DERAISMAILKHAN, Pakistan (Reuters) – A Pakistani lawmaker who escaped a deadly clash between the military and activists over the weekend was arrested on Thursday after surrendering to authorities, according to an elder in his constituency that borders Afghanistan.
The military accuses Mohsin Dawar and another member of parliament of being involved in an assault on a security post in the volatile North Waziristan region, but activists say soldiers opened fire on unarmed people who were gathering to protest heavy-handed treatment by the security forces.
The military said three people were killed in the violence, but the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), which was co-founded by Dawar and campaigns for civil rights for ethnic minority Pashtun people, said troops killed 13 civilians.
Videos circulated on social media appear to show unarmed protesters arguing with soldiers and breaching a barbed-wire barricade placed on a road, before gunfire sends activists running for cover.
The violence is the most serious incident in a long-running confrontation between the authorities and the PTM, which has vowed to remain non-violent. Human rights groups have called for an inquiry into the incident.
The military has accused the PTM of being funded by foreign intelligence agencies – a veiled reference to arch-foe India and its Afghan allies – to stoke unrest in Pakistan’s Pashtun lands after the Pakistani army defeated Islamist militants there.
The PTM denies foreign links and says it is a grassroots movement.
Dawar, who went into hiding after the clash, surrendered to authorities after talks between the government and a traditional council of Pashtun elders, according to one of the elders involved.
“Mohsin told us he himself that he’s a lawyer, and he wants to face all the allegations in court,” the elder, Malik Nasrullah, told Reuters.
Police and security sources in the region confirmed that Dawar has been detained, presented in front of a counter-terrorism court and was being questioned.
Ali Wazir, the other lawmaker from the Waziristan region, was arrested at the time of the incident, in which the military said five soldiers were wounded.
Both parliamentarians are prominent in the PTM and have been fierce critics of the military over alleged human rights abuses.
Pashtuns live in northwest Pakistan and southeast Afghanistan, divided by a colonial-era border that Afghanistan has never recognised.
On Thursday, New York-based Human Rights Watch called for a prompt, transparent, and impartial investigation into the violence.
(Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in PESHAWAR; Writing by Drazen Jorgic)