Muhammad Ali Wazir is lately becoming an icon of non-violent Pashtun movement. Nar Wazir, Zakhmi Wazir, Ali Wazir, Ali Wazir (Brave Wazir, hurt Wazir, Ali Wazir, Ali Wazir) is the slogan that has come to characterize the place and charisma of Ali Wazir. Ali Wazir’s ordeal is profoundly interrelated with the history of War on Terror, the agony it perpetrated on people of Pakistan’s tribal areas and their fight for self-respect, honour, and dignity.
Wazir first ran as an independent candidate from South Waziristan in the 2013 general elections. He lost the elections by 300 votes, and he realized that this was because “the Taliban intimidated voters and tortured [his] supporters.” He was later elected in National Assembly, as a member of the lower house of the Parliament of Pakistan, in the next general election, in 2018. He is the only Marxist to be part of the National Assembly of Pakistan.
On December 15, Ali Wazir, a member of the National Assembly (MNA) from South Waziristan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), was interrogated by the Charsadda police in the Karachi central prison in relation to sedition case lodged against him earlier in the year 2020. He was arrested by Charsadda police after they obtained permission from the judges of Karachi’s two anti-terrorism courts (X and XII) on an application moved by Parang police station inspector Ghulam Ali for allegedly promoting mutiny and conspiracy against the state by speaking at a gathering at the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) rally at the Bhoma Khel Park in Charsadda on March 2, 2020.
PTM, a popular, non-violent, mass movement shot to prominence in 2018 after the extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in Karachi. The malevolence in the state’s violation of Ali Wazir’s right to due process is plain to see. He was incarcerated four years ago on sedition charges in connection with a controversial speech he made at a Karachi rally. Several cases along the same lines have been filed against him, and continue to be filed, to ensure that liberty for Wazir remains out of reach. One court after another as acquitted him, but legal proceedings against him never quite run their course.
In November, 2022 an Anti-Terrorism Court in Karachi cleared him of the original charge. Nonetheless he is still facing trial in three similar cases registered in Karachi, as well as one in KP’s Miranshah. The state’s determination to keep him behind bars against all norms of justice should have had anyone with democratic pretensions concerned and up in arms.
Earlier, in September 2022, Wazir was granted bail in a case by the Anti-Terrorism Court. However, he could not be set free as he could not immediately arrange the surety amount of PKR1.9 million in all the four cases registered in Karachi. The MNA also faces a sedition case in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s Miranshah. In November 2021, Supreme Court of Pakistan, granted bail to him in one case registered against him at the Sohrab Goth police station, for delivering allegedly inciting speeches at the Karachi rally.
In May, 2021, Sindh High Court granted him bail in a second similar case registered at Sohrab Goth police station. But a third case was filed against him at Karachi’s Shah Latif Town police station as well as other PTM leaders over their alleged hate speech against state institutions. After a court granted bail to Wazir in the third case in July, 2021, police filed a challan against him in a fourth case registered at Boat Basin police station in May 2018.
Despite his long imprisonment, Wazir has stated that it had failed to break his spirit in the least. “A person becomes weak if he believes in a weak ideology, I am proud to say that our ideology believes in humanity,” he claimed in September, 2022. Unfortunately, in the month of June, 2022, National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) also expressed serious concerns over the humiliating treatment of Ali Wazir. In the statement it was mentioned that, Ali Wazir represents South Waziristan’s constituency of 150,000 voters. Since his incarceration, his constituents /voters have lost their voice and representation in parliament.
Further, NCHR condemned the treatment meted out to Ali Wazir at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre Karachi. Photographs circulating on social media are disturbing and violate the dignity of both a citizen and public representative of Pakistan. Wazir has a personal connection with the tragedy of people living in KP. He has lost 17 members of his family at the hands of terrorists and no one took responsibility of the attacks. By sheer luck, Wazir is the survivor of the infamous Kharqamar massacre of May 26, 2019.
Ali Wazir along with fellow Waziristan MNA Mohsin Dawar and hundreds of PTM political supporters were trying to reach a sit-in protest staged by a local tribe against the mistreatment by Pakistan Army. They were stopped at the Kharqamar check-post and when they tried to cross, soldiers opened fire on the protestors. Ali Wazir narrowly escaped but 17 political workers were killed. Ali Wazir was arrested on the spot while Mohsin Dawar surrendered to the security agencies after a few days. This event, known as Kharqamar massacre, was a watershed moment in the PTM anti-war movement.
PTM’s main demands are the recovery of more than a thousand ‘missing’ or ‘disappeared’ persons from the region and an end to the humiliating ethnic profiling of Pashtuns across the country. Pashtuns are often considered “Taliban sympathizers” by the security state, and persecuted for this reason. The PTM has demanded justice and accountability for the economic devastation brought into the lives of Pashtun families, thousands of whom have been internally displaced by the state’s military actions.
Meanwhile, the cases Wazir is charged are registered under Sections 124-A (sedition), 125 (waging war against any power in alliance with Pakistan), 147 (punishment for rioting), 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object), 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot, if rioting be committed; if not committed), 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups etc.), 500 (punishment for defamation), 505 (statement conducing to public mischief) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), read with Section 7 (punishment for acts of terrorism) of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 on behalf of the state.
Moreover, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, Chairman Mehmood Khan Achakzai, in a speech in December 2022, warned of protests across the country if Wazir is not released from the prison. He appealed to the bar associations and members of Parliament to demand Wazir’s release. It redounds to the Sindh government’s shame that it has not asserted itself in the matter, given Wazir is imprisoned in Karachi’s Central Jail. As Achakzai aptly noted, this is the same province where infamous ‘encounter specialist’ Rao Anwar was granted bail and his own house declared a ‘subjail’. The National Assembly secretariat has issued production orders for the MNA only once, when his vote was needed in the no-confidence motion. This nonsensical detention of Wazir must come to an end.
It can be said that in a modern state, protection and welfare of all its citizens, regardless of their ethnicity and political background is the primary and principal responsibility of all its institutions. This is the core of what PTM has set out to attain by enunciating key demands and assembling common Pashtun people to ensure that the Pakistani state fulfils its most rudimentary responsibilities.