Saturday, April 7, 2018
All arrangements have been finalized for a public gathering of Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), scheduled on Sunday at a ground outside Sarhad University on Ring Road in Peshawar.
'We will hold this gathering within legal limits by remaining peacefully and demand our constitutional rights ,' said member PTM Sana Ijaz.
She said that participants from across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Fata have been arriving and urged them to remain peaceful so that a soft image could be presented to the government and world.
PTM has been running a door-to-door campaign to inform people about the gathering and request them to ensure their presence so that they could convey their demands to the government.
The organisers have been taking out peaceful rallies in different parts of Peshawar and chant slogans for provision of constitutional rights.
Meanwhile, Ministry of Interior issued security alerts and warned the provincial government of terrorists' attacks on public places and gathering. PTM has been demanding clearance of landmines, provision of constitutional rights to people of Fata and production of missing persons before the courts.
#PashtunLongMarch2Peshawar - Caught Between The Military And Militants, Pakistan's Pashtuns Fight For Rights
But in recent weeks, Manzoor Pashteen has risen to lead a fast-growing movement of thousands from Pakistan's Pashtun minority, the country's second-biggest ethnic group, who form roughly 15 percent of the country's 207 million people. Where few dare to criticize the army, Pashteen brazenly speaks.
"We have to identify the place that destroyed us," Pashteen said at a recent rally. "It is GHQ!" he said, referring to military headquarters. The crowd cheered. The destruction he refers to is the crushing of Pashtun homes during military operations and Pashtuns' sense of humiliation at the hands of authorities. How Pakistan responds to Pashteen will have wide-ranging consequences. His heartland, a rugged territory known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas near the border with Afghanistan, is one of the world's most important geopolitical areas.
Now he is preparing for a large rally in the Pashtun-dominated city of Peshawar on Sunday. Activists hope a large turnout will show the military they cannot be suppressed.
If the Pakistani military tries to crush the movement surrounding Pashteen, it may complicate an already complex battle against militants in Pashtun areas, where the Pakistani Taliban are active and al-Qaida once had its stronghold.
"It does have implications that go beyond one province in Pakistan, and go beyond Pakistan itself," said Barnett Rubin, director of the Afghanistan Pakistan Regional Program at New York University's Center on International Cooperation.
"People who say those things are killed"
Pashteen is one of eight siblings from a family in South Waziristan, in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. When he was a child, his family fled home four times as clashes erupted between the Pakistani military and insurgents.
His father, a schoolteacher, sent him to a military academy, far from where the army was fighting militants as part of the war on terrorism that began after Sept. 11, 2001.
But during visits home, Pashteen said he became embittered. He alleges that thousands of Pashtuns were disappeared by the military and as many more were killed in bombings. He also alleges that soldiers deliberately killed innocents, including shepherds. Like hundreds of thousands of other Pashtuns, his family was displaced for years during the worst episode of fighting between Taliban fighters and the military in his area in 2009. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that some 400,000 were forced to flee the Pashtun belt that year, but aid groups count millions displaced in years of fighting between 2004 and 2017. When Pashteen's family finally returned in 2016, they found their home ruined, their books looted, and their lands studded with landmines. And, he said, they endured humiliation at army checkpoints.
Finally, he decided to speak out. "What would the next generation think if we faced brutality and oppression – but we didn't even raise our voice? What message are we giving? They would think we are people without honor," he recalled telling his father. "My father would agree, but he would say: 'People who say those things are killed.'"
"From 22, we became 22,000"
Pashteen emerged as an activist for his tribe, the Mahsuds, in 2014. It took another four years for him to come to prominence, in January, after the death of Naqeebullah Mehsud, an aspiring model from his tribe. Mehsud was shot dead in Karachi, and a senior police official stands accused in his death. Pashteen led demonstrations in Islamabad to protest Mehsud's killing.
The police hinted Mehsud was a militant, something his family and friends deny.
The "atmosphere around Pashtuns has become toxic" in Pakistan, said Ammar Ali Jan, an assistant professor at Punjab University in Lahore. "They have been [the] center of the war on terror," he said. And now, "it's almost projected as a Pashtun problem: violence, terrorism, religious extremism." During the sit-in he led in Islamabad, Pashteen said he realized something bigger than a single protest was happening. Pashtuns from different tribes began joining in. Demonstrations erupted in other Pashtun areas. His own experiences, he realized, were echoed across Pakistan.
"From 22, we became 22,000," he said.
Since then, activists have coalesced around Pashteen, forming the Pashtun Tahafuz [Protection] Movement. Its base is students and professionals, including doctors and lawyers. They run a Facebook group called "Justice for Pashtuns." Pashtun singers croon about the movement. Even Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai tweeted her support.
"There is no war on terror. There is only terror"
In Pashteen's whistle-stop rallies, lectures and meetings, he has emboldened others to articulate their grievances against the military, Pakistan's most powerful institution, and its widely feared Inter-Services Intelligence agency. They do even though they say they are vulnerable to harassment, abuse, disappearance and even death.
"People started saying: this is also what we held in our hearts," said Izhar Yousefzai, 22, a Pashtun student. Yousefzai said he once dared not speak. "When Manzoor Pashteen raised his voice, I found a companion. I joined him."
Most explosively, Pashteen and his movement accuse the army of sheltering some militants — specifically, the Haqqani Network, which is affiliated with the Afghan Taliban — in Pashtun areas. "They are feeding the Taliban, and they let them reside in military areas," Pashteen said. Meanwhile, "they are raising slogans about the war on terror."
Pashteen and his followers say they have paid the price of that policy, enduring drone strikes, clashes, acts of terrorism by insurgents and displacement. "There is no war on terror. There is only terror," Pashteen said last month in Peshawar, near the border with Afghanistan. He was with other activists, discussing how to arrange a rally in April. "We are standing eyeball to eyeball," said Pashteen of the army and his movement. "A massive movement of Pashtuns" Rubin of New York University said the Pashtun movement is articulating views that were once whispered. "It's quite new that they would do that so openly," Rubin said. "It turns out there's a massive movement of Pashtuns in Pakistan who are saying what I have heard in private for many years." The U.S. has also accused Pakistan of harboring militants. President Trump accused Pakistan of offering "safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror" in August. The U.S. has since pressured Pakistan by cutting off most military aid and punishing the country financially.
Pashteen wants to pressure Pakistan internally, said Mohsin Dawar, a columnist and activist with the movement. It would have a different resonance from pressure exerted by the U.S. and the West, he said. "If there is a local resistance, or a local, strong, confrontation, [the military] won't be able to pursue whatever they have been doing the last 15 years," Dawar said. Pakistan denies it harbors militants. Retired air marshal Shahid Latif said Pashteen's claims were "an overstatement," but said he was sympathetic. There have been years of "leniency" by the Pakistani military toward the Haqqani Network, he said, because its members fought as anti-Soviet mujahedin during the Soviet war in Afghanistan of the 1980s.
"They are the people who were in league with the security forces, back when we were fighting our jihad in Afghanistan," he explained. "So actually you can trace all the troubles starting from that time, and since they were fighting alongside our security forces and they were doing something that was kind of arranged by the state. So they expect some kind of a lenient treatment — even today."
Army commanders initially negotiated truces with some Haqqani militants instead of fighting them, he acknowledged. But, he said, things have changed: "Security forces are now not in any mood to grant them this leniency." Going after the Haqqani group has been a key demand of U.S. administrations.
"A tremendous opportunity"
Pashteen's Islamabad demonstration disbanded after authorities vowed to meet some of the protesters' demands, including speeding up de-mining efforts and removing some army checkpoints in Pashtun areas. The government responded in other ways, too: Rao Anwar, the police superintendent suspected of killing the aspiring Pashtun model in Karachi, appeared in court on March 21, after weeks in hiding. He is being investigated for involvement in the killing, and Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa assured Mehsud's father that the army supported the family in its pursuit of justice.
Rubin said Pakistan should view the Pashtun movement's demands for better treatment as an opportunity.
"It means that they have a tremendous opportunity to unite their country's various ethnic groups through the means of democracy and federalism," he said.
But there are darker signs. Police registered a criminal case against Pashteen for criticizing the government and security agencies, Pakistani media reported. Dawar, the political activist, said he was removed from his position as head of the youth wing of a secular Pashtun political party, which he claimed in a WhatsApp message was "under an immense pressure from the military." And activists claimed a prominent member of Pashteen's movement, Sadiq Achakzai, was seized by security agencies in Quetta.
"The government needs to end its longstanding discriminatory laws and practices against Pashtuns and act to end hostile attitudes toward them," Human Rights Watch said March 13. "This process could start by dropping the criminal cases against Manzoor Pashteen and other protest leaders wrongfully charged, fully investigating and fairly prosecuting those responsible for Naqeebullah Mehsud's death, and letting Pashtun voices be heard."
Pashteen told NPR regardless of how he was treated, he would remain non-violent. But if security forces crack down, "I can't control how other Pashtuns will act," he said. No longer, he insisted, would Pashtuns be like tissues "that the Pakistani state uses – and then throws away."
Pakistani media outlets and journalists often face consequences for refusing to toe the line of the country’s all-powerful military.
The Pakistani military and its notorious intelligence services have long been accused of stifling the independent media and silencing opposition through intimidation, censorship, and even assassination.
Now observers say Pakistan’s popular Geo TV is being punished for its tug-of-war with the military. Geo TV, part of Pakistan's largest commercial media group, Jang, was taken off the air in many parts of the country on April 1, with media watchdogs and journalists claiming foul play.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PERMA) and the Islamabad government have insisted they were not behind the suspension of the channel. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said he launched an investigation on April 3, but the perpetrators have still not been found or named.
With no claim of responsibility, many suspect the military, which has an oversized role in domestic and foreign affairs in the South Asian country.
"There’s no doubt that the military is behind the blackout," says Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistani military analyst and author.
Last month, Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa held an off-the-record briefing with a group of journalists in Rawalpindi that was widely reported. Bajwa described Geo TV as "subversive" and warned the channel that it would face consequences for crossing "red lines" by challenging the military, several reporters with knowledge about what was discussed during the briefing told RFE/RL. The military has rejected this account of events.
"The military doesn’t want any channel to report about anything that is against [its] interests, certainly not in its ongoing political battle," says Siddiqa. "Geo TV is one of the few Pakistani media outlets that are ready to provide an alternative perspective."
The Pakistani military did not respond to a request for comment.
Geo TV and the military have been at odds since 2014, when Geo TV anchor and journalist Hamid Mir was shot in the port city of Karachi. Mir accused the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency of ordering the assassination attempt. Geo TV publicly backed Mir’s claims, while the military denied any involvement.
Recently, Geo TV has refused to follow the military's line on the corruption case against ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is embroiled in an ongoing war of words with the military. The Supreme Court in July 2017 disqualified Sharif from office due to corruption charges, which he has refuted. Sharif blamed "hidden hands" for his ousting, an apparent reference to the military.
Allies of the three-time prime minister, who was toppled in a military coup in 1999, have called the case a political vendetta and suggested the military might be behind it.
Pakistani journalists say Geo TV has been of the few outlets in Pakistan that has reported independently on the corruption case and given the side of the Sharif family.
"The establishment wants to scuttle any dissent covered by the media, especially to prevent the voice of Nawaz Sharif from reaching the public," says Marvi Sirmed, an Islamabad-based journalist and human rights activist. "It is important ahead of elections in order to get the public opinion manipulated through other, more obedient media outlets."
Geo TV anchors and senior journalists have also taken a stance against the rolling back of the 18th amendment, which in 2010 decentralized power in Pakistan and brought about a parliamentary system, reversing many changes made by military rulers to the constitution over the last few decades.
"This is not just about Nawaz Sharif, but also about dissent over rolling back the 18th amendment, too," says Sirmed, who claims the military wants to roll back the constitutional amendment "because it is affecting the establishment’s ability to manipulate policy" and its "control on resources."
Bajwa, in his off-the-record briefing with journalists, was quoted widely as saying that the 18th amendment was "more dangerous than Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s six points."
Rehman was the founding father of Bangladesh, which gained independence from Pakistan after a devastating war in 1971. His six points were a demand for greater autonomy five years before the Bengali war of independence erupted.
The Pakistani military has said Bajwa's comments were taken out of context and that the military was not opposed to the 18th amendment.
Geo TV’s suspension has outraged many Pakistani journalists and media activists who have called it a blatant suppression of press freedom.
Pakistani columnist and analyst Imtiaz Alam has called the suspension of Geo TV an example of "blatant suppression of freedom of press and freedom of expression and people’s right to know."
"Time and again it has been proven that a ban is counterproductive, whether it [is] on a party, person, or on media," Pakistani journalist Mazhar Abbas tweeted on April 1. "Yet we have a habit of repeating the same mistakes time and again..."
A statement on Geo TV's website says that "Pakistan's constitution and law[s] guarantee the fundamental right of access to information to the citizens of Pakistan."
"The arbitrary suspension of Geo TV on cable TV is a direct assault on Pakistan's constitutionally guaranteed right to access information," says Steven Butler, the Asia program coordinator at the Committee To Protect Journalists. "It's outrageous that authorities are either unable to find or too frightened to name those powerful enough to orchestrate the blocking of news distribution."
By Imran Khan
Malala came back, and so did her haters. Scanning through any Facebook post on Malala’s injury or achievements, one could see the irreverent ‘laugh’ or ‘angry’ emoticons taking over the ‘like’, ‘sad’ or ‘love’ emoticons. A cursory glance at the profiles of this lot revealed quite a diversified group when it came to appearances.
What united them, however, was their penchant for coming up with ridiculous conspiracy theories to discredit Malala. While they have failed on every account, the only success they have had so far is to disprove Malala’s faith in education as the cure for hate and intolerance. On that front, the educated among this lot disprove Malala with their mere existence.
This hate for Malala lies in our pre-APS narrative on terrorism, where the Taliban were portrayed as ‘our people’ fighting us because we were a part of ‘Amreeka ki jung’ (US’s war on terror). These were the days when Imran Khan would assure us that the Taliban would disarm as soon as we disassociated ourselves from that war. Similarly, Shahbaz Sharif was reminding the TTP of common foes and, in doing so, making a case for them to spare Punjab. The only solution proposed by this lot was to conduct ‘muzakrat’ (negotiations) with the Taliban.
The attack on Malala challenged the narrative of this muzakrat group of political parties. A helpless 15-year-old girl was shot point blank and the TTP was proudly taking the responsibility for it. She was not attacked because she supported drones nor was she a politician allied with the US. All she wanted was an education. In that, she was the dream child of every parent across Pakistan. Introspection at the national level would have been a natural consequence, probably resulting in calls for a reprisal against the TTP. But then the negotiations narrative was at stake and that was to be the vote-winner for the 2013 elections. And out came its defenders with conspiracy theories and slander campaigns.
We have come a long way since those days. Ever since the group of parties that wanted negotiations won the 2013 elections, Malala has been vindicated over and over again. She was vindicated when the PML-N, PTI, JI and JUI-F, agreed to launch Operation Zarb-e-Azb against the TTP. Malala’s 2011 insistence on the need to punish Fazlullah was a timely warning, well ahead of Fazlullah’s massacre of the APS children in 2014. Malala’s 2011 plea against the high-handedness in the Swat operation is presently being echoed by thousands in Fata. Today, most Malala-haters would agree with what she stood up for in 2011. Yet, their selective amnesia compels them to still call her a drama and question her achievements.
To understand Malala’s achievements, one has to understand the concept of ‘common good’. The term refers to interests that are shared by everyone in society, whether it is the freedom of speech, religion or, for that matter, the freedom to acquire an education. It is the adhesive that holds society together, as these common interests represent overlapping incentives. A contribution to the common good could be volunteering to clean up areas of one’s city, or in the case of Malala, taking a bullet for one’s right to be educated.
If you are someone who thinks that education is a waste of time, then you are absolutely right about Malala; she has not contributed much. If you are a parent who thinks that education is important for your children, imagine how much their education means to you. What would you do if a band of armed thugs stopped your children from going to school? Would you encourage them to speak openly for their rights at the risk of their lives? Would you have the courage to speak up?
If you were an adult Pakistani back in 2012, it is very likely that you chose to remain silent, mostly because of fear. There is no shame in admitting that, but then it is shameful to not recognise the courage shown by Malala and her parents when they chose to speak out against the menace that the Taliban had become in Swat. They did not do this only for themselves, as they too had the option of remaining silent like the rest. Instead, Malala, backed by her parents, took a bullet for the common good. She took a bullet so that young girls were not forced to stop pursuing their education. Malala took a bullet to highlight the danger that children like Waleed Khan faced for their ‘crime’ of going to school.
We recognise and appreciate displays of courage, especially when done for the common good. Malala’s global recognition was not for her intelligence or the severity of her injury, but for her bravery. It is indeed bewildering that many of those who, back then, didn’t even let out a whimper out of fear of the Taliban, now fail to understand what makes Malala special.
Malala-haters need to resolve their internal contradictions. A prerequisite for mourning the APS massacre would be apologising to Malala. That is because her ‘drama’ warned us about the dangers the likes of Fazlullah posed. The TTP claimed responsibility for not only the APS massacre but also the attack on Malala. Do Malala-haters imply that both those incidents were ‘dramas’? That would be one way to resolve the problem of inconsistency here. The other would be to accept the fact that those were attacks on our children – children who paid the price for the follies and fearfulness of their elders.