On September 18, the Peshawar High Court in Pakistan accepted the bail pleas of national assembly members, Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar. The two leaders of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (Pashtun protection movement) were arrested in May following a clash between protesters and the army near the Kharqamar checkpost in North Waziristan.
As many as 13 people died in the clash and many were injured. The army claimed that the protesters fired at the soldiers but the PTM pointed out that the protesters had passed through an army checkpoint before the clash took place and hence, could not have been armed. A few weeks later, the two leaders were also booked for alleged involvement in an explosion in Doga Macha in North Waziristan in which four officers were killed.
Wazir and Dawar were elected to the National Assembly in 2018. Wazir has been the target of Taliban attacks and 13 of his relatives, including his father and siblings, were killed in these attacks.
Both the leaders and the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement have been in the forefront of resistance against the atrocities committed by the army in the Waziristan region, where military operations have been ongoing against the Taliban. However, the Pashtun population of the region has borne the brunt of the violence by the army. Extrajudicial killings, displacements and abductions are common. The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement emerged in opposition to these atrocities and highlighted the specific demand of removal of landmines in the region. The movement also has sought a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate human rights abuses. It led a massive march to Islamabad in support of these demands in 2017. Tens of thousands took part in this march.
The army and the political establishment in the country have continuously sought to repress the movement and the arrest of the leaders is believed to be part of this. Their arrest was widely condemned by progressive organizations and civil rights bodies, both in the region and abroad.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan had also called for the release of Wazir and other activists in a statement on May 27, demanding that a parliamentary commission be “set up immediately” to inquire into the matter and “establish the truth.”