By Asif Shahzad
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Human rights groups have called on Pakistan to investigate the killing of three people by the military during a protest by ethnic minority Pashtun people against heavy-handed treatment by the security forces.
The army said its troops exchanged fire with protesters on Sunday when they assaulted a security post in the northwest, near the Afghan border. The protesters were complaining about the mistreatment of a woman by soldiers.
The violence is the most serious incident in a long-running confrontation between the authorities and the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), which campaigns for civil rights for the Pashtun people.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said it was alarmed by the use of military force and called for a parliamentary commission to investigate.
“The Pakistani government should immediately order an independent and effective investigation into the reported killing of at least three activists,” the rights group Amnesty International said in a statement.
The army said 10 protesters and five soldiers were wounded. The PTM said 30 people were wounded.
Pashtuns live in northwest Pakistan and southeast Afghanistan, divided by a colonial-era border that Afghanistan has never recognised.
The military has accused the PTM of being funded by foreign intelligence agencies – a veiled reference to old rival India and its Afghan allies – to stoke unrest in Pakistan’s Pashtun lands after the Pakistani army defeated Islamist militants there.
The PTM rejects the accusation, saying it is a grassroots movement working for the rights of Pashtun people, who it says suffered through years of conflict between the security forces and Islamists.
Two Pashtun members of parliament were at the protests and one was arrested and the other wounded.
“They were shooting at everyone,” the wounded politician, Mohsin Dawar, said in a video posted on social media.
“They opened fire on us from behind. We saw that people were collapsing around us.”
(Additional Reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar; Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Robert Birsel)