A leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), a civil rights movement demanding security and rights for Pakistan’s Pashtun minority, has called for a large protest a day after some of its supporters were killed by military fire in a remote western region bordering Afghanistan.
In a video message on May 27, lawmaker Mohsin Dawar called on Pashtuns to flock to North Waziristan to protest what he said were the killings of PTM members. Dawar represents the region in the National Assembly or lower house of the Pakistani Parliament.
“I request all the Pashtuns -- wherever they are -- to come here so that we can ask about the blood of our youth,” he said in video posted online. “We will launch a robust sit-in protest so that we can take major decisions because we can no longer tolerate these conditions on our soil.”
In a press statement earlier that day, the Pakistani military said it was trying to identify five more bodies found with gunshot wounds near the Khar Qamar checkpoint. Previously, the military had said that a group led by Dawar and fellow lawmaker Ali Wazir attacked the post and wounded five soldiers. In a May 26 press release, the military said troops had responded to “direct firing” at the post, killing three attackers and wounding 10 others.
But Dawar rejects the military’s claim. He says they arrived in Khar Qamar on the morning of May 26 to participate in a local protest against the military’s alleged high-handedness. He says soldiers opened fire on their group as soon as they reached the site of the protest, which was only accessible after going through two army checkpoints.
“People were falling around me after every second,” he said of the incident. “Later yesterday, we counted the bodies of eight of our martyrs,” he said of the PTM’s casualties in Khar Qamar. “Five more dead bodies were recovered from streams this morning. The number of those injured is just too high.”
The military had described Dawar to be “at large after inciting the crowd.” It acknowledged that troops “arrested” Wazir along with eight individuals. Pakistani media reports of Wazir being presented at a counterterrorism court in Bannu, a city bordering North Waziristan, could not be independently corroborated.
A government curfew and the disconnection of telephone and Internet in North Waziristan made it difficult to verify details of the violence there.
But videos posted on social media showed civilians scrambling for cover near the Khar Qamar checkpoint as shots rang out. Others showed the injured being moved in blankets or in cars after being recovered from a stream overflowing with rainwater near the checkpoint.
“Everyone flashing a cell phone was particularly targeted,” Dawar said.
Thousands of PTM protesters took to the streets late on May 26 in the country’s western cities in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. All the protests in the cities of Peshawar, Mingora, Bannu and Quetta happened after the end of the daylong Ramadan fast, when all adult Muslims are expected to refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk.
The PTM emerged from a sit-in protest in Islamabad in February 2018. The protest was prompted by the alleged staged police killing of an aspiring male model in the southern seaport city of Karachi the month before.
Large PTM protest rallies and sit-in protests across Pakistan since then have demanded that Islamabad probe thousands of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, and harassment of Pashtuns by the security forces. The movement has also called for the demining of Waziristan and other frontline regions.
With an estimated 35 million people, Pashtuns make up the largest ethnic minority among Pakistan’s 207 million population. PTM leaders maintain that Pashtuns, particularly those living in Waziristan and other districts of the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bore the brunt of terrorist violence and heavy-handed military operations.
A majority of the more than 70,000-plus civilians killed in this violence were Pashtuns, while more than 6 million members of the ethnic group have endured displacement since the onset of conflict in 2003.