Since the rise of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) on the political horizon, those at the helm of affairs, true to the tradition of official response, are once again bent upon discrediting the voice of the aggrieved public. Whether the PTM is a genuine voice of the citizenry or is it a movement in the making against the very integrity of Pakistan, the debate is not yet over. If we existed in an ideal democracy with an ideal governance mechanism, an ideal that has no practical reality though, it would have been quite easier to brand any dissident voice as the voice of the enemy. Far from that, we live in an imperfect world that is beset by the legitimate grievances of the public.
From the state’s viewpoint, the PTM is seen as an extension of India-Afghanistan’s maligning influence in Pakistan. Apparently, in the short run, this understanding stems from the Afghan president’s tweets in support of the PTM. On February 9, Ashraf Ghani, while tracing the history of Pashtun long march in Islamabad back to Bacha Khan’s nonviolence philosophy, tweeted: “I fully support the historical Pashtun Long March in Pakistan. The main purpose of which is to mobilise citizens against fundamentalism and terrorism in the region”.
On a journalist’s query regarding any foreign elements behind the PTM, the Director General Inter-Services Public Relations, in his media briefing on March 28, responded: “For the last 10 to 15 years, the war we have fought against terrorism, the trigger (for terrorism) was essentially from Afghanistan. The PTM is getting its most support from Afghanistan.” What is missing in the state’s response is the making of a rational sense about the essence of the PTM.
The underlying reason behind the rise of the PTM is the slow accumulation of miseries on the part of Pashtuns from Fata, especially South and North Waziristan, for the last one and half decade. The residents of the two tribal agencies mainly bore the brunt of Taliban rule in the hinterland, numerous military operations, drone attacks and internal displacement. As a result, it is not the irony of history but the fact that it is the very Mehsuds, Wazirs and Dawars of the South and North Waziristan Agencies who are the leading figures of the Pashtun rights movement. Going by tribe, Manzoor Pashteen is himself a Mehsud, Ali is Wazir and Mohsin is Dawar to name a few main leaders of the PTM.
Seemingly, there are three reasons for the active participation of the otherwise ‘integrated’ Pashtuns from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Karachi and elsewhere in the movement.
First, like their brethren from Fata, these Pashtuns have also incurred losses both in men and material in the form of hundreds of bomb attacks, suicide blasts and shifting of businesses from their native lands to elsewhere in the country, all miseries though not on a sheer scale as in the case of Fata residents.
Second, these Pashtuns are not as integrated as they are believed to be. On integration at the state level, one may hardly find any Pashtun officer in the policy making circles of the military bureaucracy. Similarly, at the level of society, one observes the dwindling of avenues for the ethnicity’s stakes in businesses in the country not only because of insecure environment and kidnapping for ransom in the Pashtun populated areas but also as a consequence of the arbitrary association of Pashtun ethnicity with terrorism.
In his many speeches, Manzoor Pashteen has been taking strong exception to objectifying Pashtuns as terrorists in official documentaries, songs and mock terror exercises staged in the width and breadth of the country, a concern widely shared by the Pashtuns in the country.
Third, social media has helped intensify ethnic consciousness among Pashtuns thanks to the state’s imperious policy in Fata after the fall of Taliban in Afghanistan. A Pashtun in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan may not necessarily be as aggrieved as his brethren in Fata but the former is well aware of the latter’s ordeal while using social networking websites mainly Facebook. It is through social media that the PTM has helped Pashtuns transform from their rural based, localised and primordialist identities into their nationalistic manifestations. They take pride in their being Pashtun rather than being Achakzai, Kakar and Tareen to identify themselves with their co-ethnicists of Wazir, Mehsud and Dawar.
Led by Mehsud, Wazir and Dawar youths, the PTM is a rights movement demanding equality of rights, as enshrined in the constitution, for oppressed Pashtuns in general and Fata residents in particular within the ambit of Pakistani federation. Reading in Ghani’s tweets a trespass on Pakistan’s internal issues might make some sense from the perspective of realpolitik but blowing the Afghan president’s thoughts out of proportion would be equivalent to discrediting an indigenous movement that has no stimulus from the outside.
On ground, the state response has been informed by a mix of accommodation and oppression. Mending behaviour at security check posts, the initiation of demining in the North and South Waziristan, the release of some 200 persons by the security agencies and the appearance of Rao Anwar before the Supreme Court are all evidences of state authorities being on the right side of history. Heavy-handed tactics, ranging from the registration of FIRs against the PTM activists, allegedly threatening phone calls to them from unknown numbers and branding the movement as ‘anti-state’ will only make matters more complicated.
A groundswell of public indignation is gathering momentum and it should not be allowed to fester. For the state, the more rational course to help the PTM peter out peacefully would be conceding to the legitimate demands of its citizenry. In the context of Pakistan, our marginalised communities have, at times, been vulnerable to help from either state actors or have alternatively relied on transnational networks to survive because the state has, at times, miserably failed to fulfill its constitutional obligations to protect the rights of its citizenry!