By Farzana Shah
While calling for balancing the national security paradigm and fundamental human rights, back in 2018, I wrote that regardless of the true nature of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), the only plausible option for the State of Pakistan was to embrace these people and engage them through public dialogue, both locally and at national media forums. At that time many (including me), demanded that the government should engage PTM, hoping that a genuine PTM leadership and an amenable solution may emerge through the dialogue or else the PTM shall stand exposed and whoever is prompting them to instigate ethnic clashes in the country, would not only loose its large investment, but also the confidence/ interest in them and their capacity to deliver.
A large segment of Pakistani society irrespective of the ethnicity, including the current ruling PTI supported PTM’s genuine demands despite the fact that the group was maneuvering aggressively using ethnic card. Back then, the head of PTM, Manzoor Pashteen was even invited to military setups and was often seen sitting with high ranking military officials on same tables.
The State at all levels held regular talks with PTM to listen to their genuine grievances and made sincere efforts to resolve the issues and some even at the cost of relaxing security measures like drastic reduction in checkpoints etc. The movement that had gained momentum soon after the killing of Naqibullah Mehsud in a police encounter, however, gradually descended into a particular biased / malafide agenda against Pakistan and its armed forces.
Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement was formally founded as Mehsud Tahafuz Movement (MTM), in 2014 by few students at Gomal University DI Khan, mostly for solving issues of students from tribal areas besides campaigning for demining at one point. In the wake of Naqibulah Mehsud’s death, the movement became proactive, got media attention quickly transforming into a Pashtun Rights Movement, and renamed as PTM.
The socio-economic deprivation that stemmed from long drawn war in Tribal Districts had attracted the tribal youth to PTM cause and slogan of Pashtun rights. The social media further enhanced the audience of PTM, especially its ethnic connotation led to its emergence as a socio-political movement. Led by Manzoor Pashteen, the movement gained popularity in a short span of time due to grassroot level activism, thriving on hashtag trends of social media platforms.
Initially five demands including justice for Naqibullah, reduction in check-posts, missing persons’ recovery, demining in tribal areas, compensation and equal opportunities were made by PTM. Due to genuine initial demands, the movement attracted larger tribal sentiment, was seen holding massive rallies, generally intense, and supported by mainstream elements / media.
Like its rise to fame, PTM’s downfall was also rapid. Increasingly inflammatory language of its leadership against the state institutions and raising of “Lar O Bar” slogan started alienating the movement and was gradually hijacked by fringe elements. Deviating from initial appealing demands, the spectrum of PTM quest for attention kept expanding and mostly revolved around efforts to malign the state and its armed forces. The controversial and unwarranted demands such as immediate withdrawal of armed forces from Waziristan, handing over of mineral resources from government to individuals, international inquiry commission for probing SP Tahir Dawar’s murder, judicial commission, CPEC, National Logistics Cell (NLC) Terminal Issue, abolishing Swat cantonment, opening of border crossings for Afghan trade sans any checking, Truth & Reconciliation Commission, repatriation of Temporarily Displaced Persons (TDPs), etc were made.
This paradigm shift from agenda based to opportunity-based propaganda and using every incident to malign the state gradually alienated PTM from mainstream media lobbies and political groups. The movement for ‘Pashtun rights’ ended up embracing the slogan of ‘Pashtuns versus Punjabistan’, thus exposing its real agenda. Afghan diaspora’s open support to the movement augmenting its protests on social media and overseas, open confrontation with Law Enforcement Agencies on Check-posts which ultimately led to Khar Kamar type incidents, cashing on dead bodies, are some of the factors, that lead to rejection of PTM by common Pashtuns.
Many who were supporting the call for justice for Naqibullah, were taken aback, finding undeniable foreign support for PTM especially from Afghanistan, UK, USA, India, Israel through their respective Hostile Intelligence Agencies. The Sub Nationalist Political patronage from groups such as PkMAP/ ANP, liberals, Marxist groups to PTM for own vested political interests further confirmed doubts about PTM as a hostile proxy rather than a human rights movement.
Afghan government of Ashraf Ghani from the very start is overtly/ covertly supporting PTM, owing to vested interests like Durand line issue, border fencing, etc. Afghan Parliament called on international community to support Manzoor Pashteen’s struggle. Amrullah Saleh and Ashraf Ghani along with various government officials not only hosted PTM leaders in Afghanistan in past, but also regularly tweet in support of PTM.
Afghan students studying in different institutions of Pakistan support PTM on directions of Afghan officials. Afghan diaspora abroad plays a pivotal role in organising PTM protests, funding and is involved at various tiers to keep the PTM alive. Afghan media (Zhwandoon, Hub, Shamshad, Mashal, Deewa) strongly supports PTM and extensively cover all its events. Afghan weekly newspaper “Loy Afghanistan” regularly supports PTM parallel to supporting “Lar O Bar Yao Pakhtunistan”.
Prominent foreign media including VoA, BBC Urdu / Pushto, Deewa, Mashaal, Shamshad and Zhwandoon channel in Afghanistan, Al-Jazeera News (Middle East) NPR News (US based news collection organisation feeding news to 975 radio channels), TOLO (Afghanistan), WION (India), Zee News (India), Radio Liberty (US Funded, Czech based) are seen regularly extending their relentless support to PTM. All these prominent media outlets providing platform to PTM for propaganda, publicity, indicates that the movement, is taken for a ride as a proxy against Pakistan only with a malafide intent instead of any constructive purpose.