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Citizen Voices Democracy

Pashtun Tahafuz Movement – Social Media Beats Censorship

Young Pashtuns are angry and critical of the state policies. Rabia Mehmood closely followed the social media conversations for Naya Daur

Pashtun Tahafuz Movement’s rally of April 8 brought thousands together in Peshawar to ask the state of Pakistan for their constitutional and human rights. The gathering was, like the movement itself, peaceful and followed the ideology of nonviolence. It was a blaring, loud roar for peace by the Pashtuns of Pakistan.

Journalists love a crowd, if an “event” has a significant number of people attending, for instance a protest, a rally or congregation of any sort, they want to be there. However, despite the count of people at the PTM rally being above 10000 at least, there was widespread censorship. Barring a few reports in the English dailies, and a talk show or two, blackout on a people’s movement that is demanding rights from the state is unethical. To be honest, the coverage of PTM since it began campaigning has been paltry at best.

This media blackout is undemocratic because it took away an opportunity to highlight the plight of the suffering Pashtuns. It also missed the chance to educate and inform the rest of Pakistanis about what the people of FATA and KP have gone through in the name of countering militancy here.

Those who are ethnically privileged are uninformed about the colossal loss the residents of KP, FATA and Balochistan have faced. Not that it is the duty of the marginalised to bring attention to the attacks on their dignity by the militants and the state but the media could have helped the uninformed and the complicit confront their biases by doing their job.

Pakistanis in Balochistan, KP and FATA live with enforced disappearances, military’s intrusive presence in their regions, extrajudicial killings, terrorism, extreme profiling and surveillance. Stuck between the military and militants, they are the excluded citizens.

This rally had a significant participation from the families of victims of enforced disappearances from FATA, Balochistan and KP. No one can look at the photos of families of the disappeared and not be moved. This was the first most vocal public platform provided to the affected. Stories emerging from the rally are some of staggering pain and courage – daughters looking for their fathers, wives for husbands, parents for sons.

There has not been enough reporting on the state caused deprivation of the people of aforementioned regions. Reasons vary from inherent biases of the media, callousness in the newsrooms, censorship & refraining from the fate same as Geo TV, i.e. getting blocked by the cable wallahs. However, now PTM had given the press an opening to finally focus on those who have suffered the most since 2001. They did all the work, the press had to merely show up and do their job.

And if there ever were a day to be grateful for Twitter and Facebook, it would be April 8. Despite reports of network interruptions there were regular updates by the attendees on social networks which became primary and only source of information dissemination.

Twitter did create its share of obstacles though. This time, the organised cyber army of misogynist trolls did not use the hashtags they have been using for the past few weeks to further their smear campaign, but used the rally’s hashtag — #PashtunLongMarch2Peshawar — to discredit PTM and implied that it was manipulated by the Afghans and was working on anti Pakistan agendas.

It is safe to say that the said smearing is being done by xenophobes and warmongers as PTM is an anti-war movement.

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