Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM)- A New Challenger for Pak Army
The latest clashes between Pakistani security forces and protestors in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan have claimed three lives, leaving at least ten others injured.
On 25th May, residents of Datta Khel, a small town in North Waziristan district of Pakistan, launched a sit-in protesting Pakistani security forces for “persecuting” and “torturing” civilians during a recent search operation targeting suspected militants.
According to witnesses, dozens of tribal elders and leaders of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) were on their way to the sit-in next morning when troops stopped them at a checkpoint and prevented them from reaching the protest site. As more protesters arrived at the area, the “security forces opened fire at them,” said the witnesses.
According to PTM sources, at least 20 people were injured in the violence which began when MNAMohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, leaders of PTM, arrived and unidentified individuals opened fire on the crowd.Dawar was taken into custody and local news outlets began reporting that a clash had taken place between law enforcement agencies and the PTM protesters.Unverified visuals of the protest and ensuing violence started circulating on social media.
On the contrary, military personnel accused Dawar and Wazir of storming and assaulting the Kharqamarcheckpost, adding that “they wanted to exert pressure” for the release of a “suspected terrorists’ facilitator” who had been arrested.
Insisting that soldiers exercised maximum restraint, the military blamed the protestors for provocation through opening fire, adding that among the injured, five were soldiers. While the rest of the injured were taken to an army hospital for treatment, eight protestors along with Wazir were arrested, while Dawar was stated to be “at-large after inciting the crowd”.
Dawar, while speaking to VOA Deewa, denied that the group opened fire and accused the Army of initiating violence. Fazl Khan, a core committee member of PTM, said that the protesters were unarmed and innocent. “How can they reach Waziristan with arms when there is a check post at every kilometre?” Khan asked.
A curfew was imposed in North Waziristan following the incident, and landline, internet and cell phone services have all been suspended, PTM and local sources told Dawn.com.
The Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) is a civil rights group found in 2018. Its support base is mostly among the Pashtun ethnic minority concentrated largely in northwest Pakistan.
The PTM has been holding dozens of rallies across the country demanding basic rights for ethnic Pashtuns in a peaceful manner.
It has denounced the army’s heavy-handed operations in the militancy-hit tribal regions, called for judicial probes into those killed by the military, and campaigned for ending enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and discrimination against Pashtuns.
PTM also insists for the de-miningof the former tribal areas and greater freedom of movement in the latter. The PTM has also demanded the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission.
Since 2001, northwest Pakistan became a front line in the battle against extremist groups after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, when the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda took refuge in the region.
These terrorist groups have been recruiting large number of Pashtuns to their folds, however, PTM and their supporters assert that at the same time,civilians have borne the brunt of the violence, and claim Pashtuns have been the targets of the army and the ISI, two powerful bodies that have an oversized role in the country.
International rights groups say that authorities have cracked down on PTMby banning peaceful rallies organized by themand arbitrarily detaining some of its leaders and preventingthem from traveling within the country.
Despite the contradictory nature of the individual versions of protestors/PTM supporters and the military forces, the general consensus is that protests led by PTM have indeed turned violent.
The injured soldiers and protestors and arrests of leaders combined with the background of the attack which appears to be a clearance operation conducted on 24th Mayin the Doga area of North Waziristan as part of the sanitisation campaign have increased the likelihood of augmenting the already heightened tensions in the region.
There are concerns in Pakistan that a member of the National Assembly had provoked people in North Waziristan to launch an attack on an army checkpost in the tribal district.
MNA Dawar is alleged to have contacted people and urged them to attack the post when the time came to fulfil their demands.Pakistan has also accused the National Directorate of Security (NDS) of Afghanistan of encouraging and promoting PTM’s activities.
Wazir, also an MNA, has been accused of participating in the attacks on army posts in tribal areas. Military operations against terrorists in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region in 2009 and 2014 at the request of the then governments have affected and embittered the local populace.
It is apparent now that this has positioned the Pakistani Army and the PTM in a directly confrontational mode.
Research Compilation by Gauri Noolkar-Oak