Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar, the elected representatives of ethnic Pashtuns from Pakistan’s tribal areas and two of the central leaders of the rights-based Pashtun Tahafuz Movement or PTM, were released after four months from Haripur Prison on bail yesterday. The charges of terrorism against the two lawmakers were unsubstantiated and could not be proven in the court.
During the four months in prison, the lawmakers were treated like terrorists. In a tweet, Mr. Dawar said, “From May to Sep we were kept first at Peshawar jail & then at Haripur. During this transition the State decided to further increase its pressure as in Haripur we were kept in cells marked for terrorists. There was no mobility in jail, we had no access to news & other facilities.”
Mr. Dawar also said, “The most hurtful in all of this was the allegation of violence against us preachers of non-violence. But all of this will not deter us from our goal, which is to win peace & equal rights for our ppl & it will also not deter us from our path, which is the path of non-violence.”
In late May 2019, the State’s security forces arrested Ali Wazir, along with eight other PTM supporters for “assaulting” soldiers at a security checkpoint. Mohsin Dawar surrendered himself to the authorities after he was hounded in the area. Mr. Dawar, in a video message, said that he will surrender because he did not want to put the lives of those who protected him, in danger.
The truth according to PTM leaders was that on May 26, 2019, during an attempt to provoke PTM on violence in the Kharqamar area of North Waziristan, the soldiers opened fire on unarmed PTM protestors, leaving 13 dead and many injured. The incident came to be known as the Kharqamar Massacre.
Ali and Mohsin are the two outspoken critics of Pakistani military establishment’s deadly policies in the Pashtun populated tribal areas, which have destroyed the region’s peace. In an essay, Why Pashtuns in Pakistan are Rising Up, in April this year in The Washington Post, Mr. Dawar wrote:
“The residents of North Waziristan, whom I have represented in Parliament since July 2018, are perhaps the worst victims of the games that our military plays. But the more than 200 million Pakistani citizens stand helplessly by as our democracy, Parliament, judiciary and media outlets are manipulated by a powerful security establishment.”
He further said that the security establishment’s “policy of supporting militants and conducting proxy wars over the past four decades has resulted in death, destruction and economic disaster for Pakistan.”
Ali Wazir in an article, What Does the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement Want?, in The Diplomat wrote, “Amid the volcano of violence, thousands of civilians have disappeared, and thousands have fallen victim to extrajudicial killings. We are profiled as suspected terrorists across the country, face humiliation at security check posts, and our innocent civilians face violence during security sweeps and operations. As the world’s largest tribal society, the Pashtuns are known for their hospitality, commitment, and valor, yet we were falsely reduced to terrorist sympathizers despite the fact that we are their worst victims.”
In the same article, Ali wrote, “I am aware that since the beginning of the PTM’s campaign, our criticism is blunt and direct. We name names and are not shy to address powers that the rest of society, the media, and politicians are too scared to identify, let alone criticize.”
Afraid of the two leaders’ ability to speak truth to power and their capacity to mobilize their people, the State concocted a conspiracy to put them behind bars, to slow down the movement’s activity and eventually quell it. Pakistan’s powerful security establishment, including its notorious secret service, has used fear, intimidation, kidnapping and arbitrary arrests to discourage Pashtun rights activists from supporting PTM.
Although the State’s oppression has made it difficult for PTM to mobilize and speak freely, it has certainly not altered the spirit of its leadership. After release, both Ali and Mohsin have said that their struggle for the equal rights of Pashtuns will continue undeterred.
In a tweet, the lawmaker Mr. Dawar said, “Salam, we are back with same zeal and enthusiasm, the tragedy of
#KharQamarMassacre will be known in history as an example of a State’s brutal response to peaceful protest. In its aftermath, this State piled up even more violations of human rights & decency in its treatment of Ali & myself.”
He also said, “We are willing to lay our lives for our people, jails are a very small price…”