The leaders and activists of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) are mostly seen acting as a Pashtun rights advocacy group which is currently “struggling” for protecting the rights of ethnic Pashtun people in Pakistan. Though PTM was founded in 1914, it only gained prominence following the extra-judicial murder of a Pashtun boy Naqeeb Ullah Mehsud by the Karachi police in January last year. It again remained in the limelight in the wake of disappearance and brutal murder of a senior Pakistani police officer Tahir Dawar in Afghanistan in November last year. The mainstream media in Pakistan is currently not covering the activities of PTM. However, the leaders and supporters of PTM are actively propagating their ideology, agenda and demands on Social Media. At the same, a section of international news media is also eagerly projecting PTM’s agenda and activities besides portraying PTM leaders as the great champions of Pashtuns’ rights. It is also reporting as if Pakistani military is harshly treating and ruthlessly killing ethnic Pashtun people in the country in the name of fighting terrorism.

Led by its chief Manzoor Pashteen, PTM has held a number of public protest rallies in the country’s big cities like Peshawar, Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad etc. During these rallies, we have seen PTM leaders constantly presenting various demands to the government. Giving a substantial impetus to this very ‘movement’, a large number of ‘progressive’ and ‘liberal’ journalists, analysts, political and human rights activists have also readily jumped into the PTM’s bandwagon. Besides this, some anti-establishment political parties are also covertly supporting PTM. In fact, there is an ‘anti-establishment brigade’ in Pakistan which hardly misses any opportunity to malign defame and scandalise the country’s armed forces. This group of people, indeed, has gotten a new platform in the form of PTM to propagate its anti-establishment views and sentiments.  

Over a period of time, the agenda of PTM has expanded beyond demanding the justice for Naqeeb Mehsud. PTM leaders demanded the formation of a ‘truth and reconciliation commission’ to thoroughly look into the extra-judicial killings and missing persons. The PTM’s current demands range from inquiring into the extra-judicial killing and enforced disappearance of Pashtun people to the clearance of landmines and the removal of security checkposts in North Waziristan. Now they are openly accusing the military of Pashtun persecution. Unfortunately, some PTM activists are also blaming the military for the 2014 APS Peshawar tragedy.  

There is no denying the fact that the Pashtun population has been the worst sufferer of the so-called war on terror in Pakistan. Thousands of Pashtuns have been killed in numerous terror attacks in KP and FATA. Similarly, a large number of Pashtuns have also lost their lives in various American drone attacks in the tribal areas. Pakistan army has also conducted a number of military operations to clear these areas of militants and terrorists. These military operations rendered a large population of the tribal areas homeless and displaced. It is a fact that these displaced tribesmen have yet not been fully rehabilitated. However, it should not be forgotten that the war on terror in Pakistan was not of our choosing. This war essentially has a geostrategic dimension. The enemies of Pakistan just imposed this complex war on Pakistan through its numerous proxy militants. Had Pakistani nation and its armed forces not proactively fought this war, it would have damaged us beyond redemption.

It is a fact that FATA has been the epicenter of terrorist activities inside Pakistan. The extra-territorial character of FATA, coupled with its long porous borders with Afghanistan, just made it a safe haven for the militants all over the region. It should also not be forgotten that the TTP, the premier anti-Pakistan terror outfit, took birth in FATA. It has also been carrying out its terror activities from the same area. Similarly, the TTP comprised most of the militants who were ethnic Pashtuns. So were their leaders like Baitullah Mehsud, Hakimullah Mesud and Molvi Fazlullah. Naturally, the Pashtun population was bound to suffer.

The entire narrative of PTM is currently centered on the country’s army. The bottom line of such a narrative is that the army, as an institution, is persecuting Pashtun population in Pakistan. So, almost all demands made by PTM leaders are essentially related to the army. Ironically, they apparently have no major problem with the civilian government. Nor have Taliban and miscreants ever troubled them. Similarly, they have never blamed the US and their regional allies in Afghanistan who have just torn this region apart in the name of WOT. It is widely believed that the real agenda of PTM is maligning and defaming the army rather than anything else. For this purpose, they are selfishly exploiting the miseries and sufferings of the affected and displaced Pashtuns in the conflict-hit areas of KP and erstwhile FATA. In fact, the anthem and slogans of PTM say it all. “Da Sang Azadi Da?” (What kind of freedom is this?) is the punchline of PTM’s anthem. And “the ones responsible for terrorism are the ones in uniform” is its popular slogan. These words certainly have anti-state and anti-army connotations.

Pakistan Army has played a commendable role in fighting terrorism in the country. It has successfully retrieved Swat Valley and erstwhile FATA from miscreants. It has been fighting against separatists in Baluchistan. It has helped stabilise the troubled city of Karachi. Thousands of officers and jawans of Pakistan Army have laid their lives to protect the country against terrorists. Therefore, we must appreciate and value these sacrifices. But unlikely, the troubled civil-military relations during the last few years have been eclipsing the performance and sacrifices of Pakistan Army in our War on Terror. They were further marred by the anti-army propaganda by the likes of PTM leaders. Though it was a job of the civilian government, the army has been active in providing relief to the IDP’s of North Waziristan. Now it is also playing an important role in rehabilitating these displaced people. Similarly, last year, the military leadership intervened to ensure the immediate implementation of the FATA reforms plan. Consequently, erstwhile FATA is now part of Pakistan constitutionally.

The instant removal of security checkposts in North Waziristan is rather an unreasonable demand made by the PTM leaders. Pakistan army has retrieved this area only after conducting a long and hard military operation. Therefore, this area can’t be allowed to fall a prey to militancy and extremism once again. Certainly, Pakistan Army can’t withdraw its troops unless the civil administration completely takes control of this area. Pakistan army has just withdrawn its troops from the Swat Valley after a prolonged stay there as the civilian agencies are now capable of administering it.

The government should certainly be responsive to any genuine demand made by PTM leaders. One may discuss and criticise the perceived role of the security establishment in the country’s politics. It is, however, not justifiable to accuse the army of systematic persecution against a specific ethnic or religious community in the name of protecting communal rights. This sort of propaganda would undermine the institutional capacity of the army to fight ongoing war against terrorism, militancy and extremism in the country. At this stage, Pakistan can hardly afford to compromise its capacity to fight a war which has been posing a serious threat to its very existence.  


The writer is a lawyer and columnist based

in Lahore.