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Pashtun protests expose human rights abuses under Pakistani visa rules

Khyber Institute's Executive Director and Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) representative in Europe, Fazal Ur Rehman Afridi (Photo: ANI)

Khyber Institute’s Executive Director and Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) representative in Europe, Fazal Ur Rehman Afridi, has raised concerns about the ongoing protests by Pashtuns against the stringent visa regulations imposed by the Pakistani government.

Afridi, who has been participating in the 56th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, has asserted that these regulations violate international law and severely impact the social, economic, and financial well-being of the Pashtun people.

“For the last 8 months, the Pashtuns have been protesting against the strict visa regulations of the government of Pakistan, which is in violation of international law. The people living in the vicinity, in the border areas, and especially along the controversial Durand Line, have families, businesses, and social connections on both sides,” Afridi said.

“Restricting such people is going to affect the Pashtun people very badly economically, socially, and financially,” the Pashtun activist said while speaking to ANI.

Afridi highlighted the violent responses of the Pakistani government and military to peaceful protests.

PTM representative said, “For the last month, the Pashtuns have been protesting and have organised a sit-in in Chaman. But instead of listening to the grievances of Pashtun people, especially the PTM, the Pakistani government and its military are attacking the protesters and citizens. They have systematically attacked the sit-in several times and recently killed a 15-year-old boy. More than 200 Pashtun leaders have been forcibly disappeared by Pakistani military forces. Over 100 were injured.”

“This is a violation of international law and against our basic fundamental rights: our right to peaceful assembly and our right to freedom of expression,” he said.

Last year, the Pakistani government decided that only those with valid passports and visas would be allowed to cross the Chaman border crossing.

Previously, Pakistanis and Afghans could cross the border with their respective identity cards.

The shift to stringent document requirements has disrupted the lives of locals, leaving hundreds of Pashtuns encamped outside the Friendship Gate, the authorised border crossing between Chaman and the Afghan district of Spin-Boldak, in protest against the one-document regime.

Afridi accused the Pakistani military of extrajudicial killings and targeting innocent civilians under the pretext of operations against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Al Qaeda.

He urged the international community, particularly the United Nations, to protect the basic fundamental rights of the Pashtun people against the Pakistani military, which he accused of gross human rights violations against various ethnic minorities, including the Baloch, Sindhis, and Kashmiris.

“Over 200,000 houses of Pashtuns have been destroyed, 25,000 shops have been demolished, and 80,000 Pashtuns have been killed in the Army operation called Zarb-e-Azb,” Afridi stated.

He said, “We have protested against it, but the Pakistan Army has joined hands with TTP and re-settled their families in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Now, the Pakistani army is announcing operations in which the Pashtuns are going to suffer. Pakistan’s economy is a war economy, either waging war inside the country or continuing proxy wars against others. Pashtuns have been facing genocide for the past 20 years, and it will see a sudden rise. We want to inform the international community, especially regional powers, to interfere and protect the Pashtuns.”

Fazal Ur Rehman Afridi called for international attention to the plight of the Pashtuns, Baloch, Sindhis, and Kashmiris.

“The historical nations have no relevance in this country. They have realised that the right of self-determination is the only way forward. We request the international community to help us as we are being tortured, facing enforced disappearances, and our businesses are being destroyed. Terrorism is on the rise in Pakistan, and it continues to carry out genocide of the Baloch, Pashtuns, Sindhis, and Kashmiris,” Afridi concluded.