Policy Contradictions Are Making The PTM Challenge Tougher
Ailia Zehra discusses the Khar Qamar check post incident and the problem with the mainstream state narrative including suppression of alternative views. The ban on covering PTM’s side of the story must be lifted because no one should be condemned unheard.
Almost a week after the May 26 Kharqamar incident, victims of state action initially condemned as ‘troublemakers’, are being compensated by the government in the form of monetary assistance. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Chief Minister on June 1 announced a compensatory package of Rs 2.5 million for the families of the deceased while Rs 1 million would be given to the injured. Adviser to the CM on Merged Districts Ajmal Wazir also announced formation of a 9-member Jirga comprising tribal heads to ‘hold discussions’ on the clash. This suggests that after a week of silence, the government finally expressed remorse over the lives lost.
ISPR’s press release issued following the incident held the protesters responsible for the violence, accusing them of attacking a check post to secure release of a facilitator of suspected terrorists. PTM-linked MNAs Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar were accused of leading the assault.
The official version said 3 people were killed in the firing but the unofficial account and eyewitnesses’ statements (which are not being reported on mainstream media) suggest the number of casualties is much higher.
Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar are politicians – not terrorists
MNA Ali Wazir who was arrested following the incident has been remanded in custody of the Counter Terrorism Department by an anti-terrorism court. It is ironic that a longtime anti-terror activist who lost several members of his family including his father and two brothers to terror is being held under charges of terrorism. Of late, the anti-terror framework of the country is being used to harass activists critical of authorities, and Ali Wazir’s case falls under the same category.
MNA Mohsin Dawar presented himself for arrest in a court in Bannu a few days after the incident. Dawar has also been vocal against terrorism and just three weeks before the incident, he had moved a bill on number of seats of tribal districts in the National Assembly. The legislation was unanimously approved by the assembly in a rare display of unity among political parties.
It is surprising that two lawmakers who until recently were part of the political process have suddenly become dangerous terrorists.
Where is the evidence?
The mainstream state narrative has many problems. Why would leaders of a movement that has evidently been non-violent since its inception – despite state oppression – attack a military check post knowing full well the consequences it may have?
If the protesters indeed attacked the check post, there must be some evidence of them being armed. On the contrary, the videos released on social media show unarmed people hiding for shelter amid gunshots.
Moreover, why has the government felt the need to compensate the affectees and convene a Jirga over the incident if those killed were terrorists? The contradictory approach in terms of response to the Kharqamar incident indicates nervousness on the part of the state.
Meanwhile, mainstream media’s coverage of the incident would have you believe MNAs Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar have been formally charged with initiating the attack. The claims made in the press release issued by the ISPR were not independently verifiable due to mobile and internet services being suspended in the area shortly after the incident. But local media outlets reported the ISPR press release as if it were confirmed news.
Within hours of the incident, almost all local news channels were united in condemning PTM for resorting to violence and some went as far as accusing the two MNAs of treason. Major newspapers the next day also put the blame on PTM’s shoulders instead of seeking inquiry.
Allegations of attacking a military check post are serious and the party accused of it must also be given a platform to respond to the charges. But PTM’s version of the incident is nowhere to be found on media. A Waziristan-based journalist who interviewed Mohsin Dawar after the clash was arrested.
Regardless of what one thinks of PTM, the unofficial ban on airing and publishing their side of the story cannot be justified. For even murderers should not be condemned unheard.
PTM has been tolerant in the face of the media blackout it faced over the last one year. The young activists of the movement have been using social media pages to update their supporters after every successful public meeting. PTM’s rallies have attracted big crowds which include women and children who are seen carrying picture of their missing loved ones, demanding their recovery.
The movement’s demands resonate with the countless affectees of war on terror who were persecuted mercilessly by terrorists and mistreated by the state for far too long. But the state is not engaging the Pashtun youth in a constructive dialogue. Many experts, commentators, politicians are saying that the state needs to realize that using force to curb the movement would be counterproductive.
Addressing a PTM jasla held in Lahore last year, Manzoor Pashteen had accused media of hypocrisy for not airing their side of the story. He, had, however, reiterated that this blackout does not deter them because social media is on their side.
The PTM found an ally in social media because it at least allows them to reach out to the public who would otherwise not hear them due to alternative voices being barred on independent media. This was the case in the Kharqamar incident as well.
A few days after the Kharqamar incident, a Pashtun activist associated with PTM whom I have been in touch with since the PTM’s Lahore jalsa last year called me to complain about the media blackout. He was disappointed over the media’s role in the crisis and questioned if no one in the industry had guts to stand up. To the disgruntled PTM supporters like him who feel they have been wronged by the media, I can sadly offer nothing except a sincere apology. And perhaps an assurance that even though their voice is being silenced and crushed, they are being heard louder than ever.
Even journalists who want to support the Pashtun victims of atrocities cannot do so because of the risks attached.
Reporting facts or comments contradictory to the official version has become a crime and virtually ‘treasonous’. Trolls on social media hurl abuses and threats at journalists and activists who dare to differ with the official narratives. Often this cited as a ‘response’ to a ‘fifth generation hybrid warfare’.
What is worse is that in the face of challenges to free speech, the journalists’ community remains disunited and disorganized.
But the optimist in me still hopes that the public will see through the half-truths and spin doctoring.