The controversy surrounding the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) – or the Movement for Protection of Pashtun (rights) – is ultimately a war of narratives. The movement began in earnest, calling for justice and recompense for decades of struggle and strife for the Pashtun people. It has since morphed into a muddled ideology that is difficult to reconcile, and confusing to wrap one’s head around.
It is important to understand what has led to this.
First, the movement has very legitimate claims. It would be a travesty to color everything with a somber black, and pretend that the entire affair is some international conspiracy to upend Pakistan.
Second, what began as mild distaste in the corridors of power now manifests itself in fiery speeches in the parliament, and public statements from the army’s media wing – the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).
This is a serious issue, one that requires prudence and pragmatism, not categorical statements and blanket labeling.
Based on its rather insensitive and indifferent attitude, one can conclude that the political government is at fault for not prioritizing this issue. For instance, the reconciliation committee it constituted for a dialogue with the PTM has never met the PTM, because members will only meet at the convenience of their own schedule. This is the typical obstructionist outlook that has permeated every level of political hierarchy, and only serves to exacerbate the matter.
The military is also at fault by engaging directly via public statements. While the military, in the words of its chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, “has in the last over-decade-and-a-half fought and defeated monsters,” it is not the institution’s role to respond to criticism by the PTM, particularly when the federal and provincial governments are intact and former-FATA areas are now part of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province and hence its responsibility.
Not to mention that dissent and criticism is a fundamental component of a flourishing democracy. It is, however, encouraging that the COAS has acknowledged that many of the PTM demands are understandable in a post-operation environment.
The PTM is at fault for derailing its own legitimacy through actions fueled by emotion rather than logic, and prioritizing sensationalist, headline-grabbing statements over actual grievances.
Their key demands are:
- a truth and reconciliation commission for extrajudicial killings;
- an end to enforced disappearances;
- removal of landmines from Pashtun areas;
- an end to humiliation of locals at military check posts in Pashtun areas.
By all accounts, these are legitimate, real concerns; yet they are undermined by emotive statements. As of Friday, May 31, there is no independent corroboration of government/military version or the PTM version of what happened at the check post. What is clear though, also evident in a couple of videos, that protesters did indulge in heated arguments with soldiers on duty to the context of a very volatile situation, marked by at least half a dozen attacks, some of them deadly, at various locations in North Waziristan on security forces in the month of May alone.
The PTM needs to reign in its activism and refrain from scandalizing the role of state institutions in a volatile security context. But, at the same time, the onus also lies with the provincial government and all state institutions, who will do well in going beyond the status quo. Let the collective voice of Pakistan, i.e., the national parliament, take a stock of PTM’s demands, scrutinize speeches by its leaders and take a collective decision on the fate of the PTM as well as its leadership, including the two members of parliament, Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar.
About The Take
The Take encapsulates the most significant development of the week in about 500 words or less. Zeeshan Salahuddin, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Research and Security Studies, is an author, journalist, and security analyst based in Islamabad, Pakistan.
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