Pakistan’s military targets protest movement, stifles dissent


Pakistan’s powerful military has seemed unstoppable recently in getting what it wants: its favored candidate as prime minister, a victory of sorts in a dogfight with the Indian military, and its media critics hounded into silence or compliance. Now, the Pakistani Army has turned its sights on ending one of the last unbending sources of dissent to its power, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) that has called the Pakistani security forces to account for extrajudicial killings and other injustices, The New York Times reports:

Trying to stop a rights demonstration in the troubled region of Waziristan on Sunday, the security forces killed at least eight people, according to members of the movement who described the dead as unarmed and peaceful protesters. The army also took into custody Ali Wazir, one of the movement’s leaders and a member of the country’s Parliament.

The military’s outsize role is turning Pakistan into a national security state, observers suggest.

PTM activist Gulalai Ismail (above) was blacklisted – put on a temporary 30-day travel ban – this week for reportedly delivering “seditious speeches and inciting people to attack state institutions”.

International and domestic watchdogs are denouncing the arrest in Pakistan of a journalist for reporting on demonstrations of activists linked to a local ethnic Pashtun rights movement, VOA adds:

Gohar Wazir, who works for private Satellite TV station Khyber News and runs his personal YouTube channel as well, was taken into custody by security forces along with 21 other people earlier this week on charges of disturbing public order. The rest of the detainees are activists of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has cautioned restrictions on local media would only serve to undermine “the strength of Pakistan’s democracy” and demanded the reporter be unconditionally released.

“Gohar Wazir should not have to face arrest merely for doing the job of reporting the news, even reporting on controversial events such as protests by the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement,” said Steven Butler, CPJ Asia program coordinator.

Omar Waraich, the deputy director for South Asia at Amnesty International, said Pakistan’s human rights situation has sunk to its lowest since the 1980s rule of the military dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq, The Times adds.

“What was once space for a vibrant civil society and a lively if raucous media has progressively shrunk to the point of suffocation,” Mr. Waraich said. “P.T.M. has been the boldest attempt yet to hold the state accountable for human rights violations, especially against Pashtuns. The crackdown is the latest demonstration by the state, and particularly the military, that it will not tolerate dissent.”

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