Journo critic of military freed after abduction
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, June 6, (Agencies): Authorities in Pakistan’s restive tribal region expanded a 24-hour curfew along the Afghan border to avert further clashes between tribesmen and militants after at least three people were killed and dozens injured in recent days, officials said Wednesday.
The move comes as tensions mount in the area with burgeoning civil rights group the Pashtun Protection Movement (PTM) heightening calls for the removal of alleged Taleban-linked militants from the region. The US and others have long accused Pakistan of using proxies in Afghanistan, including the Taleban and other militant groups.
Islamabad denies the claims. PTM has had repeated clashes with the militants this week during two rallies in the area, leading authorities Tuesday to expand an earlier curfew to encompass all of the South Waziristan tribal district. “Curfew has been tightened and extended to the entire South Waziristan. More than 80 people have so far been arrested,” a senior government official in Peshawar told AFP, adding that at least three people have been killed and 40 injured. The area is sealed off to journalists, making claims difficult to verify.
A clash between PTM activists and insurgents Sunday killed two people, sparking fears of wider unrest in an area flush with weapons and long-held traditions that demand violent reprisals against perceived slights against an individual or tribe’s honour.
The violence was followed by a second clash during a rally on Monday, according to PTM. Authorities were negotiating with local tribal elders to restore calm and had relaxed the curfew for two hours on Tuesday to allow people to buy food to break their fasts during the Islamic Holy Month of Ramadan.
A Pakistani journalist and rights activist who openly criticised the military and its alleged meddling in politics was freed early on Wednesday, several hours after being abducted. The journalist, Gul Bukhari, who is a dual Pakistani-British national, has been a vocal critic of Pakistan’s powerful military on social media and in her articles in the run-up to a July 25 general election.
She has also defended ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who clashed with the military before the Supreme Court forced him from office last year over an undeclared source of income. Bukhari was on her way to record a television programme late on Tuesday for the Waqt news programme in the city of Lahore when her vehicle was intercepted and she was taken away by unidentified men, her husband and media colleagues said.
After her release, she said in a statement posted on Twitter by a family member that she was well, and she asked for privacy. “I would like to express my deep gratitude and love to my friends, family, colleagues & supporters in civil society, journalism and politics across the board, for coming together in solidarity in concern for my wellbeing last night,” she said. Rights groups have denounced the kidnappings of several social media activists over the past year as attempts to intimidate and silence critics of Pakistan’s security establishment.