New Delhi: The relatively unnoticed killing of four leaders of the Baloch and Pashtun movements have rocked the Pakistani activist and dissident community in the country and abroad.
Arif Wazir, a senior leader of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, was shot several times outside his home in Wana in Southern Waziristan Friday. On the same day, Sajid Hussain — an exiled dissident and editor of Balochistan Times — was found dead next to Fyris river in Sweden after he went missing in March. Two other student activists Ihsan Baloch and Shahdad Baloch were also killed in Balochistan over the past week.
Wazir succumbed to his injuries Saturday.
Some critics of the military-intelligence establishment say that the “deep state” — a reference to the all-powerful military-intelligence consensus — has used the cover of the pandemic to kill dissidents and activists since the world is focussed on Covid-19. However, others see these killings as part of the broader problem of exclusion and intolerance in the Pakistani state.
“All these deaths or if you call them, murders, compress into a matter of days the coordinates of all spatio-temporal oppression embedded in exclusionist idea of a country with no ethnic diversity. Their deaths are sobering reminders of the hard path that the struggle for an alternative future is,” wrote Hurmat Ali Shah of the Ryerson University, who researches Pashtun socio-cultural issues.
A suppression of free press in Pakistan over the past year has ensured that these killings received no real coverage in mainstream media, and all collective anger and sorrow was manifested on social media.
“Arif Wazir’s murder is a reminder of the days when hundreds of our elders were martyred. Back then these games had no consequences for Establishment. But now v (we) know the power of unity & protest. This is a long struggle & our martyrs only solidify our resolve #StateKilledArifWazir,” tweeted Mohsin Dawar, one of the two members of the national assembly from the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM).
‘Deep state acting under the shadow of Covid’
Given that these killings are occurring at almost the same time, critics allege that the Pakistani deep state is using the Covid-19 crisis to eliminate the leadership of both the Baloch and Pashtun movements.
“Arif Wazir and Sajid Hussain are both victims of state action but without the state being visible. That is how the military operates in Pakistan — in shadows, without leaving footprints,” Taha Siddiqui, exiled Pakistani journalist and founder of Safenewsrooms, told ThePrint.
The PTM is a peaceful people’s movement that has been demanding rights for the country’s Pashtun population for the past year and a half. Its anti-army and anti-terrorism stances are what have made PTM a target of the Pakistani military establishment, often leading to its leaders being detained and arrested. Meanwhile, the members of Baloch movement have for long been termed as enemies of the state by the Pakistani Army.
“It is very clear given the profiles of the people that they were enemies of the Pakistani state … at least that’s how the deep state perceives them to be,” said Sushant Sareen, senior fellow at Observer Research Foundation and an expert on Pakistan and its terrorism groups.
Wazir was a prominent PTM leader and is the 18th member in his family to have been killed in Waziristan by terrorist groups operating in the region. His cousin Ali Wazir is the second member of the national assembly from the PTM. The Wazir clan has been staunch proponents of Pashtun rights and has fought with local terrorist groups such as the Pakistani Taliban — often resulting in loss of lives.
“Usually these kind of murders lead to first a statement and then an investigation. But when it came to murders in the family of Ali Wazir, there was never a statement made, no investigation was launched, and we have never seen an outcome,” said Xenia Rasul, of Cambridge University.
While there is a history of killings when it comes to the family of Wazir, the mysterious death of Sajid Hussain in a foreign land appears more murky.
“A death of a Pakistani dissident in Sweden would have created a lot of global uproar under ordinary times. But Covid definitely offers you a cover. It gives you the camouflage to take out someone in a foreign land that is not really possible in ordinary times,” said Sareen.
Pakistan’s overseas dissidents live in fear
Hussain’s death coupled with a few more recent events has led to the overseas Pakistani dissident and exiled community increasingly fear for lives.
“The death of an exiled journalist Sajid Hussain in Europe after he mysteriously went missing for 2 months is alarming. Just like me, he left Pakistan because of threats from the army,” said Siddiqui, who is currently living in France.
Hussain apparently went missing in an area populated with Pakistanis who have links to the Pakistan embassy and the drug cartel there, according to a report in Nyazamana.
This, according to Sareen, points to a new trend in how Pakistani authorities are potentially using diaspora assets to harass and intimidate Pakistani dissidents living overseas.
Over the past few months, there have been other instances of Pakistani dissidents being targeted overseas. In February, a Pakistani dissident blogger was attacked outside his home in The Netherlands.
“In the past, Pakistan Army officials, including the former military dictator General Musharraf in a recent interview, have suggested killing dissidents abroad and it seems like they are now putting that plan in action. This is following the Saudi, Chinese, Turkish and Russian playbook,” remarked Siddiqui.