Pakistani policymakers’ myopic thinking that helped Bengalis to establish Bangladesh is once again taking a wrong turn. The state institutions seem reluctant to observe and review the demands of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), which are purely constitutional and very basic in nature. The demands are the basics of the first 20 articles of the constitution of Pakistan.
The PTM, led by Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen, is making only five demands: clearing of landmines, recovery of missing persons (whose number is in the thousands), an end to discrimination against Pashtuns (profiling), a judicial commission on extrajudicial killing of Pashtuns, and penalization of Rao Anwar, former senior superintendent in the Karachi police’s encounter department, who has been accused in the extrajudicial killing of a Pashtun shopkeeper.
For the last four decades, Pakistan has faced undefined and so-called jihad against communism (1980s), the “war on terror” and the Taliban. FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) was made a safe haven for jihadist proxies to fight the US war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, to the detriment of Pakistan. The tribal Pashtuns who were made zealous to fight for the dignity of Islam and the Koran are now the victims of the Taliban.
After the terrorist attacks on the US in September 2001, the security dilemma helped Pakistani policymakers, strategists, dramatists, artists and filmmakers profile Pashtuns as extremists or terrorists. This provided leverage for the authorities to arrest, investigate and torture tens of thousands of Pashtuns for “security” reasons. To be Pashtun is to be suspected in almost every corner of the country.
We haven’t learned from history; we profiled Bengalis as ungrateful and tried to suppress their just and democratic right to form government, which led to disintegration of the country and the establishment of Bangladesh.
Banning media from giving coverage to public PTM gatherings is another issue that represents the fragile approach of the Pakistani civil-military leadership to understanding issues related to the nation’s ethnic integrity and prosperity. In this global village, media are the fourth pillar of the state and the significant source to give voice to those who are in search of justice, rights and security. Neither of the private media channels gave coverage to any public gathering of the PTM in Quetta and Peshawar.
The security agencies have also removed published articles in The News on Sunday, The Daily Times and Dawn newspapers. Pakistan’s top television station Geo News was banned for two days for giving short coverage to PTM’s public gathering in Peshawar. This is unfair. Keeping media away from PTM’s public gatherings is unjust and wrong.
The Pakistani establishment is wrongly trying to stigmatize Manzoor Ahmed Pashteen and the PTM. It is wrong to smear the PTM with such labels as anti-Pakistan, anti-Pashtun, pro-Indian and pro- NDS (Afghan National Directorate of Security).
Pakistan is already grappling with a number of issues, economic, security, political, religious, social and ethnic. In this regard, the poor and unwise thinking and approaches of top civil-military leaders can never be in favor of an ethnically stable Pakistan. The following policy options need to be reviewed by competent civil and military authorities in order to avoid any possible untoward incidents.
First, the chief justice of Pakistan, Saqib Nisar, should immediately order the establishment of a judicial commission on missing persons. Any negligence in this regard can add fuel to the fire of the grievances of Pashtuns.
Second, the prime minister of Pakistan and Chief of Army Staff must take notice of Pashtun profiling, discrimination against Pashtuns for security reasons and unnecessary searches at checkpoints and midnight raids in tribal areas in FATA. The federal government should take strict notice of Pashtun profiling in security rehearsals, and the depiction of Pashtuns in films and dramas. Pakistan is a state where all ethnic groups are the real strength of the country. Misrepresentation of any ethnic group will disintegrate the state on all levels.
Third, the media should be allowed to provide just coverage to all public gatherings of the PTM in order to give a sense of the provision and practice of all basic rights as defined by the constitution of Pakistan. Media coverage will help Pakistanis understand the pain and demands of Pashtuns in the right way.
Finally, the civil-military leadership should invite Manzoor Pashteen and his team for immediate meetings and negotiations on the demands presented by the PTM. Access to negotiation and discussion on issues is the finest way to stabilize the country in all areas.