A prominent ethnic Pashtun rights activist has died after being critically injured in a gun attack in Pakistan’s western South Waziristan tribal district.
Sardar Arif Wazir, a senior leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) and former parliamentary candidate, succumbed to his injuries in a hospital in the capital, Islamabad, on early on May 2. He was critically injured in the city of Wana in a drive-by shooting a day earlier.
“It is with a heavy heart that I report that our comrade Arif Wazir has succumbed to his injuries,” lawmaker Mohsin Dawar, a top PTM leader, tweeted. “Arif Wazir’s father and brother were also killed by militants years ago,” he added, alluding to the long history of Wazir’s family being targeted by militants, many of whom used to operate as pro-government peace committees in Wana.
“Arif was murdered by ‘good’ terrorists,” Dawar wrote. “Our struggle against their masters will continue.”
Global rights watchdog Amnesty International has called on the Pakistani authorities to carry out an “independent and effective investigation” into the attack on Arif Wazir. “The suspected perpetrators must be held accountable,” the organization said.
The attack follows Wazir’s April 17 arrest for allegedly delivering an "anti-Pakistan" speech during a recent visit to Afghanistan. He was released from a prison in the nearby city of Dera Ismail Khan earlier this week.
Police in Wana said they are investigating the attack and are looking for a car the gunmen had used to target Wazir. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Wazir’s family has been repeatedly targeted by since 2003. He was the 18th male member of his extended family to be killed by gunmen. In June 2018, his cousin, lawmaker Ali Wazir, was also attacked in Wana.
Authorities have so far failed to resolve any of the attacks or murders on Wazir’s family or other leaders in South Waziristan. The region is part of predominantly Pashtun-populated former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Now merged into the northwestern province of Khyber Pahtunkhwa, tens of thousands of civilians were killed and millions were displaced in militant attacks and military operations since 2003. Activists estimate that more than 2,000 tribal leaders were killed in targeted assassination campaigns in the region.
In 2018, the PTM emerged as a nonviolent civil rights campaign to demand peace in former FATA and other Pashtun regions of Pakistan. With its leadership’s sharp criticism of the Pakistani Army’s alleged heavy-handedness, the group has attracted tens of thousands to its rallies across Pakistan.
The movement’s criticism of the army and holding it responsible for grave abuses such as illegal killings and forced disappearances have also attracted the wrath of the authorities.
Scores of PTM supporters have been killed in militant attacks or firing by the security forces. Most of its leaders, including Ali Wazir, Dawar, and Manzoor Pashteen, have been detained. They and others have been arbitrarily barred from traveling abroad or within Pakistan, according to rights groups.
As senior officials accused them of operating on foreign intelligence services’ behest, many PTM activists have faced sedition charges. Some are still facing court cases or have been imprisoned for alleged cybercrimes.