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Rights battle: What’s brewing in Pakistan’s Pashtun-dominated territory?

Rights battle: What’s brewing in Pakistan’s Pashtun-dominated territory?

Rights battle: What’s brewing in Pakistan’s Pashtun-dominated territory?
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By Junaid Ali Khan  Feb 26, 2020 4:50:57 PM IST (Published)

Formed by eight university students in Dera Ismail Khan, a city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in 2016, PTM fights for the rights of the ethnic Pashtuns.

In the war-affected mountainous region of Pakistan’s Waziristan, a group of Pashtuns under the banner of Pashtun Tahaffuz (Protection) Movement (PTM) has started a social movement to protect the rights of the ethnic community. They are now at loggerheads with not just the government but also the Pakistani army over strategic policies affecting the community.

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PTM chief Manzoor Pashteen was arrested on January 27 from Shaheen Muslim Town in Peshawar on sedition charges. Later, a court in Dera Ismail Khan granted him bail in two sedition cases. Pashteen’s bail applications in two other sedition cases are still pending before the court. He was released on Tuesday, after spending almost a month behind bars.
Following his arrest last month, his followers staged protests in different parts of the country, including the federal capital. About two dozen people were booked for the protests and were granted bail by the Islamabad High Court later on. Undeterred by the arrest, the Pashtun leader had told supporters they would continue the struggle for their rights.
Formed by eight university students in Dera Ismail Khan, a city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province in 2016, PTM fights for the rights of the ethnic Pashtuns and other communities affected by the war in tribal areas of KP.
What the Pashtuns want
Ali Wazir, PTM lawmaker in the National Assembly from South Waziristan district in KP, said it is a movement for the protection of war-affected Pashtuns in Pakistan, specifically in tribal areas with Afghan border and KP.
The war on terror has not only affected them economically but also destroyed the whole infrastructure, educational institutions, and health units in tribal areas, he said.
Holding the government and state institutions responsible for the crisis, Wazir said state policies have turned their habitat into war zones.
PTM’s major demands include the end of militancy from Pashtun soil, the safe return of people who were forced to disappear, end of extra-judicial killing, complete control of Pashtun on their resources, the formation of a truth commission for the investigation of extra-judicial killings, and removal of landmines and other unexploded ordnance.
PTM, however, has no constitution. Wazir said PTM is a movement and movements do not work according to constitutions. PTM’s stance, he said, is very clear as the movement just wants to protect the rights of the ethnic Pashtuns and bring back peace in the territory.
On their rigid stance against state institutions, including the Pakistan Army, he said the policies that destroyed peace on Pashtun territory was the result of poor decision making of the leadership. “We will definitely change our stance against state institutions if the state provides solutions to our problems,” Wazir said.
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani had tweeted in favour of Pashteen's bail, saying that the Pakistan government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan must avoid any means of force and violence against peaceful civilian movements for justice. Wazir said these are human rights and anybody can speak in favour of it.
How the PTM was born
Rasool Dawar, a Peshawar-based special correspondent for Geo News, said the PTM shot to prominence when they spearheaded protests against the killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud, a young garment trader and an aspiring model, who was shot dead by the police in Karachi, the city of Sindh province. PTM was born during rallies across the country seeking justice for Naqeebullah.
Gradually, the rigidness against state and state institutions increased in the stance of PTM as their demands were ignored.
Is the Pashtun movement immature?
Dawar points out that the PTM is currently working without any constitution and due to the criticism against state institutions the movement has been termed as “anti-state”. He said that even as their demands are justified, state institutions are afraid that investigation against the allegations may put state institutions in a tight spot. The journalist says there is no chance of PTM’s success in the near future as they are not properly convincing people and the movement remains limited to being a pressure group.
Rustam Shah Mohmand, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, termed the PTM an immature movement that has failed so far to gain momentum. He said their demands are their rights and there is no issue with those demands but their approach is creating troubles for them. It is up to the leadership of the PTM to learn from the current situation, he said.
Political parties understand PTM’s demands but they are afraid of negative reactions from state institutions, he said, adding that due to lack of proper framework PTM might not achieve their goal in the near future. Mohmand said PTM leaders will have to convince people and change their policy for the movement to succeed.
Junaid Ali Khan is an Islamabad-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
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