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Karachi: Members of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) who have been on a sit-in outside the Provincial Assembly of Sindh for more than a week insist that they will remain in position until their demand for the release from jail of their leader Ali Wazir is met.
“If you look at our history, you will see that we never give up,” said Manzoor Pashteen, founder of the PTM. “We will not end our protest until Ali Wazir is among us.”
The PTM sit-in for Ali Wazir’s release began on February 13. Wazir, a member of the National Assembly, has been incarcerated since December 31, 2020, in several cases that accuse him of hate speech, sedition and inciting the public against the state. In November 2021, Pakistan’s Supreme Court granted Wazir post-arrest bail in one of these cases, but in view of the other cases against him, he remained incarcerated. Wazir’s latest application for bail was dismissed on February 15, 2022, by an anti-terrorism court in Karachi.
Manzoor Pashteen, whose statements are never televised in the Pakistani media, but who has nevertheless become a celebrity among young people because of his stance on the rights of the people, claims that the PTM’s sit-in is not against the government of Sindh but is being held solely for the release of Ali Wazir.
“He [Ali Wazir] was elected a member of the Pakistani parliament but has been in jail for more than a year. His constituency needs his voice in parliament to solve the problems they face,” said Manzoor.
According to Manzoor, Wazir was incarcerated for his criticism of the Pakistani military and for demanding the rights of the people in his constituency.
“Many members of his [Ali Wazir’s] family were martyred in war. Ali Wazir spoke against terrorism; his bold voice was heard on the floor of the Pakistan national assembly in Pakistan. He spoke of how his people were unjustly treated. And he is in jail for one reason: Qamar Javed Bajwa, chief of army staff,” Manzoor told The Wire.
Bajwa will not permit Wazir to be released unless the national assembly member apologises for criticising the military, Manzoor alleged.
“All decisions are made by the army chief,” said Manzoor. “What is the use of institutions like the provincial and national assemblies when the ‘king’ makes the decisions?”
Manzoor emphasised that the Sindh government has the same legal authority to release Ali Wazir that the Punjab government used in November 2021 when it dismissed all the cases against the Tehreek-e-Labbaik. In April 2021, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik had been declared a proscribed outfit under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997.
“Nevertheless, our people and Ali Wazir are being punished by the army chief who is above all institutions in Pakistan,” Manzoor alleged.
According to Manzoor, a minister of the Sindh government had tweeted that nothing could be done about Ali Wazir since the case was in court. “We can tell the provincial government the procedure to take back the first information report against Ali Wazir,” Manzoor told The Wire. “This procedure is legal.”
He added: “The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is in power in Sindh. They claim to be a democratic party with a history of fighting against undemocratic measures. Then why are they accepting pressure [from the military establishment]?”
However, Manzoor is clear that the PTM’s sit-in outside the Sindh assembly is not anti-government or anti-PPP. “We are here with the simple and democratic demand that the Sindh government should release Ali Wazir,” he said. “We are fighting against those generals whose policies make us suffer. The government of Sindh has to choose between General Bajwa and the rights of the people.”
Even though Ali Wazir and the PTM speak in accordance with the constitution of Pakistan, what they say is unacceptable to the state because of their criticism of the military, Manzoor told The Wire.
“We want peace and they [the military establishment] want war because they get money when they have war,” alleged Manzoor. “The state supports the Tehreek-e-Taliban and the Taliban – everyone can see who the Afghanistan Taliban’s spokesperson is. We have seen how people suffer in war. This state favours those who kill us, like Ehsanullah Ehsan (a former spokesperson of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan who had allegedly masterminded the attack on the Peshawar Army Public School and shot at Malala Yousafzai) and Rao Anwar Ahmed Khan (a retired police officer known as an ‘encounter specialist’). But they punish innocent people like Ali Wazir.”
Manzoor said that he has nothing but appreciation for Afghan women who have been fighting for their rights since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan. He added that he feared the Taliban’s influence would make its way to his province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but believes that the PTM’s work will mitigate the problem.