by Awais Qarni, Organiser, Revolutionary Students’ Federation
On the morning of Sunday, May 26, 2019, the Pakistani army opened fire on people protesting against its brutal operations in the region bordering Afghanistan. Videos show unarmed, peaceful protesters cheering and chanting slogans when their leaders, Pakistan National Assembly members Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar, arrived at the sit-in. Suddenly, shots were fired.
The firing left at least 13 dead. The real number could be much higher, as it is certain that dozens more were injured. The army then arrested Ali Wazir, bringing him before an Anti-Terrorism Court the next day. Since then he has been remanded again and again.
Ali Wazir was elected to Pakistan’s National Assembly on an independent list. He is a Marxist and one of the main leaders of the Pashtun Tahfuz Movement (PTM, Pashtun Defence Movement). The Pashtuns constitute the third largest ethnic community in Pakistan and mostly inhabit the areas bordering Afghanistan.
For months, military spokespersons had been threatening the PTM and its leaders, and publicly warning the media not to give it any coverage. The media blackout translated into a tragic reality on May 26. On the one hand, the peaceful procession was fired upon. On the other, the media unanimously reported that PTM activists led by Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar had attacked a military check post, and that the ensuing violence had claimed the lives of three protestors besides injuring three soldiers.
Ironically, video footages filmed on mobile phones clearly show that Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar were fired upon from behind. While people were falling to the bullets, instead of running to safety Ali Wazir went back to help an injured comrade. It was as he approached his comrade, near the checkpost, that he was arrested by the military.
In fact, the army’s violence and their arrest of Ali Wazir are attempts to repress an important social movement. It justifies its violence in the area as part of the struggle against terrorism, and is trying to portray Ali Wazir as a terrorist sympathiser. These are lies. Wazir campaigns for the safety and rights of the local population. The people in the region are victims of both warring parties: the Taliban and the Pakistani army. Wazir had already paid an enormous price for his stand: 13 members of his family were murdered by the Taliban, including his father and brothers.
Meanwhile, the entire opposition in Parliament has demanded his release. He suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure. There have been unconfirmed allegations of torture as well. In the event, even if he is released, his life remains threatened. Like the rest of the PTM leadership, he has been subjected to vicious hate propaganda, portrayed by the mainstream media and the military as a foreign agent, a traitor, and a terrorist.
We demand the immediate and unconditional release of Ali Wazir and his comrades, an end to the vilification campaign and the withdrawal of fake police cases under anti-terrorism laws against them.
We demand the arrest of those responsible for firing on peaceful demonstrators. We are in solidarity with Ali Wazir. There have been worldwide protests for his release in Kashmir, Brazil, Argentina, Turkey, France, Sweden, Demark, Switzerland, America and other countries. We call for international support for him and his comrades and their struggle for freedom and justice.
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