RAWALPINDI: A group of people – led by two lawmakers – assaulted a military check post to forcibly secure the release a terrorists’ facilitator in the tribal district of North Waziristan on Sunday triggering a fire exchange which resulted in multiple casualties, the military said in a statement.
According to a local count, 10 assailants lost their lives in the assault which also left 15 people, among them five soldiers, wounded – some of them seriously.
MNAs Ali Wazir and Mohsin Javed Dawar – who belong to the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) – led the group of assailants, the military’s media wing said in a statement. However, the military spokesperson clarified “innocent PTM workers were not the culprits” and that only a few individuals were inciting local Pashtuns to violence.
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“The group assaulted the Kharqamar check post in Boya, in the tribal district of North Waziristan this morning,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in the statement. “The group wanted to exert pressure [on the troops] for the release of a suspected terrorists’ facilitator who was arrested the other day,” it added.
“[The] Troops at the check post exercised maximum restraint in the face of provocation and direct firing on the post,” the ISPR said, adding that five soldiers were injured when the group opened fire on them.
In the ensuing exchange of fire, 10 individuals who assaulted the post lost their lives and 10 others suffered injuries. All the injured were evacuated to a military hospital for treatment.
The ISPR further said that MNA Ali Wazir, along with eight others, was arrested, while Mohsin Javed was at large after inciting the crowd to violence.
On May 24, troops were conducting a clearance operation in the Doga area of North Waziristan when some miscreants opened fire on them at one of the blocking positions and a soldier suffered a bullet injury to his stomach. A day later, two suspects were taken into custody. A protest was ongoing in the area since then.
The two lawmakers reached the area where the protest was ongoing on Sunday morning. Local sources said the protesters were peaceful until the arrival of Mohsin and Wazir. And the assault on the military check post happened around 9:45am on Sunday.
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Under the Pakistan Army Code, if an army post is attacked, troops are legally covered to effectively respond and the assailants can be tried under a military court as per the Pakistan Penal Code.
Analysts and media persons took to Twitter to weigh in on the violent incident.
TV anchor Ejaz Haider said an army post is restricted area, especially in a conflict zone, and political representatives should have gone to the relevant military headquarters to lodge their protest with the commanding officer concerned over any action that might have been taken by the security forces.
“That would have been the peaceful way of doing it. Mobbing a check post is not a peaceful act; it's an act of aggression regardless of whether people are armed or not,” he tweeted.
The military spokesperson clarified that innocent PTM supporters only needed care and were not the culprits. “Only a few [individuals] are inciting [PTM supporters] and using them against state institutions for [their] vested agenda,” DG ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor tweeted.
He vowed that nobody would be allowed to “undo the gains of decades-long national struggle and sacrifices of brave Pakistani tribesmen”.
Local and foreign militants held virtual sway in the erstwhile North Waziristan Agency until 2014 when they had been routed as a result of the military operation Zarb-e-Azb. The operation has restored the state writ in the region and resulted in a marked decrease in terrorist violence across in the country.
Earlier this month, Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had specified that the PTM itself was "not an issue" and certain individuals “playing in foreign hands” were exploiting the sentiments of the people who had suffered because of terrorism.
“The issues being highlighted [by PTM] are genuine and natural in a post-operation environment," the army chief was quoted as saying by the ISPR. "However, a few individuals playing in foreign hands are by design exploiting sentiments of the people who have actually suffered at the hands of terrorism and now need care.”
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Prime Minister Imran Khan has also said that the PTM rightly speaks about the suffering of the tribespeople, but the manner in which they are making such demands is "not good for our country".
Also this month, the country’s top civil and military leadership had warned that foreign elements were trying to stir up trouble in the erstwhile tribal areas.
In February, MNA Dawar faced severe backlash for welcoming Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s statement which had been unanimously condemned by Pakistani politicians and the media as “gross interference” in Pakistan’s internal matters.
On May 6, members of the PTM central committee, including Ali Wazir, were booked in North Waziristan for inciting people to revolt against the state.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Firdous Ashiq Awan condemned the attack on the military check post and said the government would respond according to the law.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan has done a lot for the tribal people. Efforts are under way for the development of tribal districts but some miscreants want to stop this process,” she added.
“There miscreants are playing into foreign hands and people of tribal districts have isolated themselves from this group.”
The prime minister’s aide said those challenging the writ of state would be dealt with according to the law.