Ali Wazeer, a central committee member of The Struggle group, has won a seat in the national parliament with 23,530 votes on July 25. His closest rival for the seat, from a religious alliance, got only 7515.
A key leader of the Pashtun Tahafaz Movement (PTM), Wazeer was one the organisers of the mass meetings organised in major cities that demanded fair compensation to the victims of the “war on terror”. This campaign also demanded the release of all “missing” persons, or else that they be tried in court.
Two other PTM leaders contested seats for the national parliament. One, Muhsin Dawer, was also elected after a close race.
That two PTM leaders have won seats in the new parliament has given hope to many that at least the voices of the people will be heard in a parliament dominated by feudal lords, corrupt capitalists and stooges of the military and judicial establishment.
Who is Ali Wazeer?
Wazeer is a very special person. His personal ordeal best illustrates what prompted his demands.
Wazeer was pursuing a degree in law at the turn of the century when his hometown, Wana, became the epicentre of global terrorism when a host of Taliban-allied groups sought shelter there.
Ultimately, the state failed to prevent them from using the territory. When his father, the chief of the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe, and other local leaders complained of their presence, government officials ignored and silenced them. Instead, Islamabad spent years denying the presence of any Afghan, Arab or Central Asian militants.
By 2003, the militants had established a foothold in South and North Waziristan tribal agencies and were attempting to build a local emirate. Wazeer’s elder brother Farooq Wazir, a local political activist and youth leader, became the first victim of a long campaign in which thousands of Pashtun tribal leaders, activists, politicians, and clerics were killed with near absolute impunity. Their only crime was to question or oppose the presence of dangerous terrorists in our homeland.
In 2005, Ali Wazeer was in prison when his father, brothers, cousins, and an uncle were killed in a single ambush. He was there because a draconian colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulations law holds an entire tribe or region responsible for the crimes of an individual or any alleged crime committed in the territory.
Wazeer had committed no crime, never got a fair trial, and was not sentenced, yet was prevented from joining the funerals for his family.
In subsequent years, six more members of our extended family were assassinated. The authorities have not even investigated these crimes.
Wazeer and his family faced economic ruin after all of the notable men in his family were eliminated. The government failed to prevent militants from demolishing his family-owned gas stations. His family-owned apple and peach orchards in Wana were sprayed with poisonous chemicals.
After the demolition, the government prevented the local community — mostly members of our Ahmadzai Wazir tribe — from collecting donations to help them. They were told it would set an unacceptable precedent because the government cannot let anyone help those it punishes.
All up, 16 members of Wazeer’s family were killed by the Taliban during these years.
Recently Wazeer toured the country and organised mass rallies in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Swat. Lahore Left Front hosted the public meeting in the city, but it was not formally permitted by the authorities. The Left Front was not allowed to spread publicity about the event, Wazeer and seven others were arrested the night before, but were released after protests. More than 10,000 took part in the event.
In an interview in April, Wazeer said: “The past few months have transformed my life. Amid the agonies I have endured and the threats, suspicion, and accusations I face, the love, support, and respect I receive is overwhelming.
“Since February, when we began protesting to draw attention to the suffering of ethnic Pashtuns — among the worst victims of terrorism — I have learned a lot about the potential of ordinary Pakistanis. Their thirst for change is inspiring and heralds a peaceful, prosperous future we must build for generations to come.”
During those difficult years, he didn’t lose faith in the mass movement and remained committed to the politics of class struggle. He ran in the parliamentary elections in 2008 and 2013.
In 2013 general elections, his victory was changed into a defeat at gunpoint. He lost the election by just over 300 votes after the Taliban intimidated voters and tortured his supporters and campaign volunteers.
Amid the volcano of violence, thousands of civilians have disappeared and fallen victim to extrajudicial killings. The leaders of PTM are profiled as suspected terrorists across the country, face humiliation at security check posts, and innocent civilians face violence during security sweeps and operations.
As the world’s largest tribal society, the Pashtuns are known for their hospitality, commitment and valour. Yet they are falsely accused as terrorist sympathisers despite the fact that they are their biggest victims.
In the election campaign, Wazeer addressed several meetings each day, and went door to door, despite his meagre resources. Thousands cheered him at all times. We were sure he would win, but were afraid of any incident that could cancel the elections.
Wazeer has opened the gates for the entire left. He is loved by most social activists, one who is always down to earth in his presentation in workers’ meeting but speaks like a lion when addressing the ruling class. He is a fearless class fighter who has emerged as the one of the most respected Left leaders in recent working class history.
[Farooq tariq is a spokesperson for the Awami Workers Party.]