Pakhtun Spring

Photo source: Arab News

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

It has been a while since Pakhtuns have been lamenting about discriminatory policies by Punjabi-dominated politicians in Pakistan.

It seems a kind of grassroots movement has been emerging because Punjabi-dominated Pakistani politics is accusing the community of being terrorist sympathisers. But, in reality, the Pakhtuns are fed up with the war and want a better world for themselves.

The area of Pakhtuns is known by other Pakistanis, as ‘Illaqa e Ghair’, or ‘no man’s land’, in English. Believing Pakistani ISI as a troublemaker in the region, Pashtuns think that the nationalist leaders are willing to keep the political chaos relentless in Afghanistan, just because they could keep the American dollars flowing into Pakistan. 

‘Free Karachi Campaign’ spokesperson Nadeem Nusrat believes that ISI is mobilising Taliban as counterinsurgents (renegades), to subdue the aspirations in the region. According to PTM itself, there is the good and bad Taliban existing in Pakistan. The good ones are supposed to be closer to the establishment.

As many 'bad' Taliban militias have been killed, by the Pakistani army, the events have internally displaced thousands of Pakhtuns, to major cities in Pakistan. These displaced Pakhtuns mostly come from remote villages in the tribal belt.

Since February 2018, the reasons for protests are clear, as much as they can be. Locals are having resentment against the repressive system, freedom of speech and widespread corruption. That's why PTM is propagating a truth and reconciliation commission for all extrajudicial killings that happened in the Pakhtun belt.

There had been a ten-day sit-in protest against seeded landmines, that often kill civilians and children, removal of security checkpoints and a plea to release several individuals from detention by the security agencies.

The so-called ‘Pakhtun Spring’ started in 2015, when a human rights activist named Manzoor Pashteen, a man claiming to have seen all the cruel realities of war, along with 25 comrades from the tribal areas, launched protests against planted landmines in their region.

When Arab Spring started, Pashteen founded the Mehsud Tahafuz Movement, in 2013, to secure the rights of the tribesmen. His party had been formulating to make a list of enforced disappearances.

PTM was formed in Dera Ismail Khan as an initiative for removing landmines from Waziristan and other parts of the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas, affected by the war in North-West Pakistan. It initially began as a justice movement for Naqeebullah Mehsud, who was extrajudicially killed in a fake encounter. Initially trying to fight for the rights of the Mahsud tribe, PTM eventually started propagating for rights for the whole Paktun tribe.

The displacement of many Pakhtuns, however, has also resulted in a blessing in disguise, as they now have greater access to healthcare, education, jobs and other amenities in Pakistani metropolitans. 

However, the influence of al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban in FATA areas piqued the Pakhtuns to the point of sustained political change through activism. They want an end to the political disorder.

Under Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), an agency that comes under the federal government, and traces its origin to colonial times, they can arrest many people in the family and a clan, along with an alleged convict, committing a social crime.

SWAT region, in recent times, has seen Islamic puritanism at its absolute worst, when a hardline Taliban preacher, Mullah Fazlullah, raised his army and started giving sermons on the radio. He beat his fellow associates ruthlessly and beheaded them and challenged the Pakistani federal government at the same time.

When on February 18 Swat civilians organised a rally in Islamabad, a media blackout happened. The police filed cases of sedition and accused them of terrorism, although the rally had been peaceful.

Some days later, another protest happened in a place known as Bajaur, where the Pakistani military had conducted many operations against the Taliban, since 2007 onwards. The Pakistani media did not cover this event and censored it.

The Urdu media, specifically, has been very biased against the Pakhtun population. They are ridiculed in local soap operas, humour-based shows and morning shows. The stigmatisation is a routine occurrence on Pakistani TV channels and newspapers. Also, massive stage shows and rallies of PTM are largely ignored by mainstream media channels, leaving social media the only tool to disseminate their issues with the rest of Pakistan. That's why many Pashtuns feel that they are strangers in their own country.

According to Dawn Oped writer, Ghulam Qadir Khan, Britishers, in their past, feared two things – the Russian invasion and the second was Paktun rebellion. The Britishers always had a cold relationship with the tribals, in one way or the other. They stereotyped them as savages and illiterates. Thousands of Paktuns are still under surveillance and get killed in fake encounters.

According to a PTM member, out of 4000 missing Paktuns, only 239 had been recovered. A tribal elder Malik Sher Aziz recently commented: ‘ the UN and the US-led international community should work together to bring an end to Pakhtun genocide, end the ongoing human rights violations, enforced disappearances, landmines plotting and toy bombs planted by Pakistan’s security forces in Waziristan.’

Pashtun labourers, traders, students and professionals face harassment in a mundane manner. There have been attempts to Arabise them, as many Pakhtun symbols have been attacked including jirgas, dance music rituals and shrines of saints revered by Pakhtuns. They claim to have lost their houses, grazing lands that they owned and their cattle.

Mohsin Dawar, chairman of the National Youth Organisation, and a senior leader of the Pakhtun Tahafuz Movement has been of the opinion lately, that there is specific racial profiling going on across Pakistan, at the present moment in time.

In places, such as Okara, family members search for their missing ones. Most of the farmers earn a living by growing wheat in winter and corn in summer.

At this point, many tribal elders known as ‘Malaks’ have been succeeding their power to the youth, who are tech-savvy, aware and active on social media.


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