By Samuel Baid
The fake encounter of a young Pakhtun, Naqeebullah Mehsud, by a policeman in a fake encounter in Karachi in January this year has kicked off Pakistan-wide Pakhtun unrest. It was not this single death that has brought Pakhtuns on streets but thousands of deaths, their malicious projection as terrorists and forced disappearances that have been happening since 9/11 in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (earlier North West Frontier Province -NWFP). The Pakistan Army suspects the common Pakhtun to be a terrorist. The senior police officer Rao Anwar who had killed the innocent Pakhtun man in Karachi was confident that the people would believe that the dead man was a terrorist.
A 24-year old university student Manzoor Pashteen played an active role in the formation of an organisation called Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). It means a movement to safeguard Pakhtun. To begin with, the movement has put four simple demands which concern their right to life. It demands the policeman, who killed the Pakhtun in Karachi, be arrested; landmines in tribal areas be cleared missing Pakhtuns be returned and produced before a court; frequent curfews be stopped and check posts all over tribal areas be removed. The government has told the media not to give importance to the Pakhtun movement. Some newspapers have projected it as an anti-state movement because its leaders talk without inhibitions against Army’s atrocities in tribal areas. Some leaders of the movement accuse the Punjabis in the Army of planning and executing the killing of Pakhtuns. At some PTM rallies the Army was accused of involvement in the massacre at the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar on December 16, 2014.
An article in Pakistanis Daily Times titled “The PTM Media Trial” (March 28) says: “What makes PTM unique is its bold and unapologetic stance on the military’s abuse of civilian dignity. If it doesn’t mention the military, then it would be no different from Jamaat-i-Islami, JUI-F or PTI who speak about FATA but ignore naming security forces and their involvement in enforced disappearances. PTM goes well beyond the Pakhtun issue now. It is an awareness campaign that challenges the deep state everyone knows exists. It has the potential to gather various oppressed groups on one platform”.
Bias, supercilious contempt and maligning of Pakhtun or for that matter all non-Punjabi ethnic minorities, as anti-Pakistan have helped Punjab force its superiority on other provinces right since the day one of the birth of Pakistan. For the past 70 years Pakhtuns, Baluch and Sindhis have smarted under this second–rate citizen status despite their being Muslims. Bengalis liberated themselves having suffered this treatment for 24 years.
Pakhtuns were the first to suffer soon after the creation of Pakistan. Their fault was they had enthusiastically supported the Indian National Congress against the Muslim League in United India. At the 1946 elections Pakhtuns voted the Congress to power in then NWFP and rejected the Muslim League which claimed to be the sole representative of Muslims in India. Muslim League chief Mohammad Ali Jinnah would never forgive Pakhtuns for this. Among the very first things he did as the first Governor-General of the just created Pakistan was to dismiss the Congress government of Dr. Khan Abdul Jabbar Khan (Dr. Khan Shaheb), whom was the elder brother of Frontier Gandhi Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. The maligning of Pakhtuns as anti-Pakistan started at that point of time. Pakhtuns were insulted when Jinnah hammered out a provincial government for NWFP of Muslim Leagues whom they had rejected in 1946. Worse, he planked on his former provincial Machiavellian Congress colleague Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan, as the Chief Minister. He was a compulsive hater of the Khan Brothers and all Pakhtuns who followed them. The culture of non-violence that was taking root in NWFP was systematically demolished.
Jinnah took away the Pakhtun right to choose their own government. Their revolt was publicised as an act of treason against Pakistan. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who exiled himself to Jalalabad in Afghanistan during Gen Ayub Khan’s dictatorship in Pakistan, offered his services to Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto after Pakistan had liberated itself from the military rule. Bhutto contemptuously rejected it saying he did not want traitors’ help.
While this image of Pakhtuns persisted, they were used as fodder along with thousands of poor Pakistanis in the US-led war in Afghanistan against the Soviet troops during the 1980s. When this war ended, Pakhtuns earned another epithet: terrorists. The Pakistan government trained them as the Taliban to protect Pakistani merchandise going to Central Asia via Afghanistan. The Taliban were produced in the same madrashas in Pakistan which were funded by the CIA to prepare fighters for the Afghan war in the 1980s. Now the Pakistan has its own Pakistani Taliban who are made up of Pakhtuns and Punjabis. But the irony is that nobody will call Punjabis as terrorists while Pakhtuns have been so branded. The PTM is fighting this branding.
After 9/11 Pakhtuns especially in FATA have suffered the most at the hands of the Taliban terrorists and the Pakistan Army who finds it convenient to treat all Pakhtuns as terrorists, According to residents of FATA, who have occasionally spoken to BBC Urdu since 9/11, whenever military operation against terrorists under US pressure were to be conducted the Army pre-warned the targeted terrorists. Thus at the time of military operations there were no wanted terrorists. The Pakistan Army then harassed and killed innocent men and women.
Things became worse in the wake of Gen Raheel Sharif’s much publicised Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan. Here too ahead of the operation “good” terrorists like the Haqqani Network had been moved to safer places in Pakistan. “Bad” terrorists, who included Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) were targeted, but they slipped away to Syria and Afghanistan. Now only law-abiding Pakhtuns were left to face the brunt of the Army’s fire power.
This operation also did not bring down terrorism in Afghanistan but it reduced terrorism incidents in Pakistan. China gained the most in as much as the threat of the ETIM to its Muslim-majority province of Xinjiang was reduced. Many countries including the US and China patted the back of Gen Sharif for this operation. But nobody took note of the human misery caused to the population of North Waziristan by this operation. Eventually “good” and “bad” terrorists had left the theatre of conflict. Only people left there were those who refused to move out of their house to the camps in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The Pakistan Army blindly bombed North Waziristan destroying residential dwellings, schools, hospitals, roads and public buildings so that thousands and thousands of people who became internally displaced persons (IDP) could not return in a hurry. For years they lived in filthy camps in scorching heat, in torrential rains and in freezing cold. Many of them died. The Pakistani media took no note them. After all they were just Pakhtuns like Baluch or Bengalis earlier. Even as Sindhis whose cries against forced disappearances of Sindhi nationalists are ignored by the media
It looks unlikely that the Army will allow the PTM go beyond a point. Already campaigns in social media have started to paint Manzoor Pashteen as a foreign agent and the PTM is being accused of being funded by India and Afghanistan. But if the impressive rally (jalsa) the PTM organised on April 8 in Peshawar and their avowal at the massive gathering that they would held more rallies jalsas in Karachi, Hyderabad, Loralai and Bannu for the whole month of April are of any indication, it is likely that the oppressed people of Sindh and Baluchistan may get inspired by it.