A civil rights movement campaigning against alleged military abuses in its war-ravaged homeland in northwestern Pakistan has called on supporters to protest the January 27 detention of its young leader.
Leaders of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) called on their supporters to hold protest demonstrations on January 28 to demand the release of Manzoor Pashteen.
The 27-year-old leader was picked up by police in the early hours of January 27 in the northwestern city of Peshawar. The 2-year-old PTM is a civil rights movement campaigning for rights and security for Pashtuns, Pakistan’s largest ethnic minority.
“We condemn this arrest in the strongest terms. I appeal to all our supporters to protest across the country and around the globe,” lawmaker Mohsin Dawar, a PTM leader, told journalists in Islamabad on January 27. “All those who believe that the survival of Pakistan depends upon ensuring the rights enshrined in our constitution, should join us in protest,” he tweeted later.
Police officials said Pashteen was detained on charges of making anti-government speeches at rallies and inciting violence. A copy of a police report circulating online accuses Pashteen of saying he “rejects” Pakistan’s constitution. The report also accused him of using “insulting language” about the state during a speech on January 18.
The First Information Report, the formal name of the police complaint, accused him of calling the constitution “against human rights” because it preserves the rule of the country’s Punjabi majority while keeping the Pashtuns weak. The laws invoked to detain Pashteen are related to sedition, criminal conspiracy, and inciting public disturbance.
But Dawar said Pashteen was detained to disrupt his plans for holding a traditional Pashtun jirga or tribal council to highlight the issues faced by the estimated 35 million members of the minority in the country. The PTM emerged from a Pashtun sit-in protest in Islamabad against military abuses such as forced disappearances, illegal killings, landmines, and harassment by the security forces.
“People who do not want the unity of Pashtuns in this state really didn’t like this effort,” he told the BBC Urdu. “The PTM has also declared its support for a January 29 protest by the tribes of North Waziristan.”
Pashteen was arrested ahead of planned protests by tribes and businessmen to demand compensation for losses suffered during military operations in North Waziristan and his native South Waziristan. The large mountainous region bordering Afghanistan was the scene of large-scale military operations against Pakistani Taliban groups since 2003.
PTM leader Dawar said that some of their fellow PTM leaders were probably arrested while en route to Tank. The remote district in southern Khyber Pakhunkhwa is the scene of a planned protest by the Mehsuds, a Pashtun tribe. They are demanding compensation for property damaged during the fighting in their native South Waziristan. In 2009, a large-scale military operation displaced half a million Mehsuds for many years.
In Miran Shah, the headquarters of neighboring North Waziristan, traders had been protesting for more than a month to push the authorities for delivering on promised compensating for losses to properties and businesses in a major military operation in 2014. They are now launching a sit-in protest in Peshawar on January 27.
In 2014, Zarb-e Azb, the formal name of a Pakistani Army operation, displaced nearly 1 million North Waziristan residents for years. Thousands of shops comprising the bazaar in Miran Shah were obliterated during the offensive.