PTM in Pakistan: Headache for Imran
| Jaibans Singh - Editor (Defence & Strategic Affairs - IOP) - 09 May 2019

By Jaibans Singh

Chandigarh, May 09, 2019: The Government of Pakistan led by Cricketer turned Politician and now the Prime Minister Imran Khan is facing a new problem in his country. What started as a Mehsud Tahafuz Movement for clearing landmines in Waziristan has become a Pakhtunkhwa wide movement for Pashtun rights. This journey has been a tremendous Rise of Pashtuns in Pakistan.

Pashtuns, who are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan but a minority in Pakistan, have felt neglected and targeted in Pakistan for some time. That long-simmering anger boiled over in January 2018 with the death of Naqeebullah Mehsud, a 27-year-old shopkeeper-turned-model, at police hands in Karachi.

The killing sparked days of protests and a weeks-long march in Pashtun-dominated northwestern Pakistan. It also prompted the establishment of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, or Pashtun Protection Movement, that has since held dozens of rallies across the country demanding basic rights for ethnic Pashtuns.

The movement demands an end to extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, the removal of military checkpoints, and the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission.

It seems that the people of Pakistan are looking for a game changer political leadership. It is so because, for too long now, the Pakistan Army has maintained proxy control over politicians and political parties. It has either ruled through dictatorships or by proxy, as it is doing presently by placing a pliable Imran Khan at the helm of the political spectrum. Such a situation is win-win for the Pakistan Army since it enjoys all authority without responsibility and without facing the flak.

Interestingly, resistance to the iron grip on the country by the Pakistan Army is coming from an unusual source.

In remote, faraway Waziristan, a common citizen, Manzoor Pashteen, in 2018, started a rights-based movement called the “Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM).” PTM has a few demands, related mainly to alleviating the impoverished existence of the tribal belt. Pashtuns mostly occupy the north-western part of the country and have the second largest representation in the Pakistan Army as well.

Pashtuns are a unique ethnic tribal group with a rich history and culture. Pashtuns tribe are residing in mountain terrains of North Western Indian subcontinent and in Afghanistan. There are around 50 million Pashtuns throughout the world, the majority of them residing in their traditional homeland of Pashtunistan (Pakhtunistan) consisting areas from south of Amu Darya to the west of Indus river. They are the largest and most dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan with around 42 – 60% share in total population and are the second largest ethnic group in Pakistan comprising about 15.4% of the population according to a CIA estimate.

It wants an end to mining activity, discrimination, violence by militant groups and most significantly, a complete cap on the horrifying process of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and unlawful detentions. It also wants the perpetrators of human rights violations to be tried under the law within a truth and reconciliation framework.

PTM has openly expressed reservation over the massive presence of the army in the area. According to Daud Khattak a reputed journalist, “A human rights movement from Waziristan is finally bringing the country together to challenge the brass.”

The Pakistan Army, ever conscious of its carefully cultivated and pristine image as the saviour of the nation, has attempted to nip the movement in the bud. It has exerted pressure on the PTM leadership and engineered a complete media ban on coverage to its proceedings. These attempts have failed due to resort to a massive social media information campaign by the activists of the movement.

Visuals of massive rallies and public functions are doing the rounds on multiple social media platforms and all information about the wrong doing by the Army is being shown. 

The matter has reached a level where the Army has been compelled to hold a press conference at the General Headquarter, Rawalpindi, on 29 April. The presser was addressed by Major Gen. Asif Ghafoor, Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (DGISPR) of the Pakistan Army. The General rendered an address for about an hour, starting with the inevitable and elaborate exposition on relations with India. However, as the conference progressed it became obvious that it was the PTM and its activities which were the main topic for the day both for the army as well as the media.

In the course of the meeting Gen. Ghafoor accused PTM and its leadership of waging a “Hybrid War” against the state and receiving funding from Afghan and Indian intelligence agencies.  “But tell us how much money did you get from the NDS (Afghan National Directorate of Security) to run your campaign?” How much money did RAW give you for the first Dharna (sit-in) in Islamabad,” queried the DGISPR rather grandly.

In yet another faux pas’, while replying to a query on missing persons by a journalist Hamid Mir, he  admitted that there were many missing persons in the country, due to internal security operations conducted by the Army. “We also have affection for people of Pakistan but such things happen since everything is fair in love and war, Pakistan Army does not fight on the personal level, it does what is required to be done in national interest,” he said. In culmination, while speaking about PTM, he made a statement, “Their time is up,” which has elicited widespread disgust for its egoistic undertone and inherent viciousness.

His comments, especially on the missing persons, created a twitter storm. “The whole presser was horrendous. But this was the OMG moment. This confession will sink the military image. He is admitting to crime against humanity on television, OMG,” wrote well known journalist, Gul Bukhari, in a tweet after the press conference. 

Gulali Ismail, a well known Human Rights Activist from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa tweeted, “I consider this Press Conference not an attack on PTM, but an attack on the Parliament of Pakistan, an attack on the Democracy of Pakistan and an attack on the Constitution of Pakistan #PTMZindabad.” In fact, there are thousands of tweets on the same line with #PTMZindabad which, by now, must be giving nightmares to the Pakistan Army.

They are also generating debates on the role of social media across the country. It will not come as a surprise if the DGISPR is soon transferred from the post.

The pressure on the Pakistan government has been such that it had to give in to some of the movement’s demands. Firstly, it agreed to no longer impose curfews in the region and promised to develop a mechanism to find the missing persons. Most important of all, the FATA Interim Governance Regulation 2018, signed by the President of Pakistan on May 28, 2018, replaced the FCR and outlined how FATA would be governed, “within a timeframe of two years”, even as the region is merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

However, it is now apparent that the PTM and its leadership are neither impressed with such small steps of the Imran Khan Govt, nor going to be cowed down by the usual pressure tactics of the Pakistan Army based on rising of anti-National, anti-Islam bogeys. These calls for accountability of the actions taken by the Army are going to increase and also envelope other trouble torn areas of the country like Balochistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK).

The political leadership also needs to see the writing on the wall and try to change the narrative of Army control which has caused so much grief to the country. These leaders, while in opposition align with the true aspirations of the people, but change their ideology the moment some kind of support from the Army is forthcoming. Such weakness in the political system has been exploited by the Army all these years, but now the people are raising a voice against the same.

Politicians can survive only if they hold the pulse of the people, so now is the time for the Pakistani leadership to go with the desired change. This cycle of violence perpetrated by the Army and its proxies, the attendant human rights violations, the poverty and lack of empowerment cannot continue for too long now. The first casualty of the changing times will probably be Imran Kan, after which, the people will look for those leaders who have changed with times or will go for a new set of leaders altogether.

Photo Caption (1) - Manzoor Pashteen (center) sitting with landmine victims in Tank, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, at a PTM gathering on the first anniversary of the murder of Naqeebullah Mehsud. Photo Credit: Khestwol, Wikipedia Commons.

Photo Caption (2) - FILE - Manzoor Pashteen, the leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, is seen in this undated photo. Image Credit - voanews.com

(Jaibans Singh is a Geo-political analyst, columnist and author)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Indian Observer Post and Indian Observer Post does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.


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