Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Thursday dismissed a statement by Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani in which he stated that the Afghan government had serious concerns about the violence perpetrated against peaceful protestors and civil activists in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan provinces.
“We believe it is the moral responsibility of every government to support civil activities that take a stand against the terrorism and extremism that plagues and threatens our region and collective security. Otherwise there could be long-standing negative consequences,” Ghani tweeted in reference to the recent waves of civil protests in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan provinces.
Just hours later, Qureshi responded – also on Twitter – and said the statement was irresponsible and gross interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs.
“We reject the tweet by President Ashraf Ghani. Such irresponsible statements are only gross interference. Afghan leadership needs to focus on long-standing serious grievances of the Afghan people,” Qureshi tweeted.
According to Reuters, the arrests of 19 ethnic Pashtun activists in Pakistan this week has fueled fears of a fresh crackdown on the civil rights movement in the country.
Amnesty International meanwhile also weighed in and said Pakistani authorities must immediately and unconditionally release protestors belonging to the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) who have been arbitrarily detained.
This comes after human rights groups said at least 19 people were arrested from cities across Pakistan on Tuesday as the PTM marked a global day of peaceful protests calling for an end to discrimination against Pashtuns in Pakistan and for an end to enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations.
Amnesty International meanwhile also called on the Pakistani authorities to investigate the killing of activist Arman Luni, who was allegedly the subject of an extrajudicial execution. The organization also call on Islamabad to disclose the whereabouts of the well-known human rights defender Gulalai Ismail, who they say may have been subjected to an enforced disappearance.
“These protestors must be released immediately and unconditionally. They are prisoners of conscience and have done nothing but exercise their peaceful and lawful right to protest against human rights violations and call for end to them,” said Rabia Mehmood, South Asia Researcher at Amnesty International.
“It is shocking that the Pakistani authorities have resorted to such heavy-handed methods even as senior government officials have clearly acknowledged that the PTM has legitimate grievances that must be addressed. To add insult to injury, the crackdown follows the horrific death of Arman Luni, one of PTM’s activists,” said Mehmood.
Tuesday’s protests took place as PTM activists were mourning the death of Arman Luni, a teacher and a member of PTM’s core committee from Baluchistan province, who apparently died at the hands of the police on three days earlier in Lorelai district of Baluchistan province.
Reuters reported that Pakistani authorities could not be immediately reached for comment. But in January, Asif Ghafoor, a spokesman for the military, said authorities wanted to work with the movement.
“Till such time that the PTM is peaceful and they stick to their genuine demands, which are natural in a post-conflict environment, the state is committed to take care of them,” Pakistani military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said at the time.
Pakistan’s powerful military intelligence agency – Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – has been accused of enforced disappearances of Baluch separatists and Pashtuns who have protested against what they say is systematic discrimination against them.
A brief history of PTM
The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) is a social movement for Pashtun human rights.
It is based in Pakistan’s Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan province and was founded by Pashtun civil rights activist Manzoor Pashteen.
The movement rose to prominence in January 2018 when it began a justice movement for a Pashtun activist Naqeebullah Mehsud, who was killed extrajudicially during a police encounter in the Pakistani city port of Karachi that same month.
Other prominent leaders include Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar.