Was an incident of this nature waiting to happen in North Waziristan?
On the morning of May 30, lawmaker Mohsin Dawar voluntarily turned up at the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Bannu as he had been nominated in the First Information Report (FIR) to answer serious charges for leading a mob that assaulted a security forces’ checkpost in North Waziristan.
Mohsin Dawar, whose given name is Mohsin Javed, had defied arrest since the May 26 incident at Khar Qamar in the Macha Madakhel area in Boya. He managed to reach a village that was considered safe. From there he maintained contact with sections of the media and recorded a statement that went viral to present his version of events that happened at the Khar Qamar checkpoint.
The authorities had reportedly conveyed a message to Mohsin Dawar through a jirga of elders that the only legal way for him was to surrender before the court to face charges instead of opting for a confrontation. Being a lawyer, Mohsin Dawar consented and now he can fight a legal battle to seek bail and clear his name.
His fellow lawmaker Ali Wazir, one of the three top leaders of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) was arrested by security forces at the time of the firing incident and brought to Bannu to be produced at the ATC on May 27. The special ATC judge, Babar Ali Khan, remanded Ali Wazir to the custody of the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) for eight days. The police has been directed to produce Ali Wazir in court again on June 4.
The charges mentioned in the FIR against Ali Wazir, Mohsin Dawar and seven others are serious and show the intent of the military authorities to make them accountable for daring to challenge the writ of the state. These have been framed under 7ATA (Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997), Pakistan Penal Code 302 (murder), 324 (attempt to murder), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 120b (criminal conspiracy), and 109 (abetment to an offense).
Ali Wazir, Member National Assembly (MNA) from South Waziristan, has already been shifted to Peshawar to undergo investigation. Mohsin Dawar too would be interrogated in Peshawar and produced in the ATC at the end of his eight-day physical remand on June 7. The two have often campaigned together for their cause and would now face the same court and similar charges.
The other seven accused named in the FIR include Dr Gul Alam, who is a PTM activist and belongs to the Madakhel Wazir tribe in whose area the incident took place. The Madakhel Wazir tribe resides on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border and one of its leading figures Hafiz Gul Bahadur is commander of the Pakistani militants fighting the state since the launching of the massive Zarb-e-Azb military operation in North Waziristan in June 2014. A large number of Madakhel Wazir families had migrated to Afghanistan at the time and many are still residing there.
The PTM, claiming to represent ethnic Pashtuns who have suffered for years due to militancy and military operations, has been insisting it is a peaceful, rights-based movement working in accordance with the law. It has denied the military’s allegations that its supporters fired at the Khar Qamar security checkpost. The PTM had also announced holding a sit-in, or ‘dharna’ as this kind of protest is commonly referred to, in Miranshah, headquarters of North Waziristan. Protest rallies were organised in some cities and the movement’s leaders announced they would sit at Hayatabad Phase 3 Chowk in Peshawar to accept condolences on the deaths of 13 of their supporters in the in Khar Qamar checkpost incident.
It is obvious the PTM would continue to agitate this and other issues. It also has to contend with a petition filed by a retired army officer in the Islamabad High Court seeking ban on the PTM. It is confident of mobilising support for its cause among the Pashtuns and receiving backing from certain political parties and many civil society activists and human rights campaigners. In order to build its case its leader Manzoor Pashteen released the name of 13 PTM supporters who were slain.
PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was arguably the most vocal in backing PTM demands by first inviting its two lawmakers to an iftar-dinner and then pursuing their case with the National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, urging him to issue production orders to enable them to attend the assembly’s sessions. Earlier PPP lawmaker Syed Naveed Qamar argued that according to the law, the Speaker should have been informed before arresting any lawmaker.
Pashtun nationalist parties such as the Asfandyar Wali Khan-led ANP and Mahmood Khan Achakzai’s PMAP took a tough stand on the issue while condemning the firing on the ‘peaceful’ protestors in North Waziristan. While the latter is an ally of the PTM, the ANP risks losing ground to the PTM if it doesn’t appear to be tough-talking about the rights of the Pashtun people. It has already lost some of its members to the PTM and would be hard pressed to win seats from the former Fata in presence of PTM-backed candidates in the elections being held on July 2 in the merged districts.
The religio-political parties such as Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI-F and the Sirajul Haq-led Jamaat-i-Islami also condemned the use of force by the state against people protesting denial of their rights in North Waziristan. These and other parties are demanding a judicial inquiry into the incident while the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has called for a parliamentary commission to probe the matter.
However, the military has finally decided to strike back after claiming to have shown patience despite the PTM’s ‘provocations’. It had already hinted at a tough response through military spokesman, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, who had declared on April 29 that the "PTM’s time is up" after accusing it of receiving funds from hostile intelligence agencies such as India’s RAW and Afghanistan’s NDS. The military claimed that recent events in North Waziristan ‘forced its hand’ as its security post was attacked and five soldiers were wounded. It said three attackers were killed and 10 injured. Subsequently, more bodies were recovered to take the death toll to 13.
The military has been collecting evidence to prove its claim that the provocation was caused by the PTM members as they raised slogans against the Pakistan Army and then stoned and fired at the Khar Qamar checkpost. The military media wing, ISPR, maintained that Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar brought their supporters to exert pressure on the army to get a facilitator of terrorists freed after he was arrested during a search operation. The local villagers were already staging a sit-in near the checkpost and the two PTM leaders were trying to join the protestors when the incident happened. As the security forces have increasingly come under attack in this part of North Waziristan due to their efforts to fence the nearby border with Afghanistan and deny space to militants in places like Alwara Mandi and Gurweek, the situation was already tense and there was a high possibility of any provocation from either side causing a flare-up. An incident of this nature was therefore waiting to happen.
Also read: Tackling Pashtun disquiet
The military is operating in tough conditions and the soldiers have offered tremendous sacrifices fighting against local and foreign militants. It has also been undertaking reconstruction and development work in North Waziristan and other merged districts as well as helping with repatriation and resettlement of its displaced people. After the recent incident at Khar Qamar, it evacuated the injured civilians to its hospitals for treatment.
Politics also played out as usual in the aftermath of the Khar Qamar incident. Though the PTI government strongly defended the military’s stand with regard to the incident and warned that an attack on soldiers was unacceptable, it still faced criticism from certain opposition parties that claimed its reaction was delayed and weak. On the second day of the incident, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan and Governor Shah Farman flew to Miranshah for a meeting with tribal elders and officials. It was clear the provincial government wasn’t in a position to do much as the merger issues are still not fully resolved.
However, a time-honoured Pashtun tribal custom of "nanawatay" (meaning forgiveness or asylum or more directly I leave myself at your mercy) organised by the district administration and the tribal jirga helped defuse the situation and persuaded the local elders and PTM supporters to postpone the ‘dharna’ in Miranshah until after Eidul Fitr. The district administration presented four sheep to those who had lost family members and to the elders of the Wazir and Dawar tribes and the gesture was accepted, showing the strength of Pakhtunwali (the way of the Pashtuns) in resolving local disputes. The cases against the MNAs remain though, as do larger grievances. A lot more would still have to be done to sustain the truce and to resolve bigger issues.