The news, first. Members of the Pakistani Army attacked in Khar Qamar area of North Waziristan a peaceful demonstration of members of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), a human rights movement of the Pashtun community, leaving five people on the ground and 40 wounded.
According to local sources, immediately after the incident, curfew was imposed all over the area and after the first batch of wounded was shifted to the nearest hospitals, it has not been possible to take other people to medical facilities. Hospitals have been locked, so the number of victims might be even higher.
The demonstration was led by a parliamentarian democratically elected in the 2018 elections, Mohsin Dawar, and two other PTM leaders, Ali Wazir and Dr Gul Alam, who were both taken into custody by Pakistan security forces.
According to eyewitnesses and local journalists, the Army tried to prevent Wazir and Dawar from reaching the area where they were supposed to give their speeches. Supporters started to remove the barriers and the Army opened fire on demonstrators.
#StateAttackedPTM is trending on Twitter, while Pakistani news channel are reporting a totally different and fabricated version of the story: according to AryNews and Dunya, PTM followers attacked an Army checkpoint and injured some soldiers. However, they don't give any explanation on the reason why a member of Parliament should lead an armed attack against an army checkpoint.
In fact, during a press conference held on April 29, Major General Asif Ghafoor had talked of PTM for most of the time, declaring that "their time is up" and openly accused the group of receiving funds from foreign agencies, without giving any proof of his allegations, but asked the PTM members to disprove his allegations. During the same conference, Ghafoor ordered the media not to invite PTM leaders on their channels or to cover PTM demonstrations.
Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir have been denied space to hold press conferences and in the past month, Dawar was threatened to be 'kicked out of the Parliament'. So long for the democratically elected representative of people.
In the past days, the house of a human rights activist, Gulalai Ismail, was raided and an FIR under the Anti-terrorism Act was registered against the lady for "anti-state speeches and instigating people against the state institutions". Why? Because Ismail had been advocating justice in the case of rape and murder of ten-year-old Farida. According to the child's parents, the Mohmand Agency police refused to file a case and register an FIR for five days to start investigating the case. But this is what usually happens to every single PTM member of activist, and this is precisely one of the reasons why Pashtuns took the streets.
Border regions in Pakistan have been used from time to time as training camps and nurseries for jihadis, as battlefields for war-like actions against the 'bad' Taliban as safe havens for the 'good' Taliban', as factories for fake documents in order to send ISI spies to Afghanistan. The local population has been suffering for years in silence. They have seen not only their houses, markets and villages crumble under the mortar shells of the Pakistani Army, but also their social and cultural structures disappear. Communities have been forced to flee their land and their houses. In addition, Pashtuns began to undergo a systematic ethnic record throughout the rest of the country and to be discriminated accordingly.
All kinds of people, be it political opponents, ordinary citizens, activists and intellectuals began to disappear or be killed in pretentious gunfire even though they never owned a weapon. PTM accuses the Army of using tribal areas to hide the Haqqani and the plethora of 'good' jihadi in the pay of the secret services and to make the local population live in a climate of pure terror. They are asking the government to stop enforced disappearances, to stop extrajudicial killings. To send the missing persons to a Court and, if they are found guilty on something, to punish them according to the rule of law. They are asking the state to stop killing and torturing people during the 'search for terrorists', to remove landmines from their land. To be allowed to lodge FIRs against the culprits. To target terrorists and not civilians. They are asking the world to take notice of their situation. The result, they are called 'foreign agents' by the same state who should give them justice.
Local sources have been claiming recently that ISI was trying to infiltrate the movement since a couple of months and break PTM from within. This last episode, however, clearly shows a different intention: their will to crack on the movement labelling it as a 'terrorist movement' and that the fight has been taken to another level. The attempt to say that PTM attacked a checkpoint is a way to change the narrative: not anymore Army and police crushing peaceful protests, but Army fighting armed groups and acting in self-defence and to protect the state. With any evidence, they continue to study propaganda books, otherwise, they would remember what happened every single time they tried to apply this recipe towards ethnic and cultural groups asking the end of exploitation of local resources to the advantage of dominant Punjab, the end of cultural colonisation and of radicalisation of religious and social institutions.
This is the recipe that led, in the past, to the fifth separatist insurrection still underway in Balochistan and to the creation of political parties and ethnic-nationalist movements in Sindh. This is the recipe that led to the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. Before going on to kill its citizens labelling them as 'foreign agents' just because they are asking for civil and constitutional rights, any state should ask itself some questions.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are strictly those of the author