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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Pakistan police arrest Pashtun rights leader critical of military

A charismatic Pashtun rights leader who repeatedly accused the powerful military of abuse has been arrested in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar

A charismatic Pashtun rights leader who repeatedly accused the powerful military of abuse has been arrested in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar, police said Monday.

Manzoor Pashteen, chief of the Pashtun Protection Movement (PTM), appeared before a magistrate after being detained shortly after midnight, said police official Shiraz Khan.

Khan said Pashteen would be transferred to another district where he is wanted on charges including sedition, hate speech, incitement against the state, and criminal conspiracy.

The former veterinary student and his PTM have rattled the military since 2018 with calls to end alleged abuses by security forces targeting ethnic Pashtuns in the restive tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.

The area, once plagued by militancy and unrest, is where Washington believes Pakistan is providing safe haven to militant groups including the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network.

The army has carried out many operations in the region, and security across Pakistan has dramatically improved in recent years.

The military maintains a heavy presence there, however, and the PTM has tapped into festering anger over alleged abuses against Pashtuns — including enforced disappearances and targeted killings.

Read more: Ditch Anti-Pakistan Agenda if you want Pakistan Working for You: Govt to PTM

The movement remains peaceful, but has been notable for its direct verbal attacks on the armed forces in a country where such criticism is largely seen as a red line.

Islamabad and the military have repeatedly denied the claims and arrested PTM activists.

A far-reaching media blackout has kept news and images of peaceful PTM rallies off TV screens and front pages nationwide.

An opinion piece written by Pashteen in the New York Times in 2019 was censored in Pakistan.

In December 2018 a military spokesman warned that the army would use force against PTM if they “cross the line”.

Mohsin Dawar, a PTM member of parliament from the North Waziristan tribal district, confirmed Pashteen’s arrest to AFP.

“He has been charged in many cases including sedition,” Dawar said, who along with another PTM MP was detained by authorities for months last year.

On Twitter, Dawar demanded Pashteen’s immediate release and asked PTM supporters to “remain calm”.

Read more: PTM killing Police Officer: Rights movement Replacing TTP?

Pashtuns are a fiercely independent ethnic group that straddles both sides of the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

They account for roughly 15 percent of Pakistan’s population, with a majority of the 30 million-strong group living in the northwest.