School van attack: Swat protesters end 40-hour sit-in after successful negotiations with administration
Family members of a van driver, who was killed in the recent attack on a school bus in Swat's Charbagh tehsil, ended their 40-hour sit-in on Tuesday after successful negotiations with the administration.
The protestors had been demanding the arrest of the culprits behind the attack and warned of marching to Islamabad if authorities failed to meet their demands within 24 hours.
Earlier today, Swat Deputy Commissioner (DC) Junaid Khan reached the protest site with other officials and held talks with the demonstrators.
Haider Ali, a resident of Gulibagh and participant in the protest, told Dawn.com that the sit-in was called off after the administration promised to arrest the culprits soon and took up custody of the deceased’s children.
"The deputy commissioner has promised a shuhada package for the heirs of the driver. He also said that the security of Swat will be beefed up and arrangements will be made to avoid such terror activities in the future."
Ali added that the investigation of the attack will be shared with a five-member committee formed by the protesters.
After this, the protesters offered final prayers of the deceased.
The attack on Monday, which left the van driver dead and two students injured, was the latest in a series of incidents of violence that have gripped the valley in recent days, prompting citizens to take to the streets against the rising tide of insurgency.
According to Rescue 1122 officials, the van was taking students to a school in Gulibagh area of the Charbagh tehsil when unidentified assailants, riding on a motorcycle, had opened fire. The driver was killed on the spot, while two students were moved to the hospital after sustaining injuries.
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Locals have blamed the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan for the attack, but the group has denied responsibility. Any other organisation has also not claimed responsibility so far.
Meanwhile, protests that erupted following the incident on Monday continued for the second consecutive day today.
A sit-in was staged on the main Kalam-Swat road blocking the artery for traffic.
Abdul Hamid, a resident of Swat who was participating in the sit-in, said, "We spent the entire night under the open sky, continuing the protest." He reiterated the call for taking the perpetrators of the attack to task and ensuring peace in the region.
He outlined the protesters' demands, saying that the van driver's killers should be arrested and perpetrators unmasked while the government should take measures to control the "growing militant activities" in the district.
Mingora city, too, echoed with slogans of “no more terrorism and we demand peace from the state” as hundreds of people took to the streets demanding justice.
The protest, which was organised by the Swat Olasi Pasoon, was attended by thousands of people, including civil society members, students, teachers, lawyers, doctors, transporters, and the youth.
Jamaat-e-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmed, who was also in attendance, said that every citizen of Pakistan had the constitutional right to a "safe life protected by the state".
"But unluckily, despite having a huge budget for the defense, the state has completely failed to ensure peace."
PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen said that it was ironic that in the presence of the security forces Taliban managed to enter Swat, and once again, target killings and fake encounters were being carried out.
"The people of Swat have already witnessed bloodshed. Children have seen their fathers’ dead bodies. The people of Swat were disgraced on check posts earlier in 2007, 2008, and 2009. The people of Swat were displaced, and their properties were destroyed and ruthlessly killed,” he said, adding that peace returned in 2009 and till 2022, durable peace prevailed.
“It is questionable that in a wink of an eye the situation turned into chaos where despite the presence of a large number of security forces, Taliban entered and started sabotaging peace,” he added.
While the sit-ins continued, private schools in several parts of Swat remained closed in an expression of protest.
The Private School Management Association (PSMA) had announced that they would keep schools in the district closed on Tuesday and participate in a civil society protest at Nishat Chowk.
According to PSMA Executive Secretary Nisar Ahmed, around 1,200 schools remained closed in Swat on Tuesday.
It was also reported that students and teachers walked out of classes, calling for peace in the region.
“People are angry,” school principal Ahmad Shah told AFP on Monday, when 2,000 teachers and students walked out of classes in protest. “Students from all the private schools came out to protest," he added.
Monday's incident has brought back memories of the attack on Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai on October 9, 2012, who survived a gun attack by the TTP gunmen nearly a decade ago.
Her father, Ziauddin, condemned Monday’s incident, calling it “tragic and alarming” on Twitter.
MNA Mohsin Dawar said that the TTP had announced a shadow government in Swat. "Media is ignoring the protests, how to deal with the TTP should be the main national debate. Yet there is criminal silence on this most serious issue," he tweeted.
In another tweet, he shared a video of today's protests and said that the people of Swat had rejected militancy "loud and clear".
Minister for Climate Change and PPP leader Sherry Rehman strongly condemned Monday's attack. "Such incidents will not be tolerated under any circumstances. We stand with the students protesting against this attack. The criminals involved in this unfortunate incident should be brought to justice as soon as possible."
She vowed that no one would be allowed to challenge the state's writ again in Swat. "The provincial government is requested to make arrangements to prevent such incidents," Rehman added.
Additional input from AFP