From a Moment to a Movement



This was a different kind of line, Pashtuns were standing in queue not to receive State alms, but to pitch in for a great cause - for a great movement - to bring peace back to their lands which has eluded them for nearly half a century. There was an octogenarian sobbing in search of his son since 2009, a hapless mother searching for her three sons, and a seven-year-old child searching for his elder brother. All of them were brought together by a sense of belonging, by a sense of loss, and they have all gathered in Peshawar, along with thousands of others, to let the Pakistani State know that enough is enough. This is the first time that the world has come to know about the magnitude of the enforced disappearances along the Durand Line.

His followers and supporters liken the 26-year old war victim to Che Guevara and Bacha Khan as he has provided a platform for the disenfranchised, downtrodden and marginalized communities and nations across Pakistan. Manzoor Pashteen is humble, soft-spoken and non-violent. He is not speaking for the Pashtuns across the Durand Line, but his comrades in Afghanistan are taking to the streets to show solidarity with their tribal brother. The elitist military establishment considers this unity as a direct threat to their monopoly on the War Machines in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 
Major-General Asif Ghafoor, director-general of Inter-Services Public Relations (DGISPR), told reporters in Pakistan, "You have seen that it [the movement] found new angles. The movement began to get the most support from Afghanistan. Different voices started to flow in. I personally met Manzoor Pashteen. He is a wonderful young boy. He came here and then met with the prime minister as well”.

Manzoor Pashteen founded his movement in 2014 in South Waziristan and initially demanded clearing of thousands of landmines laid out by the Pakistan Army and the Taliban to fight each other. The fighting has now subsided, but the deadly mines are killing and maiming innocent civilians daily. Over time, the movement expanded to include the prosecution of Rao Anwar for the murder of Naqeebullah Mehsud, the formation of an inquiry into extrajudicial killings of Pashtuns in Karachi and elsewhere, an end to collective punishment and discrimination against locals in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), removal of landmines from South Waziristan, and recovery of missing persons. After Naqeebullah’s death, the movement was renamed Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM; Pashtun Protection Movement). The most recent demands include bringing former dictator Musharraf back to Pakistan to face justice.

The movement is led by Manzoor Pashteen, Ali Wazir, Mohsin Dawar and Said Alam Mehsud, who have been adversely affected by the three-decade old war in FATA. PTM held its largest gathering in Peshawar on April 08 and was largely attended by war victims. “We want the state to recognize us as equal citizens and grant us everything that goes with that,” Ali Wazir told RFE/RL’s Gandhara website. “It is an understatement to call it the Movement for the Protection of Pashtuns. It is a national uprising,” Said Alam Mehsud told the Peshawar gathering.

Very little has been done to address the Pashtun grievances. At the other end of the spectrum, the War Machines have been unleashed on the young leader. An organized media campaign is out there to discredit Pashteen by creating doubts about his intentions and his non-violent movement. Following the footsteps of the international media coverage of PTM, Pakistani mainstream media has finally taking note of the country-wide protests and they are speaking to Manzoor Pashteen. 

A conscious effort is being made to conflate the issues of FATA merger, and Durand Line with the larger Pashtun Movement which has now spread to Balochistan as well. Criminal cases have been registered against Pashteen and his fellow protesters to deter them from speaking up against the Army brutalities in Swat, Waziristan and Balochistan.

Radical Mullahs have pledged allegiance to ISIS and they roam free. More recently, Khadim Rizvi, an extremist Mullah, held a sit-in protest in the capital Islamabad and all the demands of the Islamist protesters were accepted, including the one where Mullahs will sit on curriculum boards. The few remaining progressive and liberal forces in the country were outraged and dismayed, but there is little they can do. Peaceful Pashtuns, on the other hand, have yet to see a redress to their grievances. Consequently, PTM has decided to hold another protest demonstration in the capital Islamabad as their demands have largely remained unresolved.

Under pressure from the military establishment, the traditional Pashtun nationalist political parties have started to distance themselves from the Pashteen Movement. In the current atmosphere, no one is ready to draw the ire of the powerful military bosses in Rawalpindi. 

Manzoor Pashteen told Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network "My father, wife and mother expect every day to hear the news of my death or disappearance. They are worried for me and sometimes, angry at me." Pashteen wants a better future for Pashtuns in Pakistan "including his one-month-old daughter". "But I know deep down, beneath all the worry, they are proud of me because this is not about me, it is about making this country a better place for us to live in,” he further said. 

Meanwhile, Amnesty International urged Pakistan to resolve hundreds of cases of enforced disappearances. Its Human Rights Council met on March 19 and adopted the Universal Periodic Review outcome on Pakistan saying, “No one has ever been held accountable for an enforced disappearance in Pakistan”.

The Amnesty International Human Rights Council issued a scathing criticism of Pakistani authorities and noted, “The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has more than 700 pending cases from Pakistan, and Pakistan’s State Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances has received reports of hundreds more, from across the country. Victims include bloggers, journalists, students, peace activists and other human rights defenders whose work promotes the same values as this Council and is crucial to a free and just society”.

Pakistan has a knack for killing its sane, bright and popular leaders; the list runs long from ZA Bhutto to his daughter Benazir Bhutto and from Bashir Bilour to Mashal Khan. The latest victim in the series was the young aspiring fashion model Naqeebullah Mehsud, whose death has sparked an outrage, the parallels of which have not been seen in recent history. Ironically, the country thrives on brain drain and rewards mediocrity. 

By the same token, Manzoor Pashteen may end up having the same fate. Putting him on a pedestal would be tantamount to presenting him as a trophy to a sniper , a Madrassa-trained suicide bomber or he may end up as another number on the growing list of the missing persons.

Manzoor Pashteen is a genuine voice for peace and his demands are constitutional; suppressing him and his movement would result in more chaos in the region. In principle, the US should lend support to him but that would irk the Pakistani establishment even further. Therefore  it is unlikely that the US will support him in the near future. US also has a policy to provide no support any internal groups in a country unless there is an internal conflict .This is yet another hurdle for US policy makers even if they are sympathetic to the Pashtun cause. The best-case scenario is that some members of Congress may speak out in support of Pashteen in their individual capacity just like they speak out for the Baloch cause. In any case, it is worth exploring for the US policy makers to weigh in on the Pashtun grievances.

Peace in Afghanistan is ultimately related to peace in FATA, the sooner Pakistani and US authorities realize this, the better. It is time for the world to hear what the Pashtuns are saying loud and clear.

 The author is a geo-political analyst based in Washington DC and is the author of the book “Afghanistan-From Cold War to Gold War”.