It is the season of ‘jalsas’ (rallies) in Pakistan as the nation enters its season of discontent being expressed through protest rallies organized by the opposition parties and groups ranged against what they term military-backed and “military-selected” Imran Khan Government.
The latest on the path of protest are the Pashtuns of the FATA region who on November 16 held a massive rally at Miran Shah, North Waziristan, under the banner of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM).
The rally called for an end to the brutalities in the country in the form of enforced disappearances, killings and abuses of civilians, and asked the Pakistan military to abide by the Constitution.
The Pakistani media, already under severe pressure from the government to curb news about opposition protest rallies, blacked out the news of the rally. However, no such curb was applied on a rally organized by the sectarian Sunni outfit, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), led by Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi, that enjoys a high measure of support from among the Pakistani military and bureaucracy.
At the rally, PTM chief Manzoor Pashteen was supported by the presence of Ali Wazeer and Mohsin Dawar, lawmakers from North and South Waziristan. Others included former Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) Senator Farhatullah Babar, former Awami National Party (ANP) leader Afrasiab Khattak and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party’s Senator Usman Kakar.
The rally came soon after three rallies were organized under the banner of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). The PDM is set to stage a fourth one in Peshawar on November 23.
Significantly, Pashteen and Dawar who attended two of the PDM rallies, were prevented by the government to attend the third one in Quetta, capital of the restive Balochistan province.
Calling itself an “anti-war” civil rights organization, the PTM has been trying hard, but with little success, thanks to the government’s machinations, to project itself as a body fighting terrorists, both domestic and foreign. The ‘foreign’ include Afghans, Central Asians and Arabs embedded on their territory by the military that is encouraging such outfits to be deployed against India, Iran and Afghanistan.
The PTM has been demanding that a commission be set up to investigate state abuses, punish those responsible in accordance with the law, withdraw false cases, compensate the families of victims of terrorism and improve the overall situation in Pashtunistan.
PTM leaders have been under pressure from the Pakistani state institutions including its army and intelligence agencies. In May this year, PTM leader Ali Wazir’s cousin Arif Wazir was shot in front of his home. He later succumbed to injuries in Islamabad.
Pashteen was arrested from Peshawar for his speech in Dera Ismail Khan, while a day later Dawar was arrested in Islamabad while leading a protest demonstration.
The PTM this month opened its Chapter in Washington in the USA to make itself heard by the world community. It organized a rally that was addressed by civil rights activist Gulalai Ismail. She had escaped the security dragnet and escaped to the US earlier this year.
Writing for the prestigious East Asia Forum (EAF), Prof. Farooq Yousaf of the University of Newcastle has pointed at poor prospects of any dialogue between the Pakistan Government and the agitating Pashtuns. He has blamed lack of sincerity on the part of the successive governments that have used force to brutalize the Pashtuns, even while patronizing the Pashtuns who belong to terror outfits. Yousaf points out that this conflict “has not only affected the socio-political and cultural dynamics of the Pashtun tribal areas but also Pakistan’s domestic security situation, with militant groups attacking civil-military installations in the country.”
“Many believed that the May 2018 constitutional reforms, which sought to merge the tribal region with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and bring them into the country’s mainstream, would help address security and socio-economic challenges. But the formation and rise of the PTM, an indigenous movement of young Pashtuns that seeks to hold the military accountable for alleged rights violations, indicates that the situation on the ground is still far from ideal,” he said.
“The merger of the former FATA region is still facing legal and administrative complications,” Yousaf said, quoting Ghulam Qadir Khan Daur, an author and former bureaucrat from the former-FATA region.
Daur says that the ‘people [in the region] are disappointed [and] … want to know whether they are still governed by the old system because they do not see the new [governance] system working’.
Yousaf also quotes Afrasiab Khattak, a renowned Pashtun politician and former lawmaker, who believes that the merger “has resulted in lackluster administrative, judicial, security and economic reforms — especially because it was largely conceived as an administrative move with no clear ownership or roadmap”.
“It is still difficult to gauge the true prospects of peace in Pakistan’s border region. One key to peace and stability in the region is addressing the grievances of local Pashtuns, who have suffered violence and displacement at the hands of both local militants and the Pakistani military,” he said.