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Pakistan Reader# 114, 23 June 2020

The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) in Pakistan

The PTI government's dialogue offer

Instead of supporting the Pashtun mainstreaming, the State is suppressing them. It continues despite civil-society voices in support of the movement and despite its committed to nonviolent means and methods to protest their grievances. The State accuses PTM of being funded and supported by foreign powers and has used hard measures to deal with the movement.

D. Suba Chandran, Lakshmi V Menon & Abigail Miriam Fernandez


Last Sunday, the Defence Minister of Pakistan Pervez Khattak invited the Pakistan Tahafuz Movement (PTM), the young Pashtun movement for a dialogue to discuss all contentious issues with the government. (Dawn, 16 June 2020) In a statement, he said, “We Pakhtoons belong to the same province; thus we should collectively work for the development of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.” According to Dawn, Pervez Khattak called the PTM to collectively work for the upliftment of the Pashtun districts, that were lagging in terms of “education, healthcare and basic communications infrastructure”. (Dawn, 16 June 2020)
The PTM agreed to the offer from the government. Mohsin Dawar, one of the PTM leaders who is also a member of Pakistan’s National Assembly, accepted the offer. (“PTM accepts govt talks offer,” The News International, 16 June 2020). In his tweet, he said: “We welcome government’s dialogue offer. PTM strongly believes that dialogue is the only way out and we are always open to it. But we are also aware of the failures of such efforts in the past. The need is for the government to be represented by those who have the power to implement agreements.”
Mainstream media welcomed the dialogue with the young Pashtun movement. The sense is, both sides should walk the talk. In its editorial, Dawn stated: “The State is meant to look after its citizens and address their grievances. Sometimes states use heavy-handed measures and often, as in this case, the outcome is far from positive. What we need now is a healing touch that persuades the PTM that the redressal of its grievances is the top priority of the State. The defence minister has done well to take the initiative. The PTM must reciprocate fully.” (Editorial, “Talking to the PTM,” Dawn, 17 June 2020)


First, the movement that started with issues in the tribal areas is spread across Pakistan now.
The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) has its origins in the Mehsud Tahafuz Movement (MTM) which was started in 2014 by eight students of the Mehsud tribe at Gomal University as an initiative to remove landmine from Waziristan and campaigned for the rights of the Mehsud community impacted by military operations. (Sarah Eleazar & Sher Ali Khan, “Anatomy of a political moment,” Himal Southasian, 15 June 2018)

In 2018, the death of Naqibullah Mehsud, a young businessman and aspiring model in Karachi who was killed in an extra-judicial killing ignited a series of protests across Pakistan (Ishtiaq Ahmed, “Emergence of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement,” Daily Times, 14 April 2018) In an encounter, widely believed to be staged, was led by a Senior Superintendent of Police - Rao Anwar in Karachi. The latter blamed Naqibullah Mehsud for having links with the Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP). His killing sparked a movement; the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) came into existence to fight for justice for Naqibullah Mehsud. The movement also was against the linking of the Pashtuns with the Taliban.

The PTM subsequently expanded its objectives to express the concerns of the Pashtun community, the second largest ethnic group in Pakistan. The PTM has now grown rapidly into a mass movement. (Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen, “The protest of the Pashtun,” The News International, 3 March 2018)

Although the movement’s support base extends beyond the tribal and geographical boundaries, it is strongest in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and northern Balochistan. (Sarah Eleazar & Sher Ali Khan, “Anatomy of a political moment,” Himal Southasian, 15 June 2018)
Second, the movement is led by the young Pashtuns and call for mainstreaming of the Pashtun society.
The movement is led by Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen, a human rights activist from South Waziristan; other prominent leaders of the movements include Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir. Both Wazir and Dawar are members of the National Assembly. Led by educated Pashtun youth who mostly hail from the erstwhile tribal regions (the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies, that are now merged with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province), the PTM leaders are from lower-middle-class families that have experienced killings, displacements, enforced disappearances, ethnic profiling, humiliation, and destruction of livelihoods. ("Shaping a New Peace in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas," International Crisis Group, 20 August 2018)
The PTM looks at moving ahead with a new political narrative of the Pashtuns, and not going back and harping on a tribal past. The abolition of Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) and “mainstreaming” of the FATA were some of the primary demands of the FATA. Now, the PTM demands security and constitutional rights for the Pashtuns.
The emergence of the PTM also indicates the Pashtun youth desire to fight against extremism. The movement has also brought in the emergence of a new politics of belonging and resistance through the revival of a genuine youth-led progressive and democratic politics that has been brewing in the Pashtun region for the past two decades. (Ali Wazir, “What Does the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement Want?” The Diplomat, 27 April 2018)
Third, the demands of the PTM are democratic and liberal and are expanding since their formation.
The original demands of the Mansoor Pashteen-led PTM were six: first, to bring the former SSP Rao Anwar (who was behind the extra-judicial killing of Naqibullah Mehsud in Karachi) to justice; second, the formation of a judicial commission to investigate Pakistan’s extra-judicial killings; third, stop "enforced disappearances" and free or present in court missing persons and suspects under prolonged detention (held without due legal processes); fourth, demining of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA); fifth, to stop sudden curfews; and last, to remove military checkpoints in tribal areas and curb harassment of Pashtuns at these posts. (“Why Pakistani military fears PTM,” Asia Times, 14 May 2020; “What Does the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement Want?,” The Diplomat, 27 April 2018; (“The Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement: A thorn in the Pakistani Military’s side,” European Foundation for South Asian Studies, 23 March 2020)
During the last two years, there has been an expansion of their original demands. PTM gathering on 22 April 2018 in Lahore, a demand to form a 'Truth and Reconciliatory Commission' for the investigation of various incidents such as the handing over of over 4000 persons to the US and other countries were added. In Swat, during April 2018, a further demand to replace the jirgas with an international guarantor to mediate talks between the conflicting parties was put forward. Later, in May 2019, PTM demanded that the military vacate tribal areas. (“Why is Pakistan’s military repressing a huge, nonviolent Pashtun protest movement?,” Brookings, 7 February 2020; “PTM agitators gather in Swat to protest atrocities,” Outlook India, 29 April 2018; “Right Group Demands Pakistan Military Vacate Tribal Areas,” Voa News, 28 May 2019)
Fourth, the State wants to suppress the movement.
Instead of supporting the Pashtun mainstreaming, the State is suppressing them. It continues despite civil-society voices in support of the movement and despite its committed to nonviolent means and methods to protest their grievances. The State accuses PTM of being funded and supported by foreign powers and has used hard measures to deal with the movement for that reason, however, this has only further radicalised the movement's followers and strengthened its claims regarding ethnic discrimination by state institutions. ("Politics: Demystifying the PTM,” Dawn, 23 February 2020)
PTM's organic nature and anti-establishment policy threaten Pakistan's political status-quo. Pakistan Army says PTM is funded by the Afghan intelligence agency and India's RAW. Before becoming Pakistan's PM, Prime Minister Imran Khan had always maintained that "many demands of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement were genuine”. Now, however, the PM has backtracked from the stance saying “foreign-funded elements” were misusing “tribal Pashtuns” issues and “condemned” PTM for alleged “anti-state activities” (“Why is PTM becoming a major challenge for Pakistan’s ruling establishment?”SADFComment, 9 May 2019) (“Pakistan military warns Pashtun rights group its 'time is up',” Al Jazeera, 30 April 2019) 
Fifth, there is also a divide within the State in dealing with the Pashtuns – between the elected government and the Deep State.
Right from the beginning, the Deep State has been apprehensive of the Pashtun movement. While some of the demands – removal of troops for the tribal regions, accountability of the security forces, reconciliation directly impacts the military strategies, the greater demand of the PTM to have mainstreamed the Pashtuns also mean the emergence of new and young leaders, different from the previous generation. While the latter was conservative and amenable to the Deep State, the young Pashtuns are seen as independent and having a mind of their own. With the tribal regions placed geographically in a sensitive region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Deep State wants absolute control over the region.
The elected government – both in Peshawar (belonging to the KP provincial assembly) and in Islamabad (National Parliament) are amenable to the PTM demands. In fact, there was an effort by the previous governments (PML-N and the PPP) to bring the Pashtun youth into the mainstream. Renaming of the province (from NWFP into KP) and the merger of tribal regions with the province – were a part of a deliberate strategy by the PPP and PML-N government to bring the tribal regions to the mainstream.
Unfortunately, the Deep State in Pakistan is not on the same page with the elected governments – both at the provincial and national levels.
The success of the present round of dialogue will depend on how successful the PTI government is in taking the Deep State along.
Also Read:

Mohsin Dawar, “We’re peacefully demanding change in Pakistan. The military says we’re ‘traitors,” The Washington Post, 14 February 2020

Mudassar Shah & Shahzeb Jillani, “Pashtun movement leader: 'Pakistani army is afraid of our popularity,” Deutsche Welle, 5 June 2019 

Ali Wazir, “What Does the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement Want?” The Diplomat, 27 April 2018

Madiha Afzal, “Why is Pakistan’s military repressing a huge, nonviolent Pashtun protest movement?” Brookings, 7 February 2020

The Rise of the Pashtun Protection Movement (PTM): Polemics and Conspiracy Theories,”Asian Affairs, 1 May 2020

We’re peacefully demanding change in Pakistan. The military says we’re ‘traitors.’,”The Washington Post,14 February 2020

Un-shrouding the Pashtun tahaffuz (protection) movement (PTM),Modern Diplomacy, 12 April 2020