali Wazir and other PTM leaders to offer condolence on the martyrdom of Arif Wazir before they departed from Islamabad with the body to Waziristan. This is the 18th member of the family murdered by state-sponsored militants. The murder will have serious implications.” In 2007, seven members of Arif Wazir’s family were killed in a clash with militants near Wana, they included his father, Saadullah Jan, and uncle, Mirza Alam.

In its statement the international human rights watch group Amnesty International, asked: “The Pakistani authorities must carry out an independent and effective investigation into yesterday’s attack in South Waziristan on Arif Wazir, a member of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement. The suspected perpetrators must be held accountable.”

Govt focuses on Media, Opposition politicians & Kashmir not Coronavirus

The world over governments are focusing on how to tackle the coronavirus issue and ensure that their populations recover soon. Pakistan deep state, however, continues its obsession with going after opposition politicians and seeking global focus for Kashmir and Iran.

On March 26, 2020, there was a videoconference of G-20 to discuss how to ensure a global response to combat coronavirus. According to Foreign Office spokesperson, “The Pakistan government in its diplomatic outreach on the Covid-19 pandemic had essentially focused on three messages — the need for providing relief in repayment of loans and economic assistance to developing countries so that they could focus on dealing with the pandemic; removal of US sanctions on Iran that were impeding its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, being the worst-affected country in the Middle East; and lifting of lockdown and communications blockade imposed by Indian occupation forces on Occupied Kashmir.” While we should, as a nation, be sympathetic to our Kashmiri brethren, this is not the time to play politics!

This message was also reiterated through letters and phone calls. “Letters were written to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and these messages were also underscored during Mr Qureshi’s telephonic conversations with counterparts in Bangladesh, Iran, the Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Turkey, Germany, Spain and France over the past few days.”   

On the domestic front, the target remains media and opposition politicians. On March 12, Mir Shakil ur Rahman, Chief Executive Officer of Pakistan’s biggest media house Jang and Geo TV Group was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on charges of illegal purchase of a piece of land some 34 years ago.

On March 27, 2020, NAB named former petroleum minister and former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi “in a reference for allegedly appointing Sheikh Imranul Haq as the managing director of Pakistan State Oil (PSO) “in sheer violation of rules and regulations”.A statement released by NAB’s Karachi chapter on Friday said that non-bailable arrest warrants have been issued for the former prime minister as well as former petroleum secretary Arshad Mirza, who is also named in the reference.”

As noted by former Chief Minister of Punjab and PML-N president, Shehbaz Sharif “instead of fighting against the coronavirus, NAB-Niazi are busy fighting the media and opposition. On one hand, prisoners are being released and on the other hand, those who served the nation are beig arrested,” Sharif said, adding that it was “not the time for political shows”. “[Governments in] the entire world are united to save their people. In Pakistan, the government’s priority is to send media and opposition members in jail.”

Pakistan’s War on Journalists Continues

Journalists are an endangered community in Pakistan. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) 61 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 1992 and scores more harassed, tortured, and attacked.

Veteran human rights activist and columnist, I.A. Rahman recently wrote a column in Dawn titled ‘Media under Fire.’ In the oped, Rahman refers to the “rapidness with which journalists, rights activists, lawyers and mainstream political parties have come together to defend the right to freedom of expression is obviously due to the seriousness of the establishment’s efforts to control not only the flow of information but the citizens’ thought process as well.”

As Rahman notes, the “media can neither inform and enlighten the masses nor can it secure their respect and trust without reporting everything that happens in the country and all that conscious citizens need to know to be able to exercise their rights, especially the right to contribute to governance. Rights activists cannot protect human rights defenders and espouse the causes of the people, especially the poor and the marginalised, unless they enjoy the right to freedom of expression. The same is true of lawyers and political parties.”

Finally, Rahman notes that the people hurt most are the common citizens as “curbs on freedom of expression and the right to know will keep them in the dark about government policies and actions that potentially undermine the health and integrity of the state. Nobody can forget the huge price — disintegration of the state — paid for withholding from the people the truth about the situation in East Pakistan for two decades. The people will also be deprived of their right to participate in governance and their right to prevent the harm to national interests by wrong policies and actions.”

From Bacha Khan to Manzoor Pashteen

The Pakistani state, whose identity is framed around religion, has always viewed any ethnic identity as a threat to its existence. Right from 1947, all Pashtun, Baluch, and Sindhi leaders have been viewed as separatists, traitors and anti-national. That is how the Pakistani state views the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) and its leader, Manzoor Pashteen, as well.

The arrest on Monday of Pashteen on five charges, including those of conspiracy and sedition, demonstrate how weak and frightened a state is that it is scared of a non violent movement that simply demands accountability for extrajudicial killings and kidnappings.

As The New York Times reported “Mr. Pashteen and his movement, widely known by the initials P.T.M., have presented one of the most influential challenges to the military’s dominance of Pakistan as it has cracked down on minorities, journalists and other critics in recent years. While the P.T.M. focused on demanding justice for the country’s sizable Pashtun minority, its influence quickly grew larger than the movement itself. The large crowds P.T.M. drew to the streets, and the boldness of its leadership in openly challenging the security forces, inspired other advocates to join in.”

Pashteen’s arrest was immediately condemned not only by international human rights watchdogs like Amnesty International but also Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Leading Pakistani intellectuals and leaders also spoke out.

Even President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan and his predecessor Hamid Karzai tweeted asking for Pashteen’s release.