Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) are calling on the Pakistani government to order an independent investigation into the reported killing of three activists in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan. While some accounts say eight people were killed, it is known that around 15 other people, including soldiers, were injured in violent clashes on May 26, 2019. The protest group was comprised of local residents and members of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), who gathered at a military checkpoint to voice their anger against the increased oppression of the Pashtun people and the incarceration of two local men on charges of facilitating terrorism. However, violence erupted when soldiers began firing into the crowd.
The PTM is led by Mohsin Dawar, a member of the national parliament, whose accounts of the protests will need to be taken into account for a possible investigation. The PTM represents Pashtuns in the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan a region previously known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). These areas are governed under regulations dating back to colonial rule and although constitutional amendments have been passed, locals have experienced repeated foreign and domestic intervention, restriction of rights that permit collective punishment for entire communities, denial of access to courts, and unwarranted property destruction. The PTM has repeatedly organised non-violent protests to demand accountability for repeated human rights abuses incurred by the Pashtun. Amnesty International states that despite popular support from senior government officials such as Prime Minister Imran Khan and army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa regarding the plight of the Pashtun people, there are still repeated accounts of unfair treatment by state personnel.
Brad Adams, Asia director for HRW, says a “prompt, transparent, and impartial investigation by Pakistani authorities” is needed to uphold the rule of law and protect human rights in North Waziristan after the events on May 26. Rabia Mehmood, South Asia Researcher at Amnesty International, argues that the use of live ammunition is of grave concern, “lethal force can only ever be used by law enforcement authorities when strictly necessary to protect life,” so a thorough investigation should be carried out to determine if there was any use of excessive force.
An impartial investigation is desperately needed because there are two conflicting narratives of the events. Mohsin Dawar’s version of events was that he went to meet the demonstrators at the checkpoint when the army opened fire without provocation. However, the military’s account, which is supported by the government, states the protestors attacked the checkpoint demanding the release of a suspected terrorist, leading to an exchange of fire. Asad Hashim, in Al Jazeera, reports neither account can be verified due to restrictions placed on independent media by the military; therefore, an official investigation is needed in order to bring justice to those killed.
International and domestic condemnation is a crucial step toward pressuring the government to take a democratic approach to resolve tensions. HRW has demanded restraint from both sides. They argue that law enforcement should provide security during anti-government demonstrations, and act appropriately with maximum restraint to any violent escalations. On the other hand, protest organisers should deter their supporters from inciting violence. This is helpful as a long-term solution but to ameliorate the immediate tensions the government needs to take a balanced and affirmative response to determine what actually happened.
A pragmatic and comprehensive response needs to be finalised by the Pakistani government soon if they hope to avoid an exponential increase in tensions. Mohsin Dawar, who is currently in hiding, defends his response to stand with the protestors because as a representative of the area he has a duty to listen to the people. With the government labelling Dawar and the activists as extremists, the chance of a joint, impartial investigation is beginning to wane.
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