Even as the Pakistan government has tried to curb media coverage of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), alleging it of inciting separatist sentiments, members of PTM have said that their fight is for constitutional rights and not to break Pakistan.
The protests organised across the world by PTM in the last two weeks have found supporters among the Pashtun diaspora as well as from Pakistan’s general public and politicians of other parties as well, while many have resorted to tag the movement as an attempt of foreign countries to break Pakistan.
Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Ehsan, a Pashtun youth who has lost his cousins living in South Waziristan to Pakistan’s army “operations” against the Taliban, said, “I have never been directly exposed to violence or bloodshed because we lived in the city. But my relatives living in South Waziristan and FATA have suffered. Their pain is our pain and we need to stand for each other.”
Ehsan is currently living in Sweden and will be representing the Pashtuns of South Waziristan and FATA at the United Nations Convention for enforced disappearences later this year.
Ehsan said, “The trolling of PTM on social media is misplaced. We consider ourselves Pakistanis. We do not want to break Pakistan. We want to exercise our constitutional rights and put an end to extra-judicial killings. All the news of us being funded by some foreign countries is wrong. PTM is a young organisation that has found its roots among the people. It is us, the people, who have invested our time and money into organising protests and social media mobilisation. Whoever was good with technology among us, built a mobile app, others acted as campaigners to collect donations etc. We have not hired any company to bring money or to manage our organisation. It is just us, driven and young educated Pashtun youth, who are informed about their rights.”
PTM emerged from a 10-day sit-in protest in Islamabad in February this year. The protest galvanised the grievances of Pakistan’s estimated 40 million Pashtuns. Their homeland in northwestern Pakistan, particularly an arch of mountainous territory called the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) near the border with Afghanistan, has served as the main stage for the Pakistan army and the United States of America for the global war on terrorism for 15 years. On 26 March, PTM supporters protested in over 20 cities across Pakistan to denounce the arrest of their comrades, harassment of their leaders, and efforts to suppress their campaign by questioning their patriotism and commitment. Last week, PTM organised the “Pashtun Long March” in Islamabad, where over a lakh Pashtuns are said to have attended the protests after one of the founding members of PTM, Manzeer Pahsteen, called upon Pashtuns across the world to raise their demands.
Mohammad Zubair, an assistant professor of Law who is now pursuing his Ph.D in USA, a member of PTM and Pashteen’s mentor, said, “There are several reasons why PTM has managed to gain so much traction. First of all, the two key political parties of Pashtuns, the Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakhtunkhawa Milli Awami Party (PMAP), have failed to raise the issues of the people before Pakistan’s central government. It is their failure that led to the formation of PTM.” PTM members said that though the senior leadership of ANP and PMAP does not support PTM, their second and third tier of leadership openly attends PTM protests. Before the Islamabad rally last week, a protest was organised in Peshawar which is considered to be the stronghold of ANP. While ANP leader Asfiandiyar had announced that none of his party workers will attend the Peshawar protest , sources claim that the ANP cadres had attended the PTM protest in large numbers.
This leads to larger speculation on the future of PTM emerging as a political party. Observers explain that it will be difficult for the ANP and PMAP to continue to maintain a pro-establishment stance when the workers of their own party are supporting PTM’s demands. Thus, if the two existing Pashtun political outfits do not address local sentiments and start to reflect the resentment of the common people against the government in Islamabad, they might be pushed into political oblivion. To stay relevant, ANP and PMAP will have to start standing up against the alleged violations by the Pakistan army.