Is the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement a Pakhtoon Spring or a sponsored and tailor-made movement to malign the institution of the Pakistani Army? Manzoor Pashteen is leading this movement and his demands are to remove the check posts in Fata and other troubled areas to produce the missing persons in front of a court of law. On paper the demands look fine and the movement is currently backed by many young Pashtuns. The question, however, arises as to why the Army is being criticised at this point in time? While the world has already put us on the FATF grey list and the Trump administration is trying everything to declare us a terrorist state, the rise of this movement leads to many possibilities. The unrest in Baluchistan and KP suits outside enemies and can put more pressure on the Pakistani Army to finish the check posts in Fata and Balochistan.
There is no doubt that the check posts make it a lot more difficult to move freely and one has to spend a lot of time identifying individuals or getting clearance, but in war affected areas it is common practice. It happens in Indian-held Kashmir and other areas where insurgency movements are ongoing, in fact even in the United States residents who live near the Mexico border have to go through the same process. Pakistan is unfortunately in a war zone and we have just recently defeated terrorism so even in the major cities we do have Army check posts and have to pass through the proper checking procedures from them. It is not a humiliation but a safety measure to deny the entry of terrorists into zones or to keep an eye on suspects.
The Pashtun areas are unfortunately badly affected by the war which is why there are more than normal safety measures and procedures adopted by the Pakistani Army. One can point to the loopholes in the process but saying that these check posts are unnecessary is not entirely true. It is the Army that brought peace to Fata and Swat and had they not recaptured these areas from the Taliban the locals would have still be living in the stone age under the influence of the Taliban. Just a few years back it was almost impossible even to travel to Swat valley when the Taliban had captured the valley and the locals were living in a state of fear where they were butchered, stoned and kidnapped by the Taliban. Yes the Swat Operation and the war in Fata forced the locals to leave their land at which time they became internally displaced persons, but it was the responsibility of the civilian administration to look after them and make proper arrangements for their shelter, food, education and health until they return to their own land.
The other demand from the PTM Movement was about discovering the missing persons. While there can be no justification in taking its own citizens into custody without presenting them in a court of law, the fact still remains that in our country different non-state actors and international intelligence agencies are also operating. During the Musharraf era, hundreds of citizens went missing and were even handed to the CIA, but after his reign the Army changed its entire policy and narrative.
As an institution the Army does not encourage the act of kidnapping its own citizens. Since the creation of military courts and the introduction of the The Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Act, 2015, it is not needed. There are cases where individuals are found guilty of involvement with a terrorist network or working on the agenda of enemies. They are taken into custody for the purpose of interrogation, but the fact still remains that no one is taken into custody unless he is involved with a terrorist network or with spy agencies. Contrary to what is being propagated that the institution of the Army does not bear criticism and you can go missing or be killed if you point a finger at them, the facts are different.
Pakistani society has evolved and unlike the past where dictators like Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf were not used to bearing criticism the policies of the institution have changed drastically. If you are only criticising the political role of the security establishment or highlighting their policy flaws, you can do so openly. There can be individuals who act on their own but not the institution. The proof in this regard is the mainstream media and social media where the masses openly show anger or disagreement with security establishment policies. Even Manzoor Pashteen is coming onto mainstream media and is not being stopped, even from appearing on television.
So the fact remains that missing persons can still be a grey area where the security establishment needs to refine its policies but just coming to the media and showing the Army as an enemy is not going to bring any solution to the problem either. The soldiers who sacrificed their lives to bring peace in Fata, Swat and Balochsitan did not deserve to be maligned as soldiers fighting only for the soil. The soldiers giving duties on the check posts around the clock, away from their families deserve appreciation not criticism. We all know Balochistan and Fata are proxy war battlefields, India is supporting separatists in Balochsitan while in Fata it is the Afghan intelligence network. The proxy wars are fought with the help of human shields, the more the local population is exploited the more influence the enemy enjoys. The more the criticism on the soldiers, the more demoralixed and dejected they become. A soldier in the battlefield can take bullets in his body, he can conquer the mountains, but he cannot see his own people criticising him, as he is protecting his land and fighting for them.
Criticising the military establishment’s role in politics and pointing out the flaws in their policy is a different thing, but to accuse one’s own soldiers who fought against the terrorists networks, defeated them, routed them and won the war against terrorism in their own land against their own dissidents is not the right way to pay them gratitude. There is always a proper time and place to raise the issues or criticize. Balochistan is a troubled area and enemies keep a special eye on it, any event there making international headlines and helping enemies spread venom against Pakistan through propaganda and lobbying. Staging protests in Balochistan was never the right decision from the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement , had they been serious in negotiating and seeking a solution for the problems, they would have come to the capital and staged a demonstration there. But again the point here is that the battlefield is quite different from the ideal world, as long as we are fighting a war against the enemy who even do not spare children, errors will occur and the lives of the local population of these troubled areas will not return to normal; however, prevailing against the terrorists is inevitable.
The current brass of the Army leadership or the soldiers fighting for the land have not chosen this war so it is not their fault. So staging a protest in the name of ethnicity will not bring any harmony or peace to the country nor will maligning the soldiers do any good. Staging demonstrations, long marches and mobilising people always require a lot of money and resources and Manzoor Pashteen, the face of this movement, certainly does not have the required resources and money. Is he along with the Pashtun youth being used by forces that have vested interests? The other point is if the PTM has issues with the State, then it should lodge a protest against the provincial government of KP and the federal government; why only pinpoint an institution? The KP government and the federal government should also come forward and tackle this issue as it is the soldier on the battlefield who is being criticised for nothing. As far as the PTM is concerned they may be seeking a solution to their problems but the current way they have adopted does not seem the appropriate one.