Can Pakistan Ignore Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement…?

Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) has globally caught the imagination of the modern world and the values it stands for. The demands of PTM are nothing beyond nominal basic human rights which always have been severely impinged by the ‘haves’ in Pakistan. PTM once more exposes the brutalities of the Pakistan Army…

Shailesh Kumar, National Defence
New Delhi, 14 May 2018

The story of Pashtuns

The story of Pakistan’s Pashtuns is one of heartaches and years and years of injustice and humiliation. The ethnic minority has been facing state oppression and human rights abuses for decades. The stories of Pashtuns are sons missing for years, fathers who never came back, homes being destroyed and children maimed in minefields. These are tormenting stories beyond the generations of wails of widows and sad wrinkles of fathers. It’s a tragedy of tragedies in the modern world. 

The Pashtuns have long been caught in the fight between the military and the militants. Since the Afghan war of 2001, Pashtun immigrants have lived a life of poverty, neglect and destitute never knowing when the next bullet might kill them or one of them might be taken away adding to the list of thousands missing. In the Pakistani military’s quest to weed out militancy from Pashtun areas, they’ve been killing Pashtun civilians.

The Furore

The all powerful Pakistan army’s blatant violation of human rights, their discriminatory laws and practices against Pashtuns set the stage for unrest and protests. The rallies orchestrated by the PTM had huge nationwide participation, especially from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Deep echoes of the song ‘Da sang azadi da’ (‘where is freedom’) reverberates as families of missing persons hold placards and banners demanding justice for their loved ones.

While the PTM is based on deep-rooted seeds of resentment, it sparked into an uprising following the extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in January. The uprising was fuelled by the extrajudicial killing of Naqibullah Mehsud, a young Pashtun man from South Waziristan, who was killed in January by a police officer named Rao Anwar in Karachi. This prompted a long march to the capital a couple of weeks later. If the Pashtun protests have taught us anything, it’s that they’ve had enough of the Pakistani Taliban and the military, enough of the repression and the endless cycle of innocent lives being taken away.

PTM has its young leader, Manzoor Pashteen, who is now a household name. Manzoor Pashteen is a 26-year-old human rights activist from Waziristan, who is ready to lock his horns with the state and the all-powerful Pak Army. Pashteen is committed and as said; he won’t let the ‘Pashtuns be tissue papers that the Pakistani state uses – and then throws away.’

Manzoor Pashteen in a Rally
Manzoor Pashteen in a rally  

PTM has held massive rallies in Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar and now in Karachi. Their major demands include establishment of a judicial commission to investigate extrajudicial killings, presenting missing persons in court, release of innocents, lifting of curfew in FATA, stopping torture of locals and clearance of mines.


Women displaying photos of missing and killed
Women displaying photos of missing and killed

The government’s response to the peaceful demonstrations has been nothing short of despotic. They have responded to the protests with show of force, malicious propaganda, crackdown, banning rallies, blacking out media and harassing PTM supporters.

From Shadows to a Storm

Pashtuns are mostly concentrated in FATA, an arc along Pakistan’s western border with Afghanistan. Pashtuns in FATA live under colonial-era laws that punish an entire tribe for the crime of an individual, forcibly relocating people and have their property searched and seized, and deny people access to courts to enforce their rights. That is a different story that other minority communities in Pakistan also undergo inhuman treatment of minority communities and the torture isn’t limited to the Pashtuns. Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws have caused the deaths of scores of people. Christians and other minority groups are often killed on charges of blasphemy. Often the laws are used to settle personal scores and have little or nothing to do with religion.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), in its annual report, said the country witnessed an increase in blasphemy-related violence and mob attacks in 2017. Human Rights Watch (HRW) have called for the Pakistani government ‘to end its longstanding discriminatory laws and practices against Pashtuns and act to end hostile attitudes toward them.’ What Pashtuns are demanding is simple, equal rights and an end to the discrimination they’ve faced for over a decade. And until these demands are met, the anger that has been simmering for years’ will be on a boil.

Pashtun cap has become symbol of mass resistance
Pashtun cap has become symbol of mass resistance

Rallies of PTM has galvanised more than 15% of Pak population, has put the establishment and the Deep State in a panic situation. Multiple checks, cancellation of transports, denial of venues, arrests, threats to its leaders, flooding rally venues with sewage water, media blackouts have failed to prevent the protestors. Social media has lapped it up and the storm is gathering at a fierce speed. More and more people of all ages, sex are joining PTM. The Pashtun cap has emerged as a symbol of mass resistance.

What is in Store for Pakistan?

With their blood on their hands, can Pak justify its hollow claims of excesses in Kashmir? PTM just brings out the brutality of Pak Army on its own population. With dubiousity, brutality, duplicity exposed; Pak is surely staring into it’s yet another existential threats.

Obviously Deep State has launched its propaganda to dub PTM as ‘anti-Pakistan,’ as that it refuses to see the truth. Hence the Pashtun protest movement is being trivialised – just as Baloch nationalism has been for decades – as anti-Pakistan.

One thing is for sure that PTM shall redefine Pakistan’s idea of nationalism. The unyielding, Islam-obsessed, anti-India only just furthering narrow sectarian ideas is in for a shock this time. One is sanguine that the pluralistic idea of a Pakistani society may emerge which embraces multi-ethnic, multi-religious existence and is not under the crushing weight of the Punjabi hegemony.

Can Pakistan afford to ignore PTM?

Pakistan has learnt its lessons well in 1971 by ignoring a minority voice and must remain alive to it. Geography being in favour of Pakistan unlike in 1971, yet too many centrifugal forces may together implode the very idea of Pakistan. PTM is a storm gathering too fast and is too furious.

Sadly, instead of being conscientious, Pakistan still is wearing the tyranny on its sleeves.

national defence editor and promoter

Shailesh Kumar is an independent journalist with over 15 years of experience in crime, political and defence reporting for leading media brands including Star News, India TV and NewsX. He is the founder editor of defence and security news portal and web channel, National Defence.

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