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Editorial: Don’t stifle dissent under duress!

The abrupt arrest of Manzoor Pashteen, leader of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), along with his six colleagues stoked political howls of protest both inside and outside of Pakistan. Pashteen has been accused of “hate speech” and sedition and remanded to judicial custody for 14-days. Surprisingly, the reason cited for the move is him speaking in an insulting manner about Pakistan and refusing to accept the constitution when he has often stressed in his speeches the need to uphold the law. His movement practices nonviolent resistance in order to achieve social change with an aim to seek redressal and put an end to “extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and unlawful detentions,” of Pashtuns. According to PTM, almost 30,000 people from the two states of Pakistan – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan – have gone missing over the past 10 years. Pashteen openly spreads awareness about how the country’s military has trampled on Pashtuns’ constitutional rights. In a country stratocratically-inclined, where few openly challenge the military, Pashteen has become a thorn in the military’s side. Now that the state has finally made its move, how will the PTM respond? Since Pashteen has led the movement, no violence has taken place. But now the question is will his supporters show the same discipline? The move has sparked fierce indignation worldwide and calls for his immediate release are in full swing – emanating from Amnesty International, Afghan leaders, including incumbent President Ashraf Ghani, and pro-PTM Pakistani politico. In Afghanistan alone, thousands of people in ten separate provinces have protested against the detention of Pashteen. Pakistan has taken exception to Ghani’s remarks in this regard but it shouldn’t be so. The statements by Afghan leaders are in no way interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs because regardless where the drives of advocating human rights and peaceful assemblies take place, the onus is on everyone to lend weight to them. In hindsight, the Pakistani establishment should haven’t arrested the peaceful leader in the first place. Considering the circumstances, Pakistan has actually through its own fault launched the first salvo of vitriolic attacks on its efforts to stifle voices of dissent under duress. In order to avoid further provocation, it’s advisable for the country to tread carefully from now onwards and the best way to go about this situation is to revisit its decision and release the leader at once to preempt deepening the crisis and public outcry. Otherwise, the country risks giving rise to violence because these non-violent campaigners can easily morph into violent actors if they have their backs against the wall and as soon as their threshold of tolerance is crossed. Given that our region is already suffering from extremism and violence, forcibly silencing such movements that peacefully advocate for righting the wrongs isn’t the way to go.

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