The problems Pakistan faces are shaped by its geographical location and the circumstances in which it was born. On the eastern border Pakistan is faced with an adversary afflicted with a revenge mentality emanating from the partition wounds, a part of which had been displayed when India supplied military and logistic support to facilitate the creation of Bangladesh. On the western border is a country in denial of Durand Line and still considers the territory running through Pakistan’s erstwhile North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) to Punjab as part of Afghanistan. The tribal agencies of Pakistan had been used, since the British era, as a buffer to prevent Russian incursion, which had its own ambitions of reaching the so-called warm waters. Before Russia could reach Pakistan it had to pass through Afghanistan, therefore defending Pakistan from its western borders became all the more critical.
When Bangladesh was announced as a separate country, Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India said, “Today we have sunk Jinnah's Two Nation Theory in the Bay of Bengal.” In due course, especially after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in late ‘80s, the Afghan soil with no governance structure and centralised leadership became a melting pot for insurgents. From the birth of international terrorism on the eve of 9/11, to the creation of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that played havoc with the lives of Pakistanis, to the emergence of a new phenomenon, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), Afghanistan has been the reason of many political dishevelments in Pakistan.
Though the Pashtuns in Pakistan have genuinely suffered a lot particularly after 1970s but never had their grievances shaped into anything that could be summed up as anti-state. The entire angling of the PTM has been directed at the Pakistan military putting them in the dock as terrorists in the garbs of soldiers.
The movement began with the extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in Karachi. It picked up pace when it attracted the attention of many political parties, each asking the state to address the grievances of the tribal Pashtuns. The PTM revolves around three main issues: the missing persons, extrajudicial killing of Pashtuns and the checkposts in FATA. Right from the beginning, the security apparatus of the state responded to the demands of the Pashtuns carefully, calibrating all the pros and cons. What irked the organizers of the movement was denial of media coverage depriving it of all the promotional oxygen. The gap was filled by the social media but not without injecting conspiracies, misgivings and bad blood for the state of Pakistan. The international media jumped in to claim its own space, to support what the West had started terming violation of human rights of the Pashtuns in the erstwhile FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The activists from the left tried to pitch in to share some burden of the PTM to ventilate their own long pent-up feelings against the establishment, but they were given a cold shoulder. In the meantime, two of the PTM stalwarts became members of the National Assembly after the July 2018 elections.
This massive support emboldened the PTM leaders and their wish list began to expand. Notwithstanding the plight of the people of erstwhile FATA because of multiple military operations and lack of economic opportunities, the state had resolved to not allow these historic facts become another fodder for the international community’s nefarious agenda. Suspicion struck when Manzoor Pashteen and other leaders of the movement started talking about seeking an international guarantee for the redressal of their grievances. Going further, they also threw hints of getting the United Nations involved.
The President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani empathized with the PTM cause via Twitter. On February 6, 2019 President Ghani tweeted: “The Afghan government has serious concerns about the violence perpetrated against peaceful protestors and civil activists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.” In another tweet he wrote: “We believe it is the moral responsibility of every government to support civil activities that take a stand against the terrorism and extremism that plagues and threatens our region and collective security. Otherwise there could be long-standing negative consequences.” His tweets came in the aftermath of the arrest of protestors condemning the killing of activist Professor Ibrahim alias Arman Loni, allegedly by police in Loralai district of Balochistan. Pakistan called both tweets as interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs. The fuel to the fire became the acknowledgment of tweets by one leader of PTM and a member of the Parliament. He tweeted: “I would like to thank @ashrafghani for his words. I wish, at the very least, our state had realized its crime of martyring Arman Loni, but instead it launched a crackdown on our grief. And now it is condemning those who offer sympathy to us? By what standard of humanity is this ok?”
With all this support and the voices from West and the international media bolstering the anti-Pakistan narrative of the movement, little reason was left for the Pakistan security establishment to take a lenient view of the situation. For years the narrative of Punjabi versus the rest of Pakistani ethnic population had been used to polarize and divide Pakistanis. Most of it had been successfully implemented in Bengali nationalist and self-determination movement, sadly but sometimes by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Balochistan Liberation Movement. PTM is just another addition to the list to ultimately prove Pakistan a failed state created out of a failed theory espoused by Jinnah.
In a typical state of mind that misses forest for the tree, the eastern and western neighbours of Pakistan have failed to see the influence of the changing regional politics on the security and defence policies of Pakistan. The Bajwa Doctrine has clearly noted that Pakistan has no expansionist ambitions towards Afghanistan and that with a strong defence system at its back, Pakistan has nothing to fear of India’s military power. It was in this backdrop that Pakistan’s military and its government have repeatedly tried to initiate dialogue with India, while playing decisive role in bringing both the U.S. and the Taliban to a juncture where their paths cross. In this milieu, alienating Pashtuns can never be on Pakistan’s agenda.
The movement would do a great service if it keeps focus on achieving the constitutional rights of the Pashtuns using legal and lawful means. On the flip side, it is the responsibility of the state to regain confidence of the Pashtuns for which it is essential that the merger of FATA with the KP is taken beyond the mere joining of two different territories, to providing the tribal areas with the necessary administrative, local government and judicial infrastructure along with economic opportunities.
The writer is a columnist who writes for national print media.
E-mail: [email protected]
Note: The views expressed herein are those of the writer.
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