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What Does the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement in Pakistan Want?

What are the demands of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, and why are they openly criticising the Pakistan army?

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After decades of “tension and exclusion”, the Pashtuns of Pakistan, the country’s second-largest ethnic group, have come out onto the streets and are fighting for human rights with the largely peaceful Pashtun Tahafuz Movement.

The burgeoning movement has emerged as a force among the minority community, pulling thousands of Pashtuns to take to the streets to fight a dual battle – against both Islamist militants and Pakistan’s all-powerful military in the war-torn Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

The Pashtuns accuse the military of widespread human rights abuses while battling militants in Pakistan’s rugged border region, while the Pakistani army accuses the community of being backed by “foreign forces” – a term to obliquely implicate India and Afghanistan and paint the movement as illegitimate.

So who are the Pashtuns and why is their cry for justice important? Here’s a primer.

What Does the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement in Pakistan Want?

  1. 1. Who Are the Pashtuns?

    The Pashtuns are descended from eastern Iranian peoples, they speak the Pashto language and follow Pashtunwali, which is a set of guides for individual and communal conduct for people belonging to the particular group. Pashtuns live in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    Although considered a minority in Pakistan, 15 percent of the country's population are Pashtuns. This makes Pakistan the country with the second-highest Pashtun population, after Afghanistan where they make up around 40 percent of the population.

    Expand
  2. 2. How Did the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement Begin?

    The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), roughly translated to ‘Pashtun Protection Movement’, is a social movement for Pashtuns’ human rights. The movement is based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in Pakistan, both regions fraught with conflict.

    “Since 1979, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the populations of these regions have been engulfed by state-led conflicts. A guerrilla war that served Pakistan and US designs against the Soviets, fuelled radicalisation, and perpetuated colonial-style rule, created the conditions for two of Pakistan’s most underdeveloped regions to be further marginalised,” writes Maria Bastos in Open Democracy.

    The PTM gained steam in January 2018, just months ahead of the Pakistan general elections, when it began demanding justice for Naqeebullah Mehsud.

    27-year-old Mehsud was shot dead during a Police raid in Karachi, in January 2018. The Karachi Police, in a statement, called the killing a result of a raid on a “terrorist hideout.”

    According to Associated Press, his death ignited protests by Pashtuns, who accused Pakistan's security forces of racial profiling. They contend that the military sees all Pashtuns as Taliban “simply because many insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan are recruited from among Pashtun tribesmen.”

    This led to the revival of the Mehsud Tahafuz Movement, which was started by a group of people in 2014.

    The Movement demanded the removal of land mines from Waziristan (inhabited predominantly by ethnic Pashtuns) which had been planted by the defence forces during their military action against forces that were Anti-Pakistan. However, these land mines killed ordinary citizens of the area, forcing Pashtuns to demand their removal.

    Expand
  3. 3. Who Is Leading the PTM?

    What are the  demands of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, and why are they openly criticising the Pakistan army?
    The 26-year-old leader Manzoor Pashteen.
    (Photo: AP)

    The group's charismatic leader, 26-year-old Manzoor Pashteen, is the face of the country's oppressed Pashtun, charging that in the name of its “war on terror” the military has used unjustified force in the tribal regions, reported AP.

    In these regions where the Pashtun dominate, the military is known for imposing collective punishments like bulldozing the homes of family members of suspected militants and punishing entire villages for extremist attacks.

    Pashteen was among the group of people who began the Mehsud Tahafuz Movement. A veterinary science graduate, Pashteen has been described to Al Jazeera as a fierce and brave activist, who has played an important role is gathering mass support for the movement.

    His popularity has reportedly swelled to such an extent that some of his followers have taken his last name, as a “gesture of respect, Al Jazeera reported.

    In an interview to Al Jazeera, Pashteen claimed that he was forced to abandon his hometown in war-torn Waziristan, was unlawfully detained, and harassed for suspected links with armed groups in Pakistan and with neighbouring Afghanistan.

    "Everyone knows, it is a common thing said to us by the military forces near checkpoints 'esko murgha banao' [translated as: make him a rooster. A common form of punishment in South Asia, where the person takes a position of squatting and then holding the ears]." he told Al Jazeera, to show how Pakistani forces routinely humiliate Pashtuns.

    Expand
  4. 4. Pashtun Long March & the List of Demands

    On 26 January 2018, the PTM started the Pashtun Long March from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province to Islamabad, where the march was to culminate in a sit-in protest called "All Pashtun National Jigra." The sit-in protest commenced on 1 February, where the PTM demanded the following:

    • Judicial enquiry be set up for Mehsud's killing, allegedly in an extrajudicial police encounter.
    • Stop racial profiling of the Pashtuns in the country, like humiliating them at check points or harassing them in the name of search operations.
    • To release the missing persons, or produce them before court of law if they have allegedly committed a crime.
    • The Army must not abduct or open fire on innocents in the tribal areas, or use violence or collective punishment against entire villages and tribes.
    • Removal of all the land mines in the tribal areas, that the protesters claimed have killed 35 people including many children since 2009.

    Throughout, PTM leaders have reiterated their goal of simply getting their due rights, and not secession or otherwise breaking up Pakistani society or state.

    We are not seeking secession, and we do not follow any political ideology that would require a radical transformation of the state or society in Pakistan.
    Ali Wazir, PTM leader, wrote in The Diplomat
    Expand
  5. 5. What Did the Protest Achieve?

    What are the  demands of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, and why are they openly criticising the Pakistan army?
    Supporters of Pashtun Protection Movement chant slogans during a rally in Lahore, Pakistan.
    (Photo: AP)

    The sit-in protest was called off after 10 days, on 10 February, but with a clarion call that the protests would be revived if the government does not meet their demands.

    The Advisor to the Prime Minister on political affairs, Amir Muqam, appeared in front of the protesters with the handwritten agreement from Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who promised the following:

    • To apprehend Rao Anwar (former SSP suspected of involvement in Mehsud’s murder) and deliver justice for Mehsud.
    • Assure the speedy clearing of mines in South Waziristan and compensation to victims of mines who have died or been injured.
    • Establishment of an intermediate college named after Naqeebullah Mehsud.

    However, protests erupted again in March with a long march from Dera Ismail Khan to Quetta on 9 March, which culminated into another protest show on 8 April.

    Expand
  6. 6. What Did Manzoor Pashteen Say in the 8 April Protest Meet?

    Thousands of people, including the families of missing persons, gathered for the Quetta rally, which saw PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen declare openly that they were against the “oppressors.”

    "We are only the 'agents' of our nation," he said, in response to allegations by the Army that they were being backed by foreign agencies.

    According to Dawn, the leader said:

    What has happened so far for the missing persons? The mothers and elders whose beloveds are missing should not be coerced. In Karachi, money is taken in return for bodies. Even Genghis Khan did not take money after killing people. In Waziristan, the ‘good Taliban’ are threatening the people. We will go to every village till our demands are met.

    The protesters had gathered after being intimated on social media, as stories about PTM and their ongoing protests were reportedly blacked out from mainstream media, even the Quetta address, despite thousands of people gathering at the event.

    The military believes that (if) these protests get any air, they can turn from small fires into massive political conflagrations, so the best tactic is to deprive them of oxygen from the start. And, to be sure, they are operating in a challenging and contentious political climate.
    Daniel Markey, director of the Global Policy Program at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies to AP

    The 37 activists who took part in the protest, including several students, were charged with “sedition”, an Amnesty report said – and have been jailed in Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail.

    Expand
  7. 7. How Is the Pakistan Army Responding?

    The Pakistani Army is considered the most powerful institution in the country with public criticism of the parallel power centre rarely tolerated. Angered by the movement’s open criticism, the army has accused the PTM and its leader Pashteen of being backed by "foreign powers," a term usually used to refer to neighboring Afghanistan or India.

    The protest has also gained steam at a time when the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan is deteriorating, and Afghanistan’s ties with India are deepening. Pakistan deported more than 500,000 Afghans in 2016, Newsweek reported.

    While Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani has tweeted openly supporting the Pashtun movement, India has maintained a studied silence.

    The PTM has risen at a time when the Army is reportedly trying to project success in tribal areas, claiming that they have “defeated extremism and boasting that terrorist hideouts have been wiped out,” reported AP.

    The protesters aren’t just politely critiquing the military. They’re relentlessly assailing it and linking it to terror in ways rarely done before. The protesters, with their focus on indignities and injustices in the tribal areas, are undercutting a narrative the military is trying to project about peace and normalcy returning to the tribal belt after many years of war.
    Michael Kugleman, Deputy Director, Asia Centre, Wilson Centre, Washington told AP
    Expand
  8. 8. Why Is The Movement Important Ahead of Polls?

    Pakistan is set to hold its general elections on 25 July. After a year of political turmoil, the elections are seen as an important step in strengthening the terror-torn country’s democracy.

    However, like Maria Bastos writes, how Pakistan handles the Pashtun movement will also be a test for that democracy.

    “The figures at very top of Pakistani society have spun a powerful narrative of a nation under constant attack, which dismisses any criticism or dissent as either ‘foreign influence’ or ‘anti-patriotic’ politics; a tactic that has been deployed in response to protests by the country’s ethnic minority communities. How Pakistan responds to these nascent movements is as much a test case for democracy as the forthcoming elections,” Bastos says.

    (With inputs from ADP, New York Times, and The Diplomat.)

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Who Are the Pashtuns?

The Pashtuns are descended from eastern Iranian peoples, they speak the Pashto language and follow Pashtunwali, which is a set of guides for individual and communal conduct for people belonging to the particular group. Pashtuns live in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Although considered a minority in Pakistan, 15 percent of the country's population are Pashtuns. This makes Pakistan the country with the second-highest Pashtun population, after Afghanistan where they make up around 40 percent of the population.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

How Did the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement Begin?

The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), roughly translated to ‘Pashtun Protection Movement’, is a social movement for Pashtuns’ human rights. The movement is based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in Pakistan, both regions fraught with conflict.

“Since 1979, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the populations of these regions have been engulfed by state-led conflicts. A guerrilla war that served Pakistan and US designs against the Soviets, fuelled radicalisation, and perpetuated colonial-style rule, created the conditions for two of Pakistan’s most underdeveloped regions to be further marginalised,” writes Maria Bastos in Open Democracy.

The PTM gained steam in January 2018, just months ahead of the Pakistan general elections, when it began demanding justice for Naqeebullah Mehsud.

27-year-old Mehsud was shot dead during a Police raid in Karachi, in January 2018. The Karachi Police, in a statement, called the killing a result of a raid on a “terrorist hideout.”

According to Associated Press, his death ignited protests by Pashtuns, who accused Pakistan's security forces of racial profiling. They contend that the military sees all Pashtuns as Taliban “simply because many insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan are recruited from among Pashtun tribesmen.”

This led to the revival of the Mehsud Tahafuz Movement, which was started by a group of people in 2014.

The Movement demanded the removal of land mines from Waziristan (inhabited predominantly by ethnic Pashtuns) which had been planted by the defence forces during their military action against forces that were Anti-Pakistan. However, these land mines killed ordinary citizens of the area, forcing Pashtuns to demand their removal.

Who Is Leading the PTM?

What are the  demands of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, and why are they openly criticising the Pakistan army?
The 26-year-old leader Manzoor Pashteen.
(Photo: AP)

The group's charismatic leader, 26-year-old Manzoor Pashteen, is the face of the country's oppressed Pashtun, charging that in the name of its “war on terror” the military has used unjustified force in the tribal regions, reported AP.

In these regions where the Pashtun dominate, the military is known for imposing collective punishments like bulldozing the homes of family members of suspected militants and punishing entire villages for extremist attacks.

Pashteen was among the group of people who began the Mehsud Tahafuz Movement. A veterinary science graduate, Pashteen has been described to Al Jazeera as a fierce and brave activist, who has played an important role is gathering mass support for the movement.

His popularity has reportedly swelled to such an extent that some of his followers have taken his last name, as a “gesture of respect, Al Jazeera reported.

In an interview to Al Jazeera, Pashteen claimed that he was forced to abandon his hometown in war-torn Waziristan, was unlawfully detained, and harassed for suspected links with armed groups in Pakistan and with neighbouring Afghanistan.

"Everyone knows, it is a common thing said to us by the military forces near checkpoints 'esko murgha banao' [translated as: make him a rooster. A common form of punishment in South Asia, where the person takes a position of squatting and then holding the ears]." he told Al Jazeera, to show how Pakistani forces routinely humiliate Pashtuns.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Pashtun Long March & the List of Demands

On 26 January 2018, the PTM started the Pashtun Long March from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province to Islamabad, where the march was to culminate in a sit-in protest called "All Pashtun National Jigra." The sit-in protest commenced on 1 February, where the PTM demanded the following:

  • Judicial enquiry be set up for Mehsud's killing, allegedly in an extrajudicial police encounter.
  • Stop racial profiling of the Pashtuns in the country, like humiliating them at check points or harassing them in the name of search operations.
  • To release the missing persons, or produce them before court of law if they have allegedly committed a crime.
  • The Army must not abduct or open fire on innocents in the tribal areas, or use violence or collective punishment against entire villages and tribes.
  • Removal of all the land mines in the tribal areas, that the protesters claimed have killed 35 people including many children since 2009.

Throughout, PTM leaders have reiterated their goal of simply getting their due rights, and not secession or otherwise breaking up Pakistani society or state.

We are not seeking secession, and we do not follow any political ideology that would require a radical transformation of the state or society in Pakistan.
Ali Wazir, PTM leader, wrote in The Diplomat
ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

What Did the Protest Achieve?

What are the  demands of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, and why are they openly criticising the Pakistan army?
Supporters of Pashtun Protection Movement chant slogans during a rally in Lahore, Pakistan.
(Photo: AP)

The sit-in protest was called off after 10 days, on 10 February, but with a clarion call that the protests would be revived if the government does not meet their demands.

The Advisor to the Prime Minister on political affairs, Amir Muqam, appeared in front of the protesters with the handwritten agreement from Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who promised the following:

  • To apprehend Rao Anwar (former SSP suspected of involvement in Mehsud’s murder) and deliver justice for Mehsud.
  • Assure the speedy clearing of mines in South Waziristan and compensation to victims of mines who have died or been injured.
  • Establishment of an intermediate college named after Naqeebullah Mehsud.

However, protests erupted again in March with a long march from Dera Ismail Khan to Quetta on 9 March, which culminated into another protest show on 8 April.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

What Did Manzoor Pashteen Say in the 8 April Protest Meet?

Thousands of people, including the families of missing persons, gathered for the Quetta rally, which saw PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen declare openly that they were against the “oppressors.”

"We are only the 'agents' of our nation," he said, in response to allegations by the Army that they were being backed by foreign agencies.

According to Dawn, the leader said:

What has happened so far for the missing persons? The mothers and elders whose beloveds are missing should not be coerced. In Karachi, money is taken in return for bodies. Even Genghis Khan did not take money after killing people. In Waziristan, the ‘good Taliban’ are threatening the people. We will go to every village till our demands are met.

The protesters had gathered after being intimated on social media, as stories about PTM and their ongoing protests were reportedly blacked out from mainstream media, even the Quetta address, despite thousands of people gathering at the event.

The military believes that (if) these protests get any air, they can turn from small fires into massive political conflagrations, so the best tactic is to deprive them of oxygen from the start. And, to be sure, they are operating in a challenging and contentious political climate.
Daniel Markey, director of the Global Policy Program at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies to AP

The 37 activists who took part in the protest, including several students, were charged with “sedition”, an Amnesty report said – and have been jailed in Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

How Is the Pakistan Army Responding?

The Pakistani Army is considered the most powerful institution in the country with public criticism of the parallel power centre rarely tolerated. Angered by the movement’s open criticism, the army has accused the PTM and its leader Pashteen of being backed by "foreign powers," a term usually used to refer to neighboring Afghanistan or India.

The protest has also gained steam at a time when the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan is deteriorating, and Afghanistan’s ties with India are deepening. Pakistan deported more than 500,000 Afghans in 2016, Newsweek reported.

While Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani has tweeted openly supporting the Pashtun movement, India has maintained a studied silence.

The PTM has risen at a time when the Army is reportedly trying to project success in tribal areas, claiming that they have “defeated extremism and boasting that terrorist hideouts have been wiped out,” reported AP.

The protesters aren’t just politely critiquing the military. They’re relentlessly assailing it and linking it to terror in ways rarely done before. The protesters, with their focus on indignities and injustices in the tribal areas, are undercutting a narrative the military is trying to project about peace and normalcy returning to the tribal belt after many years of war.
Michael Kugleman, Deputy Director, Asia Centre, Wilson Centre, Washington told AP
ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Why Is The Movement Important Ahead of Polls?

Pakistan is set to hold its general elections on 25 July. After a year of political turmoil, the elections are seen as an important step in strengthening the terror-torn country’s democracy.

However, like Maria Bastos writes, how Pakistan handles the Pashtun movement will also be a test for that democracy.

“The figures at very top of Pakistani society have spun a powerful narrative of a nation under constant attack, which dismisses any criticism or dissent as either ‘foreign influence’ or ‘anti-patriotic’ politics; a tactic that has been deployed in response to protests by the country’s ethnic minority communities. How Pakistan responds to these nascent movements is as much a test case for democracy as the forthcoming elections,” Bastos says.

(With inputs from ADP, New York Times, and The Diplomat.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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