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Killing of PTM Leader Further Antagonizes Pakistan Pashtun Rights Defenders

  • Daud Khattak
  • June, 2020
  • 98
  • PAKISTAN TRIBAL BELT

Sardar Arif Wazir was killed by armed men on May 1.

Pakistan civil rights group Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) lost another key leader and activist in an attack perpetrated by unidentified armed men on May 1 in the country`s South Waziristan tribal district bordering Afghanistan.

Sardar Arif Wazir, a cousin of Pakistani parliamentarian Ali Wazir, was targeted four days after his release from a Pakistani prison. He was arrested on April 17 on charges of delivering an anti-Pakistan speech during his visit to Afghanistan.

The 35-year-old has become 18th member of his immediate and extended family targeted since the launch of Pakistan`s anti-Taliban military operations in the tribal region in 2003.

Pakistani officials have been silent about the possible motive of the murder and the perpetrators. There has been no claim of responsibility from any armed group operating in the region.

PTM central leader and member of Pakistan national assembly from North Waziristan Mohsin Dawar, however, said in a tweet that Arif Wazir was murdered by good terrorists. Our struggle against their masters will continue.

The PTM and the Peace Committee

The term good terrorists refers to the pro-government armed groups that locals sarcastically call the good Taliban. The Pakistani government and military style the groups as a peace committee. The so-called peace committee members bear arms without being questioned by the security agencies. They support the military presence in Waziristan and fight against those Taliban who target the Pakistani security forces.

For years, leaders of the PTM, among other demands, have asked for the disbanding of the peace committee and across-the-board action against all armed groups, whom PTM leaders believe are posing a threat to the security of the common people.

Relations between the PTM and the Pakistani authorities remained tense over tricky issues such as the presence of armed groups and alleged human rights violations. And the latest killing has further antagonized the already tense environment.

Since its emergence in January 2018 as a nonviolent group campaigning for civil rights, PTM has openly criticized Pakistan military and its intelligence agencies, accusing them of human rights violations in the tribal region. The Pakistani authorities, on the other hand, accuse the PTM leadership of getting funds from Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies.

While the majority of Pakistani politicians, journalists, and rights activists bite their tongues and use various metaphors when it comes to the military and its intelligence agencies, the PTM leadership is willing to name names in its allegations of human rights violations in the name of anti-Taliban military operations.

The group`s initial demands included the clearance of unexploded landmines in the tribal areas, removal of unnecessary military checkpoints in the region, compensation for houses and businesses destroyed and damaged during the anti-Taliban military operations, release of the people picked up by intelligence agencies in the name of investigations and marked as missing persons, and impartial investigations into extrajudicial killings in the region.

Thousands from the tribal region immediately rallied to the PTM call. The presence of the military and various armed groups there have curbed freedoms, including the freedoms of movement, assembly, and affiliation, of the region`s fiercely independent people - besides damaging their properties, businesses, farming, and their social life.

In some estimates, the various armed groups that came to settle in the tribal region following the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001 had targeted and slaughtered nearly 2,000 well-known tribal elders or their family members. They were murdered for their opposition or noncompliance.

Since 2003, Pakistani security forces have conducted multiple large- and small-scale anti-Taliban operations in Waziristan. However, the tribal people expressed their reservations about those operations, mainly because they always resulted in civilian displacement and lost lives and property while the Taliban continued to hold ground and gain strength.

For more than a decade, the rest of Pakistan and the world was led to believe that it is the tribal people who support the Taliban and their Sharia system, supposedly because this is in accordance with tribal customs and traditions. However, the PTM leadership, the majority of whom are young men who grew up under the shadow of Taliban guns, dispelled that widely-spread perception by demanding peace and an end to all kinds of armed groups - whether good or bad Taliban - on their land.

The re...

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