A court in northwestern Pakistan has granted bail to two lawmakers incarcerated for months for an alleged attack on an army check post near the Afghan border.
Lawyers for Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar said a judge in Bannu, a southern city in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, accepted their bail pleas at a September 18 hearing.
“It is big news that the court granted them bail,” Sangeen Khan, a lawyer and member of the legal team representing Wazir and Dawar, told Radio Mashaal. “Now they should be released soon.”
The two are senior leaders of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), a civil rights movement demanding security and rights for Pakistan’s Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic minority.
Abdul Latif Afridi, a senior lawyer heading the legal team for the lawmakers, said Justice Nasir Mehmood, a judge on the Peshawar High Court's Bannu bench, granted his clients conditional bail, which will require them to report to the police every month.
"The judge gave a verbal order; we are waiting for the written one," he told Pakistan’s daily Dawn.
Khan said the court granted them bail in the May 26 incident in Khar Qamar, the site of a military check post in the restive North Waziristan tribal region, where 13 PTM protesters were killed and scores more injured by military fire.
The military, however, said soldiers had opened fire in response to gunfire and provocation from a group led by Wazir and Dawar. The former was arrested on the site while the latter surrendered to a court in Bannu a few days later.
The PTM leaders and eyewitnesses countered the military’s claims and said soldiers fired on their supporters soon after the two lawmakers had reached the protest site after crossing two check posts in the remote village of Khar Qamar. Cellphone videos circulating over the Internet show the two garlanded lawmakers arguing with the soldiers to cross barriers and being fired upon, which prompted their supporters to scurry for cover amid the mayhem.
The Pakistani authorities have so far not acted on international calls for an “independent and effective” investigation of the incident.
The incident happened nearly a month after military spokesman Asif Ghafoor warned PTM leaders that their “time is up” because they were playing into the hands of foreign intelligence services.
"The instructions of the army chief will be fully followed. People will not face any sort of problem and neither will any unlawful path be adopted," he told journalists on April 29 as he hinted of an impending crackdown on the PTM. "Everything will be done lawfully."
Wazir and Dawar, both lawyers, represent South Waziristan and North Waziristan tribal districts in the national assembly or lower house of the Pakistani Parliament.
Wazir, in his 40s, lost his father, brothers, uncles, and nearly a dozen other family members to targeted assassinations. The killing began in 2003, when his hometown Wana, the administrative center of South Waziristan, became a hub for Islamist militants affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Dawar, in his 30, represents North Waziristan. The region turned into a global headquarters of the Taliban and allied Arab and Central Asian militants for more than a decade following the demise of the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan as a result of a U.S.-led military intervention in late 2001. A Pakistani military operation in June 2014 displaced more than 1 million North Waziristan residents in 2014 for several years. Dawar’s campaigning for their rights led to his election victory in July 2018.
Wazir and Dawar are perhaps the most prominent among hundreds of PTM activists imprisoned on terrorism, rioting, and sedition charges since their movement’s February 2018 emergence from a sit-in protest in Islamabad.
Most PTM leaders and activists come from Pakistan’s western Pashtun heartland, which straddles eastern and southeastern Afghanistan. They are campaigning for ending extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, landmines, and other abuses during Pakistan’s domestic war on terrorism. Tens of thousands of civilians, mostly Pashtuns, were killed and millions more were displaced in terrorist attacks and large-scale military operations since 2003.