ISLAMABAD – Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Pakistani cities following the deaths of at least three ethnic Pashtun activists in the northwestern tribal region.
Demonstrations were held in Peshawar, Swat, Dera Ismail Khan, Quetta, and other cities and towns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan Provinces since the May 26 violence in North Waziristan district.
Details of the incident remain unclear due to inaccessibility of the area to reporters and blockage of telephone networks.
The military said a group led by two co-founders of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) civil rights group attacked a security post, wounding five soldiers.
It said troops responded to “direct firing” and killed three attackers and wounding 10 others.
However, witnesses said the security forces “opened fire” on peaceful protesters seeking to join a demonstration to denounce alleged military abuses. They reported more than 20 people wounded in the shooting.
One of the PTM leaders, Ali Wazir, was among those detained, while the other, Mohsin Dawar, is on the run. The two men are members of parliament.
A curfew has been imposed in the town of Datta Khel where the violence took place.
In a statement, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) called for a parliamentary commission to investigate the matter and “establish the truth."
It also demanded the release of Wazir and “any other activists taken into custody.”
Separately, the military said that five more bodies bearing “bullet wounds” were found approximately 1.5 kilometers from the site of the shooting incident.
The bodies were being identified, a statement said.
The PTM, whose support base is mostly among the Pashtun ethnic minority, has organized regular sit-ins and protests across Pakistan since its founding in early 2018 to denounce the army's heavy-handed operations in tribal regions.
The group has called for judicial probes into those killed by the military and campaigned for ending enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and discrimination against Pashtuns.
International rights groups say authorities have banned peaceful rallies organized by the PTM and some of its leading members have been arbitrarily detained and prevented from traveling within the country.