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Creating A ‘Brave Space’ Is The Only Answer To The PTM Question

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Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) wants peace in the Pashtun areas. So do the State and the military. But their definitions of peace differ from each other, resulting in a deadlock and bitter exchange of words between the state and PTM? The state needs to create a ‘brave space’ for peace to address the grievances of the Pashtuns. We need this brave space because ‘Safe space’ for dialogue sanitises the environment of the conflict and makes you avoid addressing the tougher questions. The questions relating to enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, landmines and the invasions of households require a genuine desire to address the deeper issues.

Pashtun grievances need a brave space for peace to embrace controversy, answer difficult questions and reconsider the reasons that in the first place created these grievances. Framing the Pashtun question requires an introspection of what interests are at stake, what are the core concerns, how to make grievances understood in a better manner, what language choices and metaphors are complicating and unsettling, what memories of the conflict seem illegitimate, and finally how Pashtuns are disrespected in status.

Conflict is an important signal in our political and personal lives that make us realise that some things need to change. Psychologists believe that teenagers show aggressive behaviour because they find it hard to articulate their views in appropriate language. However, this example fits in the case of both. The way they both are articulating and reacting, owing to two different perspectives of the same situation, is unbecoming of good communicators.

What is needed is a retelling of their experiences to an ‘active listener’. It is critical to acknowledge at present that something has gone wrong and paying attention to the underlying emotions that produce such divisive discourse. Instead of sympathy or empathy, we are witnessing a continuous and hostile blame game through press briefings and social media.

Dialogue and negotiations are held in symmetrical conflicts, not asymmetrical ones. In Pakistan, we have a youth movement on one side and a government and state on the other. At present, this emerging conflict doesn’t require a ‘dialogue’ which by definition means a conversation or discussion to resolve a problem, neither has it needed ‘negotiations’ which aims at reaching an agreement.

What’s needed is ‘active listening’ as a first step based on core concerns of the affected group. The stories of the families of disappeared people have made this an emotionally charged conflict, which makes dialogue emotionally unsettling.

Listening to each other will enable us to formulate a framework for engaging in conflicts, either through dialogue, negotiation, mediation or other approaches for conflict resolution. The question ‘how do I want to make them feel’ is the key to make us mindful of our language choices and their impact; either conflict generating or conflict reducing. What we are witnessing right now is a conflict generating narrative against a youth movement that is demanding ‘listening’ to their demands, and then address them as a second step.

Why has it become so difficult for the state and government to engage these people? Resistance means you are opposing something, not initiating. The non-violent aspect of Pashtun youth movement is based on the same philosophy. They are opposing state’s inaction towards their 71 years of grievances, not initiating any separatist movement or dismantling state’s core structures.

Since 9/11, Pashtuns have faced massive displacement. And what is happening now is the displacement of the meaning of their historical grievances and demands for peace. Instead they are being given a negative connotation that is causing further rifts in the already divisive political environment of the country.

There is a constant debate in Pakistan centring on who belongs and who does not belong; insiders and outsiders, allowed to discuss certain aspects of state policies and engage with those who raise issues. Ethnic and religious minorities in Pakistan are struggling to survive and offering sacrifices for basic rights and freedoms that are already enshrined in the constitution and international legal instruments.

Security is central to Pakistan’s vision; however, it is filled with notions of risk, especially if applied to internal political issues in the same manner and language as applied to countries we have disputes and conflicts with. There is no insurgency in the Pashtun areas of Pakistan at present, nor was it ever present in its 71 years of existence. Treating grievances as insurgency through a systematised response with the help of state apparatus is the result of securitization of state since 1947.

Creating internal enemies through a divisive political discourse is a bio-political tactic to make sure that the aggrieved lives like a criminal cancer patient while the state waits for his death. 1971 is a case to study in this regard. There is a fear of losing in the state’s dealing with the internal discourses, which is much greater than their desire for gaining and winning hearts and minds of people.

A brave space for peace that connects people is critical at this stage of our political history. Pakistan does not need a divisive discourse that we’ve been hearing for the last seven decades. In order to move forward, Pakistan as a responsible state needs to engage and listen to the public sentiment, in whatever language or tone it is made. This tone and word choice is a result of bitter experiences and long awaited desire for justice.

Pakistan is witness to the bravery of our soldiers in wars and the bravery of our political leaders and activists in their struggle for democracy and human rights. Now, we need a brave space for peace to tackle issues that make human life and its sanctity a national issue. There is need to build a bridge for national reconciliation. It is not always a victory to feel justified for causing harm to others or violate their trust by initiating a discourse that turns a social, economic, political or human rights issue into a conflict. After seven decades of its existence, Pakistan finally needs to stop bleeding through its own follies by denying the facts of history and get itself ready to face the truth.

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