Manzoor Pashteen Arrested: ‘They Can Kill Me But Not the Movement’

‘They won’t kill me now, not while so many are out on the streets’: Manzoor told Francesca Marino for The Quint

Published
Opinion
5 min read
Manzoor Pashteen, the charismatic leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, has been arrested without actual legal charges. Image used for representation.
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“It is an honour for me to be persecuted for the cause of my nation and my people,” says a smiling Manzoor Pashteen, with his hands in shackles, while waiting at the court where he’d been taken. He adds: “My people write songs for me, and you think I would mind wearing these (the chains) for them?”.

Then, as usual, he requests his companions and supporters to remain calm and peaceful. The young, pacifist leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) — a movement described by the former member of the Pakistani Parliament, Bushra Gohar as “a continuation of Fakhre Afghan Bacha Khan’s non-violent struggle” — has been arrested along with other five members of the movement.

Snapshot
  • Manzoor was arrested in the middle of the night by people in plain clothes, without any legal charges.
  • Manzoor was sentenced to 14 days of judicial custody on charges of being ‘anti-national’ and speaking against the Constitution of the country.
  • Pashtuns have been targeted and called ‘foreign agents’ and ‘terrorists’ by the same State who should give them justice.
  • A day before Manzoor’s arrest, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak had announced talks with PTM, but, according to observers, the Army does not want any dialogue with them.

Manzoor Pashteen Arrested On Charges Of Being ‘Anti-National’

He was arrested in the middle of the night by people in plain clothes, without any legal charges. Many hours later, Manzoor Pashteen was produced before a court and sentenced to 14 days of judicial custody on charges of being ‘anti-national’ and speaking against the Constitution of the country. That same Constitution, according to PTM, was violated every day in Waziristan by the Army and the intelligence agencies. “We have always spoken for the supremacy of the Constitution and have criticised institutions who have subverted it,” said Mohsin Dawar at a press conference held in Islamabad. Dawar is a member of Parliament, and along with Ali Wazir, another member of Parliament, has been imprisoned for months with no formal charges and for no reason. Their only fault being that they are members of PTM.

The movement was formally born last year from a students movement founded by Manzoor Pashteen, to demand justice and constitutional rights for Pashtuns.

Border regions in Pakistan have been in fact used as training camps and nurseries for jihad, as battlefields for war-like actions against the 'bad' Taliban, as safe heavens for the 'good' Taliban, and as factories for fake documents in order to send ISI spies to Afghanistan. The local population has been suffering and has been targeted for years in silence, exploited by the 'good' Talibans and by the Army.

Pashtun Tahafuz Movement’s Resolve to Protest Peacefully

“We only ask to know where the thousands of missing persons have left without a trace. We want to know what happened to our people and, if among those taken from the services or by the police there are criminals, we want them to be tried in a court. We want a commission that investigates the extra-judicial killings committed by the State: from the secret services, from the Army and from all the other organisations that have tortured and killed civilians of Pashtun ethnicity,” Manzoor kept repeating.

But they have been targeted even more and called ‘foreign agents’ and ‘terrorists’ by the same State who should give them justice.

Despite this, PTM has been able to fill the streets with thousands of people, peacefully demanding their rights. The Army tried to provoke a violent reaction many times and in many ways. They opened fire in May, on a peaceful gathering, killing many PTM members and wounding many more. PTM activists ‘disappeared’, like the human rights activist Idris Khattak, or were arrested with no charges, or were found dead in fake encounters.

During a press conference held on 29 April, Major General Asif Ghafoor, talking of PTM, declared “their time is up”, and openly accused the group of receiving funds from Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies, without giving any proof of his allegations, but rather, asking the PTM members to disprove them. During the same conference, Ghafoor ordered the media not to invite PTM leaders on their channels or to cover PTM demonstrations. And yet, thousands and thousands of people again took to the streets, a few weeks ago, demanding justice.

‘Manzoor Convinced All Tribes to Stand by the Mehsud’

A day before Manzoor’s arrest, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak had announced talks with PTM, but, according to observers, the Army does not want any dialogue with them — and the arrest of Manzoor is meant to put pressure on him to accept certain conditions. Shahid Qazi, a human rights activist, says: “Manzoor was supposed to attend a sit-in in Tank but he was arrested during the night in Peshawar.

It was called ‘Maseed Day’ (Mehsud Day, pronounced as ‘Maseed’ by the Mehsud people) and was meant to pressurise the Pakistani Army.

The Army, in fact, has been promising compensations for the properties of the Mehsud tribe, destroyed during military operations. They formally promised in front of a jirga of Mehsud elders, but until now nobody has been compensated. Manzoor convinced all the tribes to stand by the Mehsud and endorse their demands of compensation”.

‘My Life Is Not Important’: Manzoor

According to locals, there's much more behind this: “There are pro-ISI groups which were established to malign Manzoor and divide PTM on the basis of tribes,” says a local activist. “Manzoor was observing all this, and he asked all Pashtuns to unite for the demand of Mehsud. The tribal card played by ISI failed, and that's why Manzoor has been arrested. But they will not succeed,” adds the activist.

Manzoor told this author, when asked if he was afraid to be killed:

“They will not kill me now, not while so many people are in the streets, until the press and the rest of the world are still aware of our fight. But I cannot rule out the chance of being killed by somebody else, by non-state actors, by the Taliban or jihadis. But my life is not important. They can kill me, but cannot kill the movement. Our struggle will go on.”
Manzoor Pashteen to Francesca Marino for The Quint

(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. She tweets at @francescam63. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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