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Why does the Pak army fear the PTM and BLA?

Pak, post 1971, only concentrated development in Punjab and Sindh, ignoring its western provinces. They were secure in their belief that these areas which were under-developed, lacked education and inhabited by population which it could subdue would never rise against the state. This region houses two major communities, Pashtuns and Balochis.
The troubles for the Pashtuns, who have resided in Waziristan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) began post the US invasion of Afghanistan. The Pak army, which took over the responsibility of supporting the Taliban fleeing from Afghanistan, moved them into the region, placing locals at the mercy of the Taliban.
Mohsin Dawar, who represents North Waziristan in the Senate and is presently under arrest, states in an article in the Washington Post of 16 Apr this year, ‘Miran Shah, in Western North Waziristan’s tribal district, once served as the global headquarters of terrorism. Al-Qaeda, the Haqqani network and other militant organizations moved there after being routed out by the US. We paid a high price for Islamabad’s misguided policies. We endured a decade of rule by the Taliban and al-Qaeda. After the military finally moved into North Waziristan in 2014, about 1million of North Waziristan’s residents were displaced, and our homes and livelihoods ruined.’
He added that after three years of displacement and attempting to rebuild their lives, the Taliban are now being permitted to return. This is contrary to what the world believes of Pakistan working with the US and Afghanistan to restore peace in the country. With their return, targeted assassinations are again rising. The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), created under two years ago, is determined to expose this and prevent its people from living under the tyranny of the Taliban.

Mohsin’s strongest comments are against the Pak army when he states, ‘Its policy of supporting militants and conducting proxy wars over the past four decades has resulted in death, destruction and economic disaster for Pakistan.’ This fact is well known, and Pak’s present economic mess is because of its skewed budget where the Pak army’s share is almost 10 times that of the nation’s education budget.

Since 2003, militant attacks and military operations have killed tens of thousands of Pashtuns and displaced many more. Nearly 2,000 Pashtun tribal leaders have been eliminated for resisting the Taliban takeover of FATA. The PTM’s peaceful campaign is only seeking the right to live. Their demands on ending extrajudicial killing, end to enforced disappearances, harassment and removal of mines is only to save the future of their populace.

The highhanded approach of the army has enhanced anger and increased frustration amongst the population. In a photograph, TTP (Pakistan Taliban) members were seen in Pashtun caps indicating solidarity with the PTM. This implies that with passage of time, members of the peaceful PTM movement, angry with the atrocities committed by the Pak army,may voluntarily join the TTP.If that happens, it would be disaster for Pak.
Irfan Husain writes in the editorial of the Dawn of 15 Jun, ‘it seems odd that the ruling combine has seen fit to open additional fronts in KP as well. One would have thought the government had its hands full of ongoing crises without poking a stick into more hornets’ nests.’
The reason why the Pak army fears this peaceful movement is because it is spearheaded by youth who have been born amongst violence and seen deaths of family members. They have witnessed their homes being demolished and elders killed. To subdue a protest of an entire region which has only witnessed suffering by force is almost impossible, which the Pak army has begun learning the hard way. The movement needs no international support or funding, as it is a struggle for survival.
The Baluch conflict rose in 2005. Baluchistan is the least populated region of Pakistan. The reason for the conflict was simmering tensions on the price of natural gas being produced from the region, construction of additional military cantonments and development of Gwadar port. The uprising was triggered by the rape of a female doctor, Shazia Khalid, by an army personnel who was never arrested and the army attempted a cover-up.The conflict continues till date and the region is slowly descending into a state of anarchy.
Baluchistan had declared independence post 15 Aug 1947, which the Pak government rejected and annexed the region nine months later. In 1948, 58 and 62, there were a series of conflicts between Baluch nationalists and the Pak state. The movement has recently gathered steam and presently there are multiple groups seeking independence, including the Baluch Liberation Army (BLA), Baluch National Army (BNA) and the Baluch Student Organization.
The leaders of the movement are educated youth who are aware of their actions and seek justice. Attacks on the Pak army have been on the rise in the region. The BLA was able to attack the Chinese consulate in Karachi last year and the Pearl Continent Hotel in Gwadar recently.
PM Modi in his Independence Day speech in 2016 referred to Baluchistan for the first time. Ajit Kumar, India’s ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations (UN), said on 14 Sept the same year, ‘This is a country (Pakistan), which has systematically abused and violated the human rights of its own citizens, including in Baluchistan.’ This indicated that India would in the future provide a voice for the atrocities committed on the Baluch people.
Pak has continuously blamed India for interfering in the Baluch insurgency. The reality is vastly different. The Baluchistan issue may not really need an Indian role to simmer. Pakistan has done enough to earn the wrath of generations of Balochis. The BLA and BNA are against the CPEC, which is exploiting their region. Their attacks have threatened the CPEC, forcing the Pak army to deploy thousands of troops for its security, which is proving insufficient. Irfan Husain states in his editorial, ‘A peaceful resolution to the conflict is more pressing as much of the CPEC initiative is focused on Baluchistan.’
Both the PTM, BLA and BNA are now a force to reckon with. While the PTM is presently peaceful, has a mass following and could become a part of the TTP later, the othersare militant and challenge the might of the Pak army. All these movements are being termed anti-national by the Pak deep state and strong military force is being employed to subdue them, but to no avail.
With a military government controlling a puppet regime in the country, there is no possibility of seeking a political solution by dialogue. Nothing could be worse than this for the country. The appointment of General Faiz Hameed as the new DG ISI is with the intention of curbing these movements, before they threaten the existence of Pak.
The hard approach by the Pak army has alienated the population. With members of both communities spread across the globe the world is being made aware of the atrocities of the region and it is only a matter of time before the UN Human Rights commission and other agencies begin demanding their rights to visit the region and question Pak for its mishandling and extrajudicial killings.It is the international projection of these movements alongside their rising popularity that has the Pak army sweating.
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Pakistani man kills five female relatives and four children ‘because he thought wife was having an affair’

A Pakistani expatriate working in Saudi Arabia, killed nine members of his family including wife, two  children, mother-in-law and two-sisters in law.

The tragic incident happened in Multan on Sunday when the suspect identified as Ajmal gunned down five people and then set his in-laws’ house on fire killing four more people, a senior police officer told Gulf News from Multan.

The suspect had arrived in Multan a few days ago from Saudi Arabia where he works as a tailor. Police said that Ajmal had suspected that his wife Kiran was cheating on him while he was away in Saudi Arabia. He along with his father and a brother went to his in-laws house where he opened fire after heated argument.

According to prelminary investigation, Ajmal gunned down five  members of the family on the spot including his wife, mother-in-law and two sisters-in-law. His brother-in-law and father-in-law also got bullet injuries. After opening fire, he, his father and borther allegedly locked other people in the room and set the house on fire. As a result, his two children and two other women were burnt alive. While eight people died on the spot, one with bullet wounds succumbed to injuries at Nishtar Hospital in Multan.

 A senior official told Gulf News that the suspect first opened fire on his wife. His mother-in-law and sisters-in-law came forward to save Kiran but he continued to shoot in rage and killed them all.

He and his father also reportedly opened fire at the people who had gathered outside the house injuring a woman and a child.

Multan City Police Office (CPO) Imran Mehmood told media that the suspect Ajmal and his father had been arrested while his brother was at large.

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Pakistan’s Pashtuns take on the army for war crimes

In February of 2018, a crowd of young university graduates from the Pashtun ethnic group staged a peaceful sit-in in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. Its aim was to protest the alleged war crimes of the army during military operations targeting the Taliban in the Pashtun-populated northern areas of the country. Although Pashtuns have suffered the brunt of terrorist violence by the Taliban for over a decade — as well as the violence of counter-terrorism operations by the state — the immediate cause of the agitation this time was something more specific. It was theunfounded terrorism charges and extrajudicial murder of young businessman and aspiring model Naqeebullah Mehsud in January 2018 by Karachi police. Like hundreds of thousands of ethnic Pashtuns, Naqeebullah had been displaced to Karachi by violence in his hometown of Waziristan.

Within a few days of his murder, a big crowd of Pashtuns, including students, intelligentsia, women, political leaders and the public thronged the site of the protest. The crowd chanted with one voice what has now become the motto of the movement: “Da sanga azadi da (What kind of freedom is this)” and “Ye jo dehshatgardi hai, iske peeche wardi hai(The ones responsible for terrorism are the ones in uniform).” The protest was also joined by non-Pashtun political and human rights activists and lawyers, such as the late Asma Jahangir. Solidarity, albeit short-lived, of this nature across ethnic divides had been a rarity in Pakistan.

Eventually, the sit-in in Islamabad came to be known as the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement or PTM. Under the leadership of a young tribesman, Manzoor Pashteen, PTM has mobilized Pashtuns from the tribal areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, or KP, in the north to Balochistan, which is in the southwest of Pakistan. Pashteen has provided a platform to his people who are divided along tribal lineages and political ideologies. The movement has also mobilized Pashtuns across the border in Afghanistan and the Pashtun diaspora in Europe, the United States and Canada. Although much more work is needed, mobilization of this scale has been unprecedented in the history of Pashtun struggle.

PTM has four fundamental demands: The arrest of police officer Rao Anwar, who is responsible for the killing of Naqebullah and over 400 other extrajudicial murders; clearance of landmines in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA; producing Pashtun missing persons before court for fair trials; and, finally, the removal of check posts where soldiers have harassed local Pashtun men and women. Most importantly, PTM demands the United Nations to inquire into the crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by the army against innocent Pashtuns by establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The movement deems the involvement of the United Nations necessary because Pashtuns have lost trust in the national institutions of Pakistan.

Such a characterization of institutions like the judiciary, the prime minister’s office and national parliament is accurate because none of them seem free or able to take on the country’s mighty army, which is leaving no stone unturned to quell PTM. The response of the state, which is basically the army, has been one of repression and intransigence. In a speech in April 2018, army Chief Gen. Bajwa called PTM “engineered protests,” which, he said, won’t be allowed to succeed. Although he did not name PTM, it is clear that the General made the remark in reference to the rights-based movement. Recently, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, who oversees the army’s media wing, threatened PTM leaders by saying, “Their time is up.” He branded PTM leaders as the agents of the Indian foreign intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing and the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security. Moreover, the state’s controlled media has completely blacked out the organic civil rights resistance and has attempted to slander it.

The army and spy agencies have harassed, tortured and even killed PTM activists. On May 28, during an attempt to provoke PTM on violence in the Boyya area of North Waziristan, the soldiers opened fire on unarmed PTM protestors, leaving 13 dead and many injured. The security forces arrested PTM leader and member of parliament Ali Wazir, along with eight others, on charges of terrorism. Parliamentarian and PTM leader Mohsin Dawar also surrendered himself to the authorities.

Meanwhile, in February, the police killed Arman Loni, a professor and leader of PTM in Loralai, Balochistan. The security agencies banned the entry of PTM Chairman Manzoor Pashteen and other leaders in Balochistan for attending the funeral of Loni, claiming that their presence would disturb the peace and order of the region. Since funerals, as the civil resistance literature shows, are a potent source of mass mobilization, it is no surprise why the state’s security apparatus blocked the leaders from entering into the province. However, the fearless PTM leaders refused to be intimidated by threats and attended the funeral.

Despite the state’s repressiveness, PTM continues to mushroom in size and spirit. In Pakistan, due to fear of the army, assembling a movement of PTM’s scale was like crossing a bridge on a slender hair. In an interview with Al Jazeera, the young leader Pashteen said, “My father, wife and mother expect every day to hear the news of my death or disappearance.” But it seems like PTM has broken the cold spiral of fear. As a recent Chilean protest sign read, “They took away so much that they also took away our fear.” PTM leaders have repeatedly said that they cannot be coerced into submission because they have nothing to lose anymore. Ali Wazir has lostover a dozen members of his family to violence by the Taliban and has his businesses destroyed for standing up to the militants. All this happened under the state’s nose.

In the wake of 9/11, the people of Pakistan, particularly, the Pashtuns have suffered the most. It is public knowledge that close to 72,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives to terrorist violence. However, what is not yet known publicly is that the Pashtuns have suffered the brunt of the war. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, 42,094 deaths resulting from terrorist violence in Pakistan — out of 58,855 total from 2005 to 2016 — were in FATA and KP. Sindh followed with 7,732 casualties, along with 6,010 in Balochistan and 1,972 in Punjab. In proportional terms, 82 percent of fatalities took place in FATA, KP and Balochistan, which are predominantly Pashtun-populated regions. Moreover, the violence of the Taliban and army has destroyed bazars and homes and has displaced about 6 million Pashtuns multiple times in a single decade.

It is against this backdrop that PTM emerged. The protection of Pashtuns against the perpetual cycle of war has become the rallying cry of the movement. Although the army has attempted to rouse PTM into violence in order to eliminate it by full use of force, the movement’s leaders have repeatedly said that Pashtuns are tired of war and have no wish to engage in a conflict. Inspired by the nonviolence philosophy of the late Pashtun leader Ghaffar Khan, the leadership has made a commitment to a peaceful political struggle against state repression. Pasthteen has said time and again that the Pashtun struggle will continue nonviolently until the last man of PTM is alive.

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Pakistan Pashtun Activists Say Leader Arrests Herald State Crackdown

After a deadly clash between troops and activists at a security post in northern Pakistan, organizers of a rights movement that has unnerved the powerful army say a campaign of intimidation against them has intensified, with many top leaders detained.

The military denies a crackdown against the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), which campaigns against alleged extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of Pashtuns and other ethnic minorities, but says it is acting against lawbreakers.

Manzoor Pashteen, the PTM’s charismatic figurehead, said he has seen his closest aides detained. Two lawmakers who are part of the group’s leadership have also been arrested.

“In the past, they wanted to stop protests. Now they want to stop the movement,” Pashteen, who says he is the only member of the group’s core leadership not in custody, told Reuters. “They have directly arrested the leadership and begun a campaign to malign them (on social media).”

The PTM’s appeal among Pakistan’s more than 35 million Pashtuns – and its unusually direct criticism of the powerful military over alleged human rights violations – has brought it into conflict with the authorities, who allege it is being bankrolled by hostile neighboring countries.

FILE: A PTM rally in the southern city of Karachi in January.

A PTM rally in the southern city of Karachi in January.

The group has been barred from parts of the country and security forces have regularly tried to stop its rallies by arresting workers.

Some analysts and senior PTM members believe the latest arrests targeting leaders and aides were an attempt to isolate Pashteen within the group and provoke more hardline elements into a violent response that could then be used as a pretext to move against it.

The military press wing said there was no campaign against the PTM and that security forces had acted within the law.

“A few individuals are trying to incite Pashtun youth in a post-conflict environment, exploiting the ethnic/linguistic angle,” the military’s spokesman, Lieutenant General Asif Ghafoor, told Reuters in a statement.

“Whereas the state is responsible to address their genuine post-conflict care, no-one will be allowed to challenge the writ of the state … a few individuals have been arrested for taking the law into their hands and they are facing legal procedures.”

Fresh Arrests

Many ethnic Pashtuns hail originally from the borderlands with Afghanistan, the focal point of a near-decade long insurgency by Islamist militants.

PTM leaders complain that violence in their traditional homeland has led to Pashtuns throughout Pakistan being unfairly targeted and suffering abuses at the hands of security forces in the name of fighting terrorism.

The latest flashpoint came last month in North Waziristan, a majority Pashtun region on the Afghan border where the Pakistani Taliban controlled swathes of territory until they were pushed out by military operations in 2009 and 2014.

FILE: the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), which campaigns against alleged extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of Pashtuns.

The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), which campaigns against alleged extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of Pashtuns.

On May 26, a group of protesters led by PTM leaders and serving parliamentarians Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir was fired upon by soldiers at a security check post, according to PTM representatives.

Kifayat Azad, a close aide of Dawar and Wazir, told Reuters that 13 civilians were killed in the incident. At least 25 PTM members were arrested in the following days, he said, of whom 10 have since been released on bail.

In its account of the incident, the army said the protest was aimed at exerting pressure for the release of a “suspected terrorists’ facilitator arrested the other day”. Troops exchanged fire with the protesters when they attacked the check post, it said, adding that three of the attackers were killed.

Rights groups in Pakistan have called for an investigation into the incident.

The PTM emerged last year after the killing of an ethnic Pashtun man by police in the southern city of Karachi, which led to a series of nationwide protests and turned the issue of alleged state violence against Pashtuns into a national debate.

Journalists at local television channels and newspapers have since said they face a complete ban on covering PTM protests and statements made by the groups leaders. The military has in the past denied that it muzzles Pakistan’s media.

Turning Point

In a strongly worded speech in April, the military’s spokesman warned PTM “their time is up” and said the group had received funding from Afghan and Indian intelligence agencies. PTM has denied taking foreign funding.

“(General Ghafoor’s) warning that the PTM’s ‘time is up’ a few weeks ago seems to mark an official turning point in the state’s strategy,” Nida Kirmani, professor of sociology at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, told Reuters.

“This crackdown will only increase their (Pashtuns’) sense of alienation.”

Days after the check post incident, Pashteen said he was in a car with his close aide Idrees Mehsud when they noticed they were being followed.

As the car turned a corner onto another street, a number of men in plainclothes were waiting, alongside police officials.

Pashteen said the men told him they wanted to ask Mehsud a few questions. He was then taken away in a car and remains in custody.

The arrest followed the detention of Dawar and Wazir, whose election to Pakistan’s parliament last year affirmed PTM’s popularity amongst the country’s Pashtun electorate.

Both men have spoken out against military operations in the former tribal areas bordering Afghanistan since being elected, and have led large demonstrations across the country.

Another senior member and human rights advocate, Gulalai Ismail, is in hiding after being threatened with arrest. Her father told Reuters security officials routinely search their home and harass the family without providing a warrant.

Police officials did not respond to request for comment.

Pashteen says PTM believes in non-violent protest as a way to secure the rights of Pashtuns and other marginalized groups.

“If people truly believe that those who live in the tribal areas are human beings, that they are Muslims, whether they accept them to be Pakistanis or not, they have the right to not be killed extrajudicially,” he said.

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Pakistan’s Tribal Areas Are Still Waiting for Justice as Army Tightens Grip

With the Pakistani military’s crackdown on protesters in the northwestern tribal belt in recent days, the security forces have asserted themselves as the true masters of justice in the region.

Commanders have said that an alternative antiterrorism court system will be used to prosecute leaders of an ethnic Pashtun protest movement that witnesses insist has stayed peaceful. Roads have been closed, and a curfew imposed.

But this is the year things were supposed to be different in the tribal belt, which has waited for something other than summary justice for decades and was promised it would finally happen.

Pakistan voted last year to merge those borderlands, once known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, into the country’s political and legal mainstream. At a stroke, the move assigned the region’s five million residents — the vast majority of them from the ethnic Pashtun minority — the same constitutional rights as other Pakistanis, including access to the national civilian justice system.

Before, it had been run under a harsh frontier code set up long ago by British colonial masters, who put each tribal region under the near-complete power of a single governor. Residents were denied basic rights like access to lawyers or normal trials, and collective punishment for the crimes of an individual was common.

Manzoor Pashteen, the leader of the Pashtun civil rights movement, known as the P.T.M., said that the recent campaign by the security forces had made a lie of last year’s abolition of the old colonial justice code.

“It is very obvious now that FATA and its administrative strings are still in the hands of the army,” he said, using the old acronym for the tribal areas. “In the current authoritarian governance of the army, we don’t think justice could prevail.”

There had been some signs of change. Last month, in one interim court set up in a federal building on the outskirts of the city of Peshawar, even some people waiting their turn to face prosecution under the new system dared to hope things would go better for them.

“Under the old system, we were put in jail and ignored,” said Hajji Amir Khan, a trader in his mid-40s awaiting a court date in Khyber District on charges of smuggling hashish. “I would not be given the chance to be heard by any court.”

Mr. Khan said he had been framed by the police after refusing to pay a bribe. But still, he said, “I am hopeful that I will get relief in this system.”

Manzoor Pashteen, the leader of the Pashtun rights protest movement, known as the P.T.M., speaking in Peshawar last year.
Many of those hopes were dashed over the past two weeks, when the army began moving more aggressively against the P.T.M. The movement is centered in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, which now includes the former tribal area.

The P.T.M. has for the past year been a thorn in the side of the military, accusing the security forces of extrajudicial killings, of whisking away dissidents to secret jails and of other abuses.

The army, which accuses the movement of being controlled by Afghan and Indian intelligence agencies, has grown increasingly infuriated. And the Pakistani news media, under heavy intimidation from the authorities, has largely stayed quiet about the topic altogether.

Tension boiled over on May 26, when the security forces shot into a crowd of protesters in the North Waziristan tribal area as they traveled to a sit-in, leaving at least 13 dead, members of the movement said. P.T.M. activists and witnesses said the demonstrators were unarmed. The authorities say that demonstrators opened fire first, hurting several officers, though video clips of the demonstration have not shown that.

 Ali Wazir, left, and Mohsin Dawar, leaders of the protest movement, in Karachi, Pakistan, last month. The P.T.M. has been a thorn in the side of the military, accusing the security forces of extrajudicial killings and other abuses.

Smaller demonstrations have broken out across the region, but some have been squelched, including one on Monday in Peshawar, in which protesters said that the security forces used batons to drive off demonstrators at a peaceful sit-in. And last week, four soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in North Waziristan, once a militant stronghold.

The unrest has led the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government to ask for the postponement of the first-ever provincial elections in the newly merged areas. The poll had been scheduled for July 2.

The crackdown follows many warnings by rights advocates that any promise of civil protections would be in vain, given the military’s increasing grasp on power in the country.

“The experience of the last few days has exposed the oppressive control of the army in total violation of the laws and the Constitution,” said Afrasiab Khattak, a former senator and a campaigner for Pashtun rights.

For years, residents of the tribal areas have complained of being caught between the brutality of the militant groups that sheltered there, including the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda, and the military.

The Pakistani military frequently conducted operations against militants in those regions, often at the request of the United States and its allies struggling over the border in Afghanistan. One of the most extensive of those offensives, centered on Waziristan in 2014, was hailed by Pakistanis for nearly completely stamping out a domestic terrorism campaign by the Pakistani Taliban that had scourged the country since 2008.

But it also dislocated hundreds of thousands of residents of the tribal areas. And many aspects of de facto martial law in the regioncreated simmering outrage among the Pashtun population there that eventually gave birth to the P.T.M. last year.

As the movement gained momentum, Pakistan’s military began accommodating some of its demands, such as reducing the number of checkpoints in North and South Waziristan, easing aggressive searches, relaxing curfews and starting demining programs.

But many in the tribal regions say the security forces never truly relinquished control. And even with the tribal areas’ merger with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the advent of the national civilian justice system, local officials say a slow start on funding those institutions has left the security forces with even more authority.

“We, the people of the tribal area, were promised by the Pakistani government that after the merger, police and courts would be dealing with the law and order situation and disputes resolution,” said Malik Nasrullah Khan Wazir, a prominent tribal chief from North Waziristan. “But so far, very little has happened in this regard. In the rest of Pakistan, civil law enforcement agencies are supposed to maintain the law and order situation. But in tribal areas, we have been left at the mercy of the army.”

More than a century of government neglect and two decades of fallout from military operations are unlikely to be undone quickly. But some sort of progress is critical, local officials say.

Nizamuddin Salarzai, a politician in Bajaur District who is running in provincial elections this year, said, “The tribal people are being dragged through yet another phase of governance nightmare.”

“Militaries aren’t trained either for policing or dispensation of justice,” he added. “The absence of both judiciary and properly trained and empowered police after the military operations has brought the military and the public in direct contact with each other on a daily basis — hence creating frictions.”

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Pakistan’s Pashtun Crackdown Echoes Bangladesh War

Pakistan is increasing its crackdown on a civil rights movement demanding security rights and accountability for alleged grave abuses against the country’s ethnic Pashtun minority.

But as more leaders and activists of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, better known by its initials, PTM, are killed, injured, beaten, arrested or forced into hiding, Pakistan’s political discourse is showing echoes of the creation of Bangladesh.

Nearly half a century ago, Bengali grievances in the former East Pakistan Province resulted in the dismemberment of Pakistan and the independence of Bangladesh in 1971. Since then politicians, activists, and scholars evoke the tragedy to remind the country’s powerful military not to go too far in suppressing dissent from minority ethnic groups.

“Grievances of [the Pashtuns] should be solved politically, not with force,” Khwaja Asif, a Punjabi politician and senior leader of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, told the parliament after PTM activists were killed by military fire in late May.

He urged Islamabad to cautiously handle ethnic “fault lines” because the country has paid a high price for failing to answer to diverse ethnic groups.

“Our history of the past 72 years is tragic. We have made mistakes. The mistakes in East Pakistan caused the separation of Bengal,” he told lawmakers.

“Unrest in Balochistan has continued on and off for many years,” he continued, alluding to the simmering separatist insurgency in the impoverished but resource-rich large southwestern province. During the past two decades, thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced by militant attacks and military sweeps.

Asif, a former foreign minister, acknowledged Islamabad has “exploited” the Pashtun homeland in western Pakistan for decades. Pakistan’s powerful military used parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan Province to host Afghan anti-Soviet rebels in the 1980s and shelter the Taliban after their hard-line regime in Afghanistan was toppled in 2001.

Most of these militants were based in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which was merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa last year. The PTM emerged from FATA, which was the epicenter of Islamabad’s domestic war on terrorism. Militant violence and military operations killed tens of thousands of civilians and forced millions of Pashtuns to leave their homeland since 2003.

“The grievances of [former FATA residents] should be solved politically, not with force,” Asif said.

But the clampdown on the year-old movement that has demanded security and rights for Pakistan’s 35 million Pashtuns, the second-largest ethnic group among the country’s 207 million people, is relentless.

On June 7, Abdullah Nangyal, a senior PTM leader, was arrested by counterterrorism police in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s southern city of Tank. He is among the nearly three dozen PTM leaders and activists arrested on charges of defamation, sedition, and terrorism.

The crackdown on the PTM followed a late April pronouncement by the military’s spokesman. On April 29, Major General Asif Ghafoor told journalists that “time is up” for the PTM because it was playing into the hands of Afghan and Indian spy services.

But nearly two weeks earlier, PTM leaders Manzoor Pashteen and Mohsin Dawar, a lawmaker, had held a meeting with a special committee of the Pakistani Senate.

“The committee members declared the PTM’s demands to be just and consider it necessary to find a lasting solution to them,” an April 16 statement by the Senate said, adding that Pashteen urged the committee to address their grievances including forced disappearances, mine clearance in FATA, and the formation of a truth and reconciliation commission.

Since its emergence in February 2018, the PTM has relentlessly campaigned for an end to illegal killings, many of them allegedly by the security forces and harassment of Pashtun civilians across the country. The movement has also demanded that authorities present to court thousands of victims of forced disappearances while forming a commission to address Pashtun grievances arising out of Islamabad’s domestic war on terrorism.

“Having a different [opinion] is the basis of a democratic process,” the Senate statement said.

Ghafoor, however, warned journalists against covering the movement. “When we straighten their language and when they [the PTM leaders] are exposed, then you can keep them on TV 24/7,” he said.

The clampdown began on May 26, when the army announced three people had been killed after a group led by PTM lawmakers Ali Wazir and Dawar attacked a military checkpoint in the western North Waziristan tribal district, which borders Afghanistan.

But PTM leaders and eyewitnesses countered those claims. Dawar said gunfire from the soldiers killed 13 protesters and injured scores of others soon after he and Wazir had reached a protest site after going through two check posts in the remote village of Khar Qamar.

FILE: Ali Wazir (L) and Mohsin Dawar, leaders of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM).

FILE: Ali Wazir (L) and Mohsin Dawar, leaders of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM).

The military arrested Wazir in Khar Qamar while Dawar surrendered to a counterterrorism court in Bannu a few days later. Dawar and Wazir are currently in a prison in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s capital. Their arrests have been followed by the arrest of scores of PTM activists in various cities while the police violently ended the movement’s sit-in protest in Peshawar on June 3.

CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance, says it has “documented systematic attacks against the PTM with scores of peaceful protesters arbitrarily arrested, detained, and prosecuted on spurious charges, while protests by the PTM have been obstructed.” In a June 7 statement, it called on Islamabad to “end their judicial persecution” of Gulalai Ismail, a PTM leader and human rights activist.

Since its emergence as the homeland of South Asia’s Muslims in 1947, Pakistan has struggled with movements claiming rights for ethnic groups. In Bengal, where a popular movement had favored the creation of Pakistan during the British Raj, the resentment against the new country began with a harsh crackdown on students protesting for language rights in 1952.

By 1971, the Bengali grievances had snowballed into an independence movement after Pakistan’s military dictator Yahya Khan failed to transfer power to their leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, and imprisoned him. His Awami League political party had swept the parliamentary election in December 1970.

But Khan responded by launching a military operation against the Bengali nationalists in March 1971. “Kill 3 million of them, and the rest will eat out of our hands,” Khan is reported to have said before launching the offensive formally called Operation Searchlight.

The nearly nine-month war ended with a defeat for the Pakistani military when its forces surrendered to the Indian military in December 1971. Hundreds of thousands of Bengalis were killed in the war, which forced 10 million to flee to India while another 30 million were displaced.

For many Pakistani politicians, journalists, and scholars, the debacle became a byword for what can go wrong when the military attempts to crush popular movements.

In recent decades, economic woes and political grievances among the minority ethnic groups have mounted. Some leaders of the Pashtuns, Baluchi, Sindhis, and Mohajirs have opposed domination by the Punjabis, Pakistan’s largest ethnic group. With a population of more than 110 million, the eastern province of Punjab claims a lion’s share of resources and dominates Pakistan’s fledgling economy. The Punjabis dominate national institutions such as the parliament, government bureaucracy, and the armed forces and claim a majority of national elites.

“We are not ready to live in Pakistan as slaves for one minute,” said Pashtun nationalist leader Mahmood Khan Achakzai. He told supporters on June 7 that the onus of ensuring that Pakistan continues as a federal democracy is on the military.

“If the Pakistani military refuses to abide by the constitution, why should we follow it?” Achakzai asked. His Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party announced protests against the crackdown on the PTM in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the northern Pashtun-populated regions of Balochistan on June 8.

Adil Najam, an international relations professor at Boston University, counts the PTM as Pakistan’s top problem. He urged Islamabad to adopt a cautious approach toward the movement.

“The implosion and unraveling we are seeing will make it difficult to count who committed the [first] mistake,” he told the Talk4Pak website. “The question now is, do we as a nation, [security] institutions and the PTM, instead of only focusing on the mistakes, can we engage in building bridges?”

He says the Pakistani government and military need to extend a positive gesture to the PTM.

“Two of their lawmakers who campaigned for victims of forced disappearances have now become missing persons,” he said, implying that Islamabad should release Wazir and Dawar as a goodwill gesture.

..

What’s behind Pakistan’s ‘voluntary’ military budget cut?

For the first time in its history, the Pakistan Army — which has governed the country for almost half the years since its independence — has voluntarily decided to cut its defence budget for the next fiscal, which begins on July 1 — as part of an austerity drive launched by Imran Khan-led government to find a solution to the nation’s economic woes.

So what does this surprising move say about Pakistan, its PM, its army and its economy where just 1% of the population files an income tax return and 76% of the government’s pension bill — $1.72 billion — is used for the pensions of its ex-servicemen?

Voluntary?

Not really, since the IMF made its $6 billion loan conditional on Khan’s government cutting its budget deficit by $5 billion. Given that Islamabad has been toying around with several belt tightening measures which is expected to include an unofficial currency devaluation, the defence budget cut is expected to allow the government to spend on developing the tribal regions and Balochistan. Currently, over 50% of the government’s expenditure is used for meeting military and debt-servicing costs.

A real cut?

Pakistan’s military spending has been steadily rising over the years, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of GDP. In fact, compared to India, whose defence spending last year was 2.4% of its GDP, Pakistan’s was 4% — though in absolute terms, India’s defence budget is four times its neighbouring country’s defence budget. That raises the question of whether Pakistan’s military budget will remain the same or will it actually see a reduction in absolute terms — given that for the last two years, its defence spending has remained largely constant.

Pak budget

Catch-22?

Pakistan, in fact, was the 20th largest spender on defence globally in 2018, with its military spending as a share of its GDP the highest in the last 15 years, according to SIPRI. Islamabad has also, in recent years, especially after Donald Trump became US President, seen military aid from its one-time strongest backer cut — last year, over $3 billion in military aid by US to Pakistan was cut for giving a safe haven to terrorists. Given how much its military assistance from the US has been cut, it remains to be seen how much of a voluntary cut will Pakistan’s defence forces be willing to make in their budget.

 

 

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US Wants Pakistan to Urge Taliban to Show ‘More Flexibility’ in Dialogue

The United States is scheduled to hold another round of meetings with the Taliban this month in Qatar in a fresh bid to end the deadlock in peace talks with the Afghan insurgent group while reaching out to regional stakeholders, including Pakistan, for assistance.

The direct dialogue between the two adversaries began nearly a year ago and has achieved noteworthy progress toward ending the nearly 18-year war in Afghanistan. The process has, however, stalled lately over the Taliban’s demand for all American troops to withdraw from the country before it stops fighting and participates in peace negotiations among Afghans.

Washington wants a final deal that covers all the elements before it announces a military drawdown timetable.

Ahead of his talks with insurgent interlocutors in the Qatari capital of Doha, chief American negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad traveled Sunday to Islamabad, where he discussed what Pakistan can do to help advance the Afghan peace process, the envoy noted in a post-visit tweet. He did not elaborate.

In comments to VOA, sources privy to Khalilzad’s discussions in Islamabad said, “Since the peace process is practically stalemated, he [Ambassador Khalilzad] wants everyone including Pakistan to urge [the] Taliban to demonstrate more flexibility.”

As usual, said the source, Washington has “greater expectations from Pakistan but they now realize that Pakistan had no control over the Taliban.”

A Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman, in a statement issued after Sunday’s talks with Khalilzad, said Islamabad reiterated its commitment for Afghan peace, encouraging “all sides to seize the moment to end the prolonged conflict through a political settlement.”

Islamabad takes credit for arranging the ongoing U.S.-Taliban dialogue and had stressed at the outset that achieving desired outcomes would be entirely up to the two negotiating sides. “We have led the horse to water but we can’t make it drink,” said a senior Pakistani official while speaking to VOA at the time.

Stalemate in talks troubles Pakistan

Pakistani leaders also appear uneasy over the lack of progress in the U.S.-led Afghan peace process, and say they are preparing themselves to deal with all eventualities, including no peace deal between the warring sides.

“While Pakistan continues to play its positive role toward success of an Afghan reconciliation process and peace in the region, we also stay ready for any unforeseen eventuality,” the Pakistani military chief said during a recent visit to troops on forward posts along the Afghan border.

“For this, Pakistan is solidifying border through fencing, construction of new forts and posts and increase in strength of [paramilitary] Frontier Corps troops to effectively manage the border,” noted General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

FILE - A view of the border fence outside the Kitton outpost on the border with Afghanistan in North Waziristan, Pakistan, Oct. 18, 2017.

FILE – A view of the border fence outside the Kitton outpost on the border with Afghanistan in North Waziristan, Pakistan, Oct. 18, 2017.

A military-led massive effort is currently under way to install a robust fence along most of the 2,600-kilometer traditionally porous Afghan frontier. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.

Afghanistan and Pakistan routinely accuse each other of supporting and allowing anti-state militants to orchestrate terrorist attacks against their respective soils.

Officials in Pakistan say the border security plan would effectively prevent illegal movement in both directions, addressing mutual concerns and easing tensions between Islamabad and Kabul.

Pakistan, which still hosts nearly 3 million Afghan refugees, was one of the three countries that had recognized the Taliban government in Afghanistan before it was ousted by a U.S.-led military invasion in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist strikes against the United States in 2001.

Taliban leaders have since allegedly used Pakistani sanctuaries to orchestrate insurgent attacks, charges Islamabad rejects, although it does not rule out the possibility of insurgents using Afghan refugee populations as hiding places.

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