Escalating Pashtun Protest
Braving heavy odds, people overcome fear to fight for their rights
Western Pakistan is astir more vociferously than ever in the current millennium with the steady advance of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) - Movement for the Protection of Pashtuns - that seeks solutions related to the Pashtun question in a centripetal way. This unequivocal stance silences those who misinterpret the Pashtun struggle for autonomy as centrifugal or externally inspired. Ever since the 26-year old civil rights activist Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen emerged as a main voice of PTM from February, the focus is on protests to put an end extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, racial profiling, and harassment of Pashtuns in a systematic way. Pashtuns, the second-largest ethnic group in Pakistan – disdainfully termed as 'Pathans by the British colonialism – account for 20 per cent of 207 million Pak population. The PTM also demands demining in the insurgency-wreaked Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). In fact, when the Mehsud Tahafuz Movement was founded in 2014 (four years before the birth of PTM) its only demand was removal of land mines planted by the defence forces during their counter-insurgency operations against the Talibans who were hostile to Pakistan. But those land mines have been killing and maiming innocent people.
Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University; Visiting Professor Government College University; and, Honorary Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore., supports the PTM whose emergence is hailed by the eminent political scientist as "an indication that Pashtuns are fed up of extremism and terrorism. Once again, they are adhering to non-violent means and methods to protest their grievances. The Pakistani Constitution permits such action, and it is perfectly legitimate according to all canons of civilised politics. They can serve as a role model for peacefully protesting injustice for the Baloch and others who have similar complaints about the way they are treated in Pakistan". While agreeing that the state has legitimate task to curb all threats to its security and integrity, "if credible evidence exists of such activity in the Pashtun territories", the culprits may be arrested and be tried in a court of law. But Prof Ahmed appeals to the concerned to work towards integration of all parts of Pakistan into "an effective federation where substantial autonomy to the provinces should be combined with an effective centre applying the same standards and policies and laws everywhere so that Pakistan can evolve as a coherent federation" This view concurs with the PTM leadership's. The PTM's four-point agenda comprises clearing of landmines in Waziristan, locating the missing persons and producing them (if convicted of crime, they may be treated according to legal dictum, but otherwise be acquitted and released), imposition of curfew only after the manifestation of any unfavorable event in the territory of tribal areas and a dead stop to all extrajudicial killings.
But the national media, especially Urdu, indulges in inspired journalism adopting manipulative stances to demean the worth of the PTM and its cause. There has been an undeclared censorship of coverage of news on PTM sit-ins. On the contrary, the official version which often suppresses and concocts facts is prominently vented or telecast. The PTM defeated the reluctant media and covertly forced it to give up the motive of spiking news about the refurbished Pashtun offensive. Actually, when political celebrities Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam president Maulana Fazal Rehman appeared on the stage of PTM their support, the media gave coverage to the sit-in agitation
Pashteen entered the scene after the extra-judicial killing of the young businessman and aspiring model Naqibullah Mehsud by an infamous police officer, Rao Anwar last January in Karachi. It generated such a nationwide anger among educated Pakistanis that the police authorities could not side with him, more so due to snubbing by the judiciary. In an interview to Radio Free Afghanistan, Pashteen emphasised that the objective of PTM's campaign is to impress upon Islamabad to address their concerns within the laws and constitution of Pakistan." Our struggle is to seek justice for the crimes committed during the war here [during the past 15 years]. We were victims of the conflict during this time when the state was culpable of creating and sustaining a war-like situation. We are seeking justice for the crimes and wrongs committed during this time".
The youthful PTM chief lambasted the Pak minister of state for Frontier Regions, Ghalib Khan, who told the Voice of America that most PTM demands have been met with demining and some prisoners being released." They are lying. They only arrested Rao Anwar [a police officer accused of killing aspiring model Naqeebuallah Mehsud due to public pressure. Otherwise, they protect murderers". True, the clearing landmines in South Waziristan tribal district of FATA began with an apparent gusto, widely publicised through photo sessions, but subsequently slowed down. "Demining has not begun in other tribal districts", Pashteen pointed out. PTM is "is a collective national movement of Pashtuns. We have people from all walks of life and all political parties supporting us. We have received overwhelming support from the masses", he asserted.
PTM has removed fear from the hearts of the common people all over in expressing themselves or fighting for their rights. IPA
(The views expressed
are strictly personal)