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Using Force Against PTM Will Worsen The Situation

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Before taking action against PTM on grounds that it is ‘foreign funded’, the state should review a number of other factors that cannot be ignored. The grievances of the Pashtun youth, if not addressed and met with force, may give rise to repercussions detrimental to the federation and parliamentary democracy, argues Saeed Wazir.

Civil rights movements generally outlive generations. They stem from political victimization, social disintegration, religious polarization and, above all, state’s engineered policies of national integration for the sake of a miniscule elite minority and at the utter cost of marginalized segments of society. Historically speaking, the Pashtun ethnicity has faced challenges of gargantuan proportions for their real and imagined crimes. The crises are both home-grown and state-sponsored.

Tensions, misgivings and alienation in the Pashtuns have historical roots, but they failed to channelize their collective voice against injustice, suppression and violence for far too long. The so-called war on terror and the emergence of post-9/11 disenchanted, disillusioned younger generation are a watershed moment that helped bring about a paradigm shift in demographic and political profile of this beleaguered ethnicity.

The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), an indigenous, organic ethnic rights movement, has kick started in the wake of extrajudicial killing of an aspiring model and artist Naqeebullah Mehsud by Karachi’s notorious police officer Rao Anwar in a staged encounter. 

The PTM’s major demands are constitutional. These include an end to the controversial military check-posts, recovery of the Pashtun missing persons, arrest of Rao Anwar and conclusive investigation into the abduction and subsequent murder of SP Tahir Dawar. The PTM also demands formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to delve deeply into past injustices and investigate the fallout of war against terrorism in the Pashtun regions.

DG ISPR Major-General Asif Ghafoor finally broke silence over PTM. In a press conference, he accused PTM of being on the payroll of hostile foreign intelligence agencies. The warnings to launch action against the group are certainly disturbing.

These practice of declaring citizens ‘traitors’ and imposing a total media blackout and censorship on actual events are not a new phenomenon. History is replete with such misguided policies which resulted in total failure in the past. The state should have refrained from dismissing the popular, grassroots level civil rights movement for inherent rights by calling it anti-Pakistan and foreign funded.

Unfortunately, the military has, as usual, resorted to its old playbook and disparaged the PTM as part of the much touted Fifth Generation Warfare.

Even in the worst case scenario, use of blatant force is maximalist approach that can lead to a civil war.

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The state should engage with them through dialogue rather than alienate and drive them up the wall. The grievances of the Pashtun youth, if not addressed, may give rise to repercussions detrimental to the federation and parliamentary democracy.

Before taking any kind of action against PTM, the state should find answers to the following questions: Will the use of brute force against the PTM eliminate or strengthen it? Will the Pashtun nationalists and religious parties not take sides in this tug of war – and if they do, wouldn’t it worsen the situation? Wouldn’t the anti-state elements stock religious and ethnic tensions as part of wider power plays in the already unstable region? Wouldn’t the use of force against aggrieved youngsters who have so far been peaceful result in international backlash?

Some days back, I, along with my non-local friends, visited both North and South Waziristan. I had visited my hometown after long and was impressed by major transformation in terms of physical infrastructure and social environment. Things have been improved and people in the war-torn region are getting returning to normalcy.

The security personnel cooperated with us, served us tea and warmly welcomed us. Their behavior and way of dealing with the locals has changed drastically as peace has largely returned to these areas. This is worth appreciating and should be reciprocated.

Based on the cruxes of neutral interaction with local intellectuals, elders and the masses, the state needs to assuage the pain of the war-affected and displaced people by adopting the following measures.

Peaceful reintegration and civilian-led rehabilitation of the internally displaced people should be facilitated on war footing. A major chunk of population is still languishing in camps and far off areas. Those who migrated to Afghanistan should be brought back without subjecting them to legal and administrative hardships. Some of the families put in camps after their arrival from Afghanistan complain of discriminatory measures. The people of Shawal Tehsil are still to be sent back to their homes.

Dialogue with all cadres of the PTM leadership is the only viable option. National Assembly and the KP provincial assembly need to engage with the PTM politically and come up with mutually-agreed solutions.

The controversial anti-army slogans often raised at the PTM rally do not resonate with the majority. Raising such slogans is counterproductive and the PTM needs to moderate its tone and tenor. Those having anti-Pakistan views should not be given space on stage and in the decision-making process.

The mainstream Pashtun nationalist leaders should play a role in creating a political environment where they function as guarantors and mediators. They feel inherent fear of being replaced by the new popular movement, but it is time to prevent it from drifting towards confrontation and militarization.

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Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party’s future is at stake. In case he does intervene in the face of pressure from the unelected institutions, his political fate will be sealed forever and his claims of breaking the status quo will fall flat. If the existing set up fails to live up to this, it can result in dramatic decrease in its popularity and can lose legitimacy both domestically and globally.

Instead of doing politics of expediency, the religious parties need to shun using the religious card and focus on issues of immediate urgency. Mainstream leaders can bridge differences between the establishment and the PTM given the fact they exercise immense influence in the tribal areas and Balochistan.

Transferring of rights of ownership, exchange and disposal of the communally-owned natural resources to the local people is one of the most brewing crises. Due to lack of industrial hubs and vibrant regional markets, people of the area are solely dependent on these for their livelihood.Also,the state should not tax arbitrarily and should compensate the locals for their lands being used for official and commercial purposes. The raging disputes aroused in the wake of construction of public places on undivided lands should be resolved through alternate dispute resolution mechanism.

The Afghan government’s diplomatic and moral support could be justified as Pakistan also supports the Kashmiri and Palestinian cause, but it should avoid policy measures that could result in tarnishing the PTM’s image and pose direct threat to Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty.

The PTM’s support to Afghan-led and Afghan-owned political solution to the Afghan issue is fundamentally in line with long term stability and politically correct as it can exercise wide ranging ramifications if mismanaged. Pak-Afghan border should be streamlined, but unwarranted closure and summary restriction in the wake of skirmishes call for diplomatic endeavors. The state must construct trade and economic zones along the border. Dialogue, not kinetic measures, is the best way to steer the country out of the current brewing crises.

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