Government’s Silence Over Killing Of Arif Wazir Betrays A Fractured Social Contract
The Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) has been painted into monster, thanks to the one-sided negative propaganda. Mainstream media, social media brigades have contributed to the creation of such an image. But the tenacious presence and mobilisation of PTM for the last two years despite all tactics of name-calling, suppression and conspiracy theories indicates that the movement corresponds to a resurgent consciousness born out of concrete material socio-political circumstances. Of course that consciousness and the perception as well as facts of the socio-political circumstances can be debated but that requires transparency, engagement, dialogue and respect for basic human rights. Sadly, the state has chosen just the opposite: censorship, suppression and instrumental use of violence, which ranges from legal, epistemological, political to enabling all actors to suppress dissent.
Arif Wazir, prominent leader of PTM, became a victim to the violence of non-state actors and senior leaders of PTM and MNAs from Waziristan are insistent that there is resurgence of Taliban’s activity in the area which is not being effectively countered by the state. So far, there is no official statement either from military or the government over the killing of Arif Wazir, which must have taken notice of the murder not only because Arif Wazir was a citizen of this country but also because of the involvement the massive protests held by PTM and Pashtuns all over the country and around the world.
Since the emergence of PTM the state has displayed an ambivalent attitude toward it. Imran Khan, the then opposition leader, attended the sit-in which led to the emergence of the PTM and stood by their demands. The demands, narrative and politics of PTM have hardly changed since that sit-in ended. The military, through ISPR spokesman, has swung from expressing sympathy to the pain that resulted in PTM, to blaming it for external funding, to admitting that some of their demands and discourse may be valid to open threats in form of ‘Time is up!’
The killing of Arif Wazir and the subsequent silence of the state and proliferation of propaganda on social media from accounts and handles that amplify the official position, point to a new attitude of the state. When Arman Luni was killed there was an acknowledgment from the state. Later, Senate’s standing committee on Human Rights to ordered filing of an FIR against the ASP charged with Arman’s killing. This time there is a total silence and this silence presents a paradigm shift. Such a shift may point either to frustration and tiredness of the state to suppress PTM or to the thinking that only violence – political, legal and societal –will be the strategy to deal with PTM, is ominous and risks the very social-contract that binds citizens to the state.
The total silence over murder of Arif Wazir amounts to non-acknowledgment of Pashtuns’ anguish as well as tacit acknowledgment that the writ of the state is selective and exceptional in application. PTM has stopped demanding anything from the media because the latter has demonstrated its inability to question the state especially when it comes to PTM. Not unlike war time when the ‘national’ media are required to back the state. Except that the situation here is different. Here the ‘enemy’ comprises of victims of war and conflict and are demanding justice!
Outlawing Pashtun bodies from protection and writ of the state is the continuation of long history of violation of Pashtuns rights for the ‘national’ geopolitical agenda. The violence is not born in this moment but has its roots in the very imagination of how the ‘nation’ is conceptualized by the deep state. PTM did challenge this violence and shaped an alternative discourse that has placed their bodies, culture and lands outside the realm of the legitimate, mainstream or ‘national’ space. PTM was a bridge and was willing to reduce the gap between the ‘national’ discourse of Pakistan and the concrete socio-political circumstances which resulted in truncated self-imagination, generational trauma and vocabulary of exclusion. As a close observer of their politics, I can say this with confidence that even now PTM has not given up on the politics of engagement but continued violence is firing up the collective memory of marginalization and the structure of feeling that determine the nature of belonging in the country.
Death isn’t the worst thing that can happen. This, probably, will be no better understood that the family of Ali Wazir, who buried eighteenth martyr when they lost Arif Wazir to violence of Taliban in a highly securitized space such as Waziristan. What is harrowing, is facing the daily low-intensity but high-frequency of violence in war-zones. That kind of violence dissociates you from yourself and alienates you from your essence of human dignity. Those who have lived through years of wars and war-like spaces know fully well that the threat to your life is just a matter of miscalculation, frivolous accident or an arbitrary trigger. The result is living in fear, on the verge of death, in that grey space between life and death. That fatigue from the grey space was which gave birth to PTM and still is driving it through. It is tragic that the state or powers that be can only make that grey into black!
PTM wants to belong. Pashtuns wants to belong. But in the ‘nationalized’ imagination of Pakistan, the dissenters being labelled as the outsiders, the aliens. This dialectic between belonging and alienation is the politics that defines and shapes the narratives, discourses and consciousness of PTM. That dialectic is not a fictional or hallow construct but corresponds to pain born out of violence and pain. The struggle, thus, is intimate. It is not played on the superficial plan of glory of a nation, a people or supremacy of one set of ideas over the others. The violence, when applied to real human bodies, produces real human feelings. The structure of those feelings when articulated result in the resurgent consciousness, best represented by PTM.
This is not to say that every common person who is abused and humiliated at a check-point, or who has been stopped right in front of their homes and asked to produce ID card or explain where they are going or coming from, or when their homes are raided, articulate or relate to the consciousness in the same level that the politics of PTM or a theory can put into words. But saying that they don’t feel that what is their place in the structure of power will be betraying skepticism and condescension to the human capacity to make sense of the world around them.
Pashtuns, like other people, are multi-dimensional humans. But the hypernationalized imaginary of Pakistan engages with Pashtuns through abstractions. Pashtuns are not seen beyond the abstractions of stereotypes. They can either be naïve simpletons readymade for cheap jokes, or they can be noble savages who are proud of their violent ways and who can fight for Pakistan, or the brutes who go on to become Taliban. Yet, another stereotype is that of ‘outsiders’ whose loyalty lies to Afghanistan than to Pakistan. This one is specific to people who dare to think of an alternative future and politics. Pashtuns are beyond these abstractions and they want to be seen beyond these abstractions.
When Arif Wazir was charged with treason charges a couple of months before he was assassinated, that was for a speech he made in Afghanistan. In an interview, he affirmed his loyalty to constitution to Pakistan but at the same time was proud of his cultural affinity to Afghanistan. This is something the abstraction of Pashtun the Pakistani national and patriotic imaginary has created can’t understand or seem ready to engage with. PTM is a direct challenge to that thinking in abstract of Pashtuns. PTM wants the mainland and mainstream Pakistan to engage with the full, capable of both good and bad, perfect and flawed, Pashtuns. Arif Wazir was a Pashtun beyond and in direct challenge to that abstraction of a ‘Pashtun’. But he had to be reduced back to that abstraction of a disloyal Pashtun.
This dehumanization, i.e. non-acknowledgement of death of a Pashtun leader, and the massive outpour of anger and grief is not something new. But when there’s a massive public political consciousness eager to engage and there’s this total illegitimacy of their existence and discourse, then the dividing line becomes sharper. It should be no surprise that PTM and Pashtuns might carry this discourse and struggle inwards and the break from the mainstream might become more radical. Arif Wazir would live on. The idea of non-violent resistance will also live on as articulated by Ali Wazir after funeral of his brother and comrade, “You can come after me. You can also kill [Manzur]. But even if there is one little girl remaining in my house, she will march with the flag of love, peace and life.” What may not be able to survive is the idea, in Pashtun political imagination and consciousness at-least, that we belong without dignity and respect. This realization was vocalize by Manzur at the same day as, “You can kill us, but not conquer us.”