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Stop Treating PTM Like An Ulcerous Sore. It’s A Political Movement. Deal With It Politically

Haris Ahmed in this article argues that it is never too late to learn from mistakes and not take the same course of attempting to solve what is a political problem with violence.

‘Your time is up’, thundered the ISPR DG Major General Asif Ghafoor from the podium in an 82-minute long press conference not more than a month ago, referring to the leadership of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) who, he said, had already ‘enjoyed a lot of liberty’. So what transpired this past Sunday had been on the cards for a while. The only thing surprising about it is that it took so long.

It is no secret the military establishment has seen the PTM as an ulcerous sore on its backside from day one. It believes the movement is out to undo all the good work the military says it has done in the erstwhile tribal areas during the past decade or so, ‘breaking terrorists’ backs (numerous times, it seems, owing to terrorists’ ‘miraculous’ powers of recovery) and earning the locals’ goodwill by instituting developmental schemes.

Thus from the onset, it has been the military that has taken charge of dealing with the PTM. It has vacillated between inviting the PTM to negotiate and then not-very-subtly threatening them on public forums to give up their movement and return to the ‘herd’. The PTM has been uncompromising, especially because they believe there has been a failure to fulfill most of their demands in any meaningful way. They point out that Rao Anwar roams free, Tahir Dawar’s murder remains unsolved, and so does Arman Luni’s, citizens continue to be harassed at checkpoints across erstwhile FATA, extrajudicial killings continue, curfews continue to be imposed, and many missing persons have still not returned to their families. The military, however, claims it has met them all, and accuses the PTM of moving the goal posts.

Also read: Political Parties Should Defuse The Situation Before It Gets Worse

The 2018 elections proved to be a boon for the PTM with two of their frontline leaders, Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, both elected to the National Assembly from Waziristan, and just ten days ago, Dawar presented a bill that was unanimously passed by the assembly increasing the representation of the newly merged districts. Their access to the halls of power has enabled them to raise the voice of their constituents very articulately and eloquently and has brought to the fore the horrors the people of the erstwhile tribal districts have faced for the past two decades and continue to do so.

The military sees itself as the defender of Pakistan’s ‘ideological frontiers’ and has always frowned upon any expression of individual ethnic and linguistic identity and nationalism. That the PTM asserts ethnic solidarity between Pashtun tribes either side of the Durand Line is anathema to the military’s concept of ‘Pakistaniyat’. One would think that the DG ISPR’s tweet a few days ago ‘Identity crises (sic) is a disease’ was precisely in this regard.

Despite various attempts to bring out the worst in them and several flash points that could have descended into violence, such as opposing rallies by the ‘other’ PTM (Pakistan Tahaffuz Movement, which has since petered out) and attempts to liken them to NDS and RAW supported iteration of the Taliban, the PTM  has strictly adhered to the creed of non-violence as espoused by Khan Abdul Ghaffar ‘Bacha’ Khan, whom they hold as their intellectual guru, and who was always treated as a pariah by the Pakistani state as long as he lived and continues to haunt it even from the grave.

Appointing the notorious Ijaz Shah as the Federal Minister of Interior may also be seen as part of the state’s plan to crackdown on the PTM. Indeed, the minister made it clear in no uncertain terms when he warned those staging sit-ins to be ready for a ‘spanking’.

The trap had thus been laid for the PTM to resort to violence, and they have done well to avoid it thus far. The latest incident, the ISPR claims, was an ‘assault’ on a check-post by a mob of PTM supporters led by Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir and that the armed forces ‘exercised maximum restraint’ before retaliating, which resulted in the death of three attackers.

This exact version of events was splashed on the front screens and pages of every TV channel and newspaper in the country in double-quick time. Knowing the iron grip the military exercises on print and electronic media in Pakistan, and the electronic and media blackout imposed across the tribal areas, who would want to argue with the ISPR’s version of events?

But it must be said that this version of events seems to be rather dubious. The military is accusing two elected MNAs of attacking a military check-post, who have thus far, in the face of far greater provocation, held their nerve. Also telling is the fact that it is the ISPR-dictated version of events that TV channels and newspapers have run with, with the PTM not being given any say in the matter and a complete information blackout having been imposed in the area.

The PTM has adamantly denied these allegations and maintains they were peaceful and were fired upon. Amateur videos shot on the scene support the PTM’s stance. PTM workers are seen marching towards what appears to be a picket set up by the military to check their advance before indiscriminate fire is opened upon them.

It absolutely beggars belief as to why the PTM would dare take on the might of the military and that too in broad daylight in such a brazen manner, having based their entire movement on the code of non-violence. Such an insensible act would irreparably damage their struggle.

The DG ISPR also remarked in one of his elaborate press conferences that had the Pakistani media been as ‘free’ in 1971 as it is today, Pakistan would not have suffered the loss of half its territory in the east. If, him being the spokesman of the institution, we are to believe that this is the military’s honest take-away from that war, then it would appear that lessons have still not been learnt from that humbling defeat.

It is also a damning indictment on the ruling party that instead of calming troubled waters, the special assistant to the PM on Information and Broadcasting, Firdous Ashiq Awan, came out with a damning statement against the same MNAs.

The PTI would do well to recognise that these events have seriously dented their writ with the army ‘arresting’ Ali Wazir, an elected MNA, which is a brazen constitutional breach. No sitting MNA can be arrested without intimating the speaker of the National Assembly, and informing him of the charges against him and his place of detention. At the time of writing of this piece, Ali Wazir is still in ‘custody’ and being treated as a terror suspect; as crazy as that may sound.

There is uncertainty over what course events will take in the coming days and weeks, but one thing is certain, the PTM has entered uncharted waters, and is in the crosshairs of Pakistan’s military. It is never too late to learn from mistakes and not take the same course of attempting to solve what is a political problem with violence.

They would do well to realise that the tribal regions have been through hell over the past two decades and more owing to no fault of their own, pawns in a greater game, families divided by strife, homes and businesses demolished, they had to seek refuge in camps or other cities across the country, where they have faced discrimination, racial profiling and other unspeakable horrors.

If the political consciousness that has risen from the ashes and ruins of erstwhile FATA is allowed to nurture and bloom, Pakistan will be all the better for it in the long run. The PTM has given voice to all the injustice faced by these people, and has merely demanded redressal. If their time is indeed ‘up’, as the DG ISPR said, they will have to go down the other, all-too-familiar path, and that has only led to ruin.


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