By Imtiaz Wazir-The Pashtun Takhafuz (Protection) Movement—a rapidly growing and most popular civil rights movement continued to test Pakistan’s tolerance for democratic disagreement, contradicting with those officially held with a massive public demonstration that drew more than 20 thousand protesters to Karachi on May 13. Despite the surety of a peaceful demonstration, paramilitary and police forces in Karachi had tried to thwart the civil rights movement’s protest, sent the movement’s activists behind bars and torture cells, labeling it a terrorist group and accusing its leadership of conduct inciting people to rebel against the disputed and pro-terror state of Pakistan, practically serving as “Punjabistan”.
The PTM has shaken Pakistan’s military establishment with its struggle to seek justice for ethnic Pashtuns—second largest ethnicity in Pakistan that has been suffering worst under the unauthorized occupation of Pakistan, since day first and subjected to years of abuse, racial discrimination and genocide at the hands of the country’s notorious security institutions under the guise of so-called military operations against the Pakistani Taliban and other terrorist outfits, roaming freely across the country and use its soil for terrorist and destructive activities beyond its disputed borders. However, all the minor and major military operations across FATA and Malakand Division had resulted in sufferings to the innocent Pashtuns and more strength and space to terrorist groups—serving as strategic assets of the country.
The Pashtun Takhafuz Movement’s realistic and popular approach against the powerful military establishment of Pakistan has countered the official narrative, which lauds the security forces as being responsible for a hard-earned peace in a country which generates and exports all kinds of terrorism around the region and globe.
Although the Pashtun Takhafuz Movement is not yet banned, but its activists and leadership have been threatened or detained by the security wings of the country. Harassment of PTM activists, registering cases against the movement’s leadership and threatening calls from the country’s intelligence agencies is a matter of day today. Pakistan’s Army Chief, Gen. Bajwa indirectly condemned the movement’s protests and termed it as engineered by foreign powers. The military establishment asserted pressure on media outlets to not cover the PTM’s events in order to dampen support for the movement. However, social media makes easy its job and the international media has been covering its events very honestly.
The PTM has staged successful demonstrations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA, Baluchistan, Lahore and the 13th May protest returned the focus to Karachi, where extra-judicial killing and forcefully disappearances of Pashtuns and other small ethnicities is a profitable business for the country’s security forces.
After Years of Pashtun wrath over the unchecked brutalities and terrorism of the country’s security forces across the Pashtun belt in Pakistan, the Pashtun Takhafuz Movement found its spark in January after the extra-judicial killing of an aspiring model, Naqeebullah Mehsud who belonged to South Waziristan, by a notorious police officer, Rao Anwar in Karachi—a city famous for violence, ethnic tension, land grabbing and kidnapping. The police officer labeled him as a terrorist in a bid to stage a fake shootout to cover up the extrajudicial killings. The culprit, Rao Anwar—a police chief in Karachi regularly talked to the print and electronic media of the country about what he called antiterrorism operations in Karachi city. But the Pashtun Takhafuz Movement and independent human rights groups said that the so-called operations were mostly illegal and singled out innocent Pashtuns, urdu and sindhi speaking Sindhis and Baloch as well. After mounting pressure by the PTM, the country’s security agencies provided Rao with safe havens in Islamabad and Rawalpindi where from he tried to dictate the Supreme Court through his defunct letters. Finally, the security establishment had forced to present Rao before the court and is currently enjoying luxury life in custody awaiting trial. But the detention of the culprit has not appeased the PTM. At the first demonstration in Karachi since the killing in January, chants of “Justice for Naqeeb” soon became calls for “Justice for Pashtuns.” In the days and nights before the public protest, PTM activists made visits to the Pashtun areas across the city to muster grass-roots support for the demonstration. A number of PTM activists told PashtoonNews that their childhoods in FATA were marred by the ongoing Pakistani-state sponsored terrorism and chaos as their villages and bazaars were razed to ground and the entire population has been sandwich between the Pakistan’s military and its war proxies, adding until PTM, the people of FATA were too scared to speak up as they understand the immense risk involved in challenging the country’s military establishment, but the popular support to PTM jolted and energized them and others. “After the extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah that gave birth to Pashtun spring in Pakistan, We believe our blood is not cheaper than mineral water,” they said. Much of the Pashtun population in Karachi has been migrated from the Tribal Regions, called FATA—an integral part of Afghanistan that had created as a buffer zone between Afghanistan and the British India by the late British Imperialism after the unauthorized Durand Line in 1893. The ongoing deceitful military operations in FATA have forced many in the local population of FATA evacuate the areas and flee to urban centers in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, not only FATA, but the entire Pakistan has been turned into hell and slaughter house for them. Pakistan under the name of military operation, “Raddul Fassad” declared all Pashtuns and Afghan refugees, including the nationalist Baloch and Sindhis as Fassad for Pakistan. Crackdown against them is underway. Many among the participants of the Karachi demonstration, including Baloch and Sindhi families said they had family members who have been forcefully disappeared by the country’s security agencies and they carried posters with photographs of the missing ones. One of the main demands of PTM is the presence of missing persons before the courts and information about their whereabouts. The Pashtun Takhafuz Movement leadership says attempts to thwart the demonstration are particularly strong in Karachi. Dozens were detained by the police and paramilitary forces after openly supporting the PTM. Karchi police registered over 150 cases against the PTM activists in the days before the protest, including some of its top organizers, like Gul Marjan, Hashim khan and Arman Loni on charges of sedition, terrorism and uncontrolled public meetings. But the PTM was able to stage its demonstration in the presence of dozens of security forces personnel. Saroop Ijaz, a representative for Human Rights Watch in Pakistan said the Pashtun Protection Movement was not banned but not afforded the same leeway as other political parties or organizations in the country left the movement in limbo.
“There is clearly confusion caused by this dual policy of simultaneously granting permission and cracking down,” Mr. Ijaz said.
That dual and anti-Pashtun policy could be noticed in the hindrances faced by the PTM leader, Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen, who had an eventful few days as he started traveling to Karachi. Pashteen was turned away from two different airports and stopped at checkpoints more than 360 times on his way to Karachi. When he finally arrived at the protest, hours after he was scheduled to speak, he took to the stage as activists chanted “What kind of freedom is this?” and “Behind terrorism are men in uniform.” Addressing the crowded demonstration, Manzoor Pashteen remained angry and defiant. “If Pakistan’s security forces kill us now, we will die with our heads high,” he said. “We will die with some dignity.” Moreover, Mr. Pashteen emphasized on Pashtun unity against the state oppression and Pakistani-state sponsored terrorism on Pashtun soil. He also urged the Baloch and Sindhi leadership to be organized to constitute a joint alliance against the joint enemy in order to pull our historic nations out of state terrorism and its unauthorized occupation. The separatist elements among the Pashtun, Baloch and Sindh have repeatedly urged the US-led international community to come to the fore and be aligned with the suppressed nations and liberate them from Pakistan to win war on terror and establish lasting peace and stability in the region.
The writer is a former central chairman of Pakhtun Students Federation, living in exile in Kabul and struggling for national freedom from Pakistan.