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Pakistan arrests of activists fuel row with Kabul

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    Posted: 07-Feb-2019 at 3:09pm

The arrest of a group of ethnic Pashtun activists at a rally in Pakistan this week has rekindled a row with Afghanistan, as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned Islamabad's treatment of the protesters.
The members of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) were detained during a protest outside the Islamabad Press Club against police violence on Tuesday, the latest in a series of moves against the group, which was founded a year ago to protest the death of a Pashtun man killed by police in Karachi.
Islamabad's crackdown against the group, whose support comes mainly from the northwestern region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has drawn criticism and protests from over the border in Afghanistan, where Pashtuns are estimated to be the largest single ethnic group.
Tuesday's incident, reopening longstanding tensions between Kabul and Islamabad, comes as Pakistan has been supporting efforts to open a peace process with the Taliban to end more than 17 years of war in Afghanistan.
"The Afghan government has serious concerns about the violence perpetrated against peaceful protesters and civil activists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan," Ghani, himself a Pashtun, wrote in a tweet.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi rejected Ghani's comment.
"Such irresponsible statements are only gross interference," he said in a tweet, adding that Ghani should focus on the "longstanding grievances of the Afghan people".
Tuesday's protests followed the death of PTM regional leader Arman Loni in southwestern Baluchistan province, which the group blamed on police.
Mohsin Dawar, a member of parliament and founding member of the PTM, said that police had singled Loni out and beat him to death.
A police spokesman said that Loni died of a heart attack after clashes between protesters and police.
PTM leader and member of parliament Ali Wazir told Reuters that 18 activists were still in custody after one of those detained was released this week.
Rights group Amnesty International issued a statement saying that the authorities "must immediately and unconditionally release protesters belonging to the peaceful Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement".
"It is shocking that the Pakistani authorities have resorted to such heavy-handed methods," Amnesty South Asia researcher Rabia Mehmood said.
The PTM blames the military and other state agencies for what it says are forced disappearances resulting in thousands of missing persons' cases, mainly from the Pashtun region bordering Afghanistan.
The group is viewed with deep suspicion by the military, which says it undermines Pakistan.
The army has said that it does not detain individuals without evidence.
The arrest last month of senior PTM leader Alamzeb Mehsud in Karachi drew an outcry on social media.
He was charged under anti-terrorism and public order laws, but his supporters say he was arrested for protesting against abuses by the military.
Following a series of nationwide protests last year, hundreds of PTM activists were arrested and detained across the country in a large-scale crackdown.
Dawar and Wazir, founding PTM members, were elected to parliament in July from the Pashtun majority Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan, highlighting the group's growing appeal among Pakistan's 35mn Pashtuns.
Meanwhile, one of the country's leading women's rights activists, Gulalai Ismail, has been released from police custody, after Amnesty International said she and others had been detained "arbitrarily" during Tuesday's crackdown on the PTM.
"It was very painful for my family, who (suffered uncertainty for) 30 hours (before finding out) where I was," she told AFP, adding that she had been freed late on Wednesday.
Ismail was separated from the other activists, she said, and was not placed under official arrest.
"They didn't charge me with anything. They didn't let me contact my lawyer. They just kept moving me around," she said. "You cannot arrest citizens and just 'disappear' them."
Talking to local media, Ismail said that after being arrested on Tuesday, she was first detained in a women's police station in Islamabad.
The next morning, she was shifted to a women's hostel, and then taken to the Aabpara police station, from where she was taken to Adiala after a five-hour wait.
On Wednesday night, she was brought back to the women's police station in Islamabad, where she had been initially held, and subsequently released.
The rights activist said that the police still had not returned her phone, and were misleading her by telling her she could get it from one police station or the other.
An Islamabad police official dealing with the case swept the claims aside.
Police follow "a proper procedure and her claims of an 'encounter' are unthinkable", he told AFP, referring to extra-judicial murders, or "encounter killings" as they are commonly known in Pakistan.
He accused Ismail and the other activists of uttering "anti-state slogans".
Ismail was briefly detained in October after speaking at another PTM meeting.
Her brief disappearance this week has inflamed social networks, with the hashtag #WhereIsGulalai going viral.
She has been freed, but "as a human rights defender, she is still not safe", said Rabia Mehmood, a researcher for Amnesty International.
"It is really alarming that peaceful protests are constantly targeted by the Pakistani state," she added.
Ismail is also the co-founder of Aware Girls, an NGO that promotes gender equality.
She has received several international awards.
Yesterday Ismail thanked Prime Minister Imran Khan "for ensuring [her] release".
In a series of tweets posted hours after she was freed from Adiala jail, Ismail said: "Thank you Prime Minister Imran Khan for ensuring my release. These were tedious 30 hours for my family. Please help to bring out our other 17 friends."
She also called upon the prime minister to hold those "accountable who are dismantling our constitutional rights".
"Only holding those accountable who are dismantling our constitutional rights can bring prosperity to this country. Stronger parliament, stronger Pakistan," she tweeted.
Ismail also praised Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari for "support and "tremendous efforts in finding [Ismail]".
She reminded Mazari that 17 activists were still in custody, adding that: "[Their] constitutional rights are getting violating at the whim of unknown."

Source: Gulf Times

Edited by AfghanistanNews - 07-Feb-2019 at 3:11pm
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