June 4, 2018 / 9:30 AM / 4 months ago

Pashtun activists killed in Pakistan, blame militants and security forces

DERA ISMAIL KHAN/PESHAWAR, Islamabad (Reuters) - Several Pashtun ethnic rights activists were killed and at least 25 were wounded in a Pakistan tribal region on Sunday, when Taliban militants attacked their gathering and security forces opened fire on protesters during disturbances that followed.

People help an injured man, who was shot after militants attacked on a jirga (tribal assembly or public meeting) organised by the ethnic rights group Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) in Wana, the main town in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan, in early morning at a hospital in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

The violence took place in Wana, the main administrative centre for South Waziristan, one of the most volatile of the tribal lands on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

Local tribesmen and one security official, speaking on condition on anonymity, said two people were killed and 25 wounded. But Manzoor Pashteen, the head of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), said in a posting on social media that at least 10 people died and 30 were wounded during Sunday’s violence.

In his Twitter post, Pashteen described how Taliban fighters had first attacked the PTM gathering. Later angry protesters threw stones, prompting “indiscriminate” firing by security forces, he said.

The PTM became prominent after the killing of a Pashtun youth by police in the southern city of Karachi in January. Since then it has held rallies across many towns and cities.

Ali Wazir, a PTM leader who was wounded in the attack, told Reuters that the militants wanted PTM to leave the area and were “dictating an end to PTM activities in Wana”.

Some PTM members said they suspected the gunmen who attacked them belonged to a Taliban faction that has covert support from Pakistan’s powerful military. The military, which denies fostering proxy groups, did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The PTM alleges that thousands of Pashtuns were targeted in state-organised killings after Pakistan joined the U.S.-led war on terror in 2001 and launched major military operations against militant strongholds in tribal areas between 2009 and 2014.

The military has been engaged in talks with PTM members to address some of their grievances.

Pashteen called for protests at U.N offices in response to the latest outrage.

“Pashtuns wherever should protest now and those who cannot should do it tomorrow in front of the UN offices because this state doesn’t listen to our voice,” Pashteen said.

PTM supporters in Peshawar protested outside the Islamabad Press Club late on Sunday evening.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) assembly on May 27 approved the merger of the province with the semi autonomous tribal areas and frontier regions, in a move aimed at bringing them into Pakistan’s political mainstream.

People move a stretcher with an injured man, who was shot after militants attacked on a jirga (tribal assembly or public meeting) organised by the ethnic rights group Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) in Wana, the main town in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan, in early morning at a hospital in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Writing by Syed Raza Hassan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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