Pakistan Reader# 393, 8 November 2022
On 24 October 2022, Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) chief Manzoor Pashteen was booked under sections of terrorism for “criticizing heads and generals of the Pakistan Army” during a speech at the Asma Jahangir Conference. While speaking at the session titled ‘Reluctance to Criminalize Enforced Disappearance and Arbitrary Detentions,’ Pashteen reportedly named national and military institutions while holding them responsible for the extrajudicial killings in the FATA region under a “state of exception.” According to Dawn, the complaint stated that Pashteen attempted to create resistance among the public toward the armed forces as he accused them of “genocide against Pashtuns.” He had said that since 2001, normal rules were changed and a new narrative about national security was built. The new regime targeted and terrorized every journalist, individual, and group that followed independent thinking.
Who is Manzoor Pashteen?
Manzoor Pashteen is a human right activist from South Waziristan and founder of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The secular movement campaigns against war, blaming both Islamists and the Pakistani military for the destruction. He is trained as a veterinary doctor and was part of the Pashtun national Jirga which was held to discuss the critical issues faced by Pashtuns in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pashteen rose to lead a fast-growing movement of thousands from Pakistan's Pashtun minority, the country's second-biggest ethnic group, who form roughly 15 per cent of the country's 207 million people. Pashteen has also often used Twitter to raise awareness on issues such as the ‘killing’ of 76 social justice lawyers in Quetta and about Pashtuns who go missing. Pashteen has increasingly relied on social media to get his message across to followers and supporters, complaining that local Pakistani media have not covered the activities of his movement.
What is PTM?
Pashtun Tahafuz Movement founded in May 2014 by eight students is a social movement based in Pakistan.PTM claims to be an unarmed and peaceful resistance movement working within the lawful boundaries of the Constitution of Pakistan. The PTM rose to prominence after Naqeebullah Mehsud, accused of militant connections, was killed by police in Karachi on 20 January 2018. Human rights groups claim that the war on terrorism has permitted authorities to persecute Pashtuns, with thousands of young Pashtuns like Mehsud killed or abducted by authorities on weak charges. When the movement gained popularity among the Pashtuns in February 2018, the word "Mahsud" in its name, which referred to the Mahsud tribe from Waziristan, was changed into "Pashtun" to refer to all Pashtuns. The PTM movement went on to inspired global Pashtun solidarity dominated by the youth through social media coverage. However, the PTM lacks organizational structure and a political manifesto due to their dominance of the Taliban, Pashtuns overall have been branded as Islamists or militants. On 26 January 2018, Pashteen started a protest march and organized a sit-in called "All Pashtun National Jirga.” On 26 May 2019, following the Kharqamar incident, a clash between PTM supporters and Pakistani troops left 13 dead. PTM accused authorities of firing on demonstrators and suppressing media reports, as well as attempting to rig elections in tribal areas where PTM candidates were likely to win.
On 27 January 2020, Pashteen was arrested by the police in Peshawar on allegations of sedition. In one of the protests against the arrest outside the National Press Club in Islamabad on 28 January, PTM leader and member of the National Assembly Mohsin Dawar, Ismat Shahjahan and Ammar Rashid of the Awami Workers Party (AWP), and 26 other protesters were arrested. On 28 March 2021, the police arrested Pashteen in Kohat and Mohsin Dawar in Karak to prevent both of them from travelling to Bannu to join and lead the Janikhel protest march. The protest was called off on 29 March after an agreement was signed between the protesters and Mahmood Khan, the Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, following which Pashteen and Dawar were released. In order to maintain nonviolent discipline following critical events of repression, PTM leaders redirect activists’ energies toward backfire. They memorialize victims of oppression on social media, thus exposing the wrongdoing of the state while weakening the state’s capacity to portray the victims as guilty of crime. PTM has had a significant impact on the tribal areas. The rise of the movement has fostered unity among the tribes by reducing tribal feuds through the facilitation of tribal jirgas and covenants.
What are their demands?
The PTM demands for the setting up of a truth and reconciliation commission to address claims of extrajudicial killings and missing persons. The movement claims that the military supported TTP militants, and its leaders have said that after the military claims to have decimated the TTP in Zarb-e-Azb, “the Taliban are being allowed to return” to the tribal areas in a “secret deal with the military.” One of its slogans translates to: “This terrorism— behind it is the uniform.” They also demand the removal of landmines from northwestern tribal areas, and that the army cease demolishing houses of Pashtuns accused of militant ties The PTM on January 2019, made then Prime Minister Imran Khan approve the recommended amendments to the Pakistan Penal Code declaring enforced disappearances a criminal offence. Over the subsequent year, targeted killings in the tribal areas declined by approximately 40 per cent.
What has been the state’s response?
Pashteen had earlier claimed that he and his supporters are considered “anti-state” by the Pakistan government. The military argues that the movement is dangerous as it threatens Pakistan’s constitution. Pashteen and his supporters claim that many of its members have been arrested, beaten and killed by police for what so far has been a peaceful protest for justice and an end to extrajudicial murders. Several members of the group were booked for “raising slogans against the state.” Pakistan's government claims Pashteen's movement has been influenced by outsiders, particularly by the government of Afghanistan — a charge rejected by Afghan officials. While the group has mostly been allowed to hold protests, it has also been maligned as full of traitors, charged with a colonial-era sedition law (which criminalizes disloyalty, contempt, hatred, and disaffection for the state), and labelled agents of “enemy governments,” alternatively India and Afghanistan. The government has initiated to set up judicial commissions and has negotiated for the talks but has not received any differences and thus the movement continues to be its reform state. The protest movement shows no signs of receding. PTM activists say they have “nothing more to lose” and will continue to protest.
Hasib Danish, “Hats Proliferate as Symbol of Pashtun Protest Movement,” Voice of America, 6 April 2018
“PTM’s Manzoor Pashteen booked under terrorism charges for speech at Asma Jahangir Conference,” Dawn, 24 October 2022
Regina Mihindukulasuriya, “Why Manzoor Pashteen, a young Pashtun leader, is a thorn in Pakistani army’s side,” The Print, 19 August, 2019
Madiha Afsal, “Why is Pakistan’s military repressing a huge, nonviolent Pashtun protest movement?,” Brookings,7 February 2020