The 24-year-old Manzoor Pashteen, the firebrand leader of the Pakhtoon Tahafuz Movement (PTM), exemplifies the many crackling faultlines that remain big sources of resentment among different parts of the country. Balochistan’s decades-old neglect, exclusion of FATA from mainstream Pakistan, with little constitutional rights, the predominance of the armed forces in these two embattled regions, Shia-Sunni sectarian divisions, growing intolerance vis-à-vis the non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan, porous and partially unaccountable rule of law that gave birth to the phenomenon of ‘missing persons’ are all but a few screaming faultlines that remain vulnerable to exploitation – for both right and wrong reasons. The latest Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) report also identifies some of these faultlines.
But appreciation or critique merits a contextualization of the circumstances surrounding the PTM.
Demands for justice and equal constitutional rights for FATA residents via integration into Pakistan are totally legitimate. The need for alleviation of Baloch grievances is equally and justifiably urgent, supported by all and sundry across Pakistan.
But to conflate the Baloch or FATA citizens’ rights with a universal oppression of these communities in the country – drawing parallels with Kashmir or Palestine – is certainly a travesty of facts. Neither are Pashtoons or Baloch excluded from the mainstream nor could the Pakistani armed forces be equated to the Indian army in Kashmir or the Israeli army around Palestine.
Step out of your home in Islamabad, step into any ministry or visit an army or para-military unit, Pashtoons will stand out as the second largest ethnic group. They are the second largest stakeholder in Pakistan, connected politically or socially through political parties and family relations. I just attended a walima ceremony of an Urdu-speaking engineer who married a Khattak girl, just as honorable Afrasiab Khattak’s daughter is married to the son of Senator Mushahid Hussein. The list is endless.
PTM indeed is a symptom of a disease i.e. exclusion of FATA, but its mainstreaming has been stalled by Pashtoon politicians such as Mehmood Khan Achakzai (Balochsitan), who has no direct stake in FATA, and Maula Fazlur Rehman, who lives next to South Waziristan.
Although the cold-blooded murder of Naqeebullah Mehsud in a police encounter remains hitherto unexplained, yet through his fiery language aimed at the security forces, Manzoor Pashteen has given it a twist that outsiders would love to support or sympathize with i.e. exploitation of the existing faultlines.
Yes, there have been issues with profiling of some Pashtoons living outside KP and FATA, as part of the National Action Plan. Issues such as denial of property purchases outside KP or demands to provide certification from the place of birth also bred anger among Pashtoons because they felt being equated with terrorists.
Ironically, Punjab tops all other Pakistani territories for the presence of religious/extremist/outlawed groups; as many as 107 of the 240 or so socio-politically lethal groups are headquartered in the province, with 71 in Lahore and its surroundings alone, including the one that is an eye-sore for Indians. Only about 21 religious parties/groups subscribe to the present political system, though most of these are primarily one-man parties.
Out of these groups, 148 are sectarian outfits and 24 are jihadi organizations, while 12 outfits claim to work for the revival of Islamic Khilafat as their objective. General Zia laid the foundations of this elaborate network of politico-religious and sectarian groups in order to promote the jihadist narratives in support of the movements in Kashmir and Afghanistan.
He, on the other hand, also saw them as the essential tool for self-preservation in the face of a liberal Pakistan People’s Party and the Pashtoon nationalist Awami National Party (ANP).
With state sponsorship, Jhang district emerged as the hub of sectarian extremism, where Haq Nawaz Jhangvi founded the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, followed by many others.
Those negatively branding or profiling Pashtoons must remember; Osama bin Laden or Dr Al-Zawahiri or Abu Bakr Baghdadi are not Pashtoons. Nor do their Pakistani followers such as Hafiz Saeed, Mulana Aziz, Abdur Rasheed Ghazi, Malik Ishaq, Maulana Masood Azhar, Farooq Kashmiri, Maulana Fazlurrehman Khalil inter alia belong to the Pashtoon community. Nor did General Hameed Gul, the globally renowned political mentor of these believers in the global jihad, had anything to do with Pashtoons. Groups such as ETIM, IMU, Daesh, Chechen Rebels – all of them currently hiding in Afghanistan or the Pak-Afghan border regions – are also not Pashtoon-centric either.
Yes, of course, these jihadists inspired, persuaded and baited many Pashtoons into the jihadi networks.
But equally ironic is the fact that nearly two dozen TTP terrorists killed by US drones in Afghanistan since 2014 happened to be Pakistanis from the FATA region. Mulla Fazlullah, the four fugitive Noor brothers of Wana (who had sheltered Tahir Yuldashev until the March 2007 military operation), Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Sadiq Noor (the lynchpins of the Al-Qaeda network in North Waziristan), Malik Bakhan, who entertained Arab Al-Qaeda militants in Wana as paying guests until the army launched its operation in October 2009.
Pakistani civilian and military leaders also need to institute corrective constitutional and administrative measures to address grievances of Baloch and FATA Pashtoons. This situation requires top political leaders to unequivocally condemn “stereotyping” of an entire ethnic group. All security forces, particularly those dealing with internal security, should be sensitized on the fallout of any attempt that may smack of ‘racial profiling’.
Only by upholding constitutional safeguards against harassment, enforced disappearances or illegal confinement and humane treatment of FATA residents can state institutions prevent exploitation of faultlines by local or external vested interest. Externalising consequences of our own short-sighted policies will do us no good. Engagement, and not ostracization, out of fear, has to be the answer to the situation. Adopting a whole-of-government approach towards all citizens anchored in the rule of law can certainly neutralize motivated noises.
The writer heads the independent Center for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and is the author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbut Tahrir’s Global Caliphate
This article was first published in Daily Times. Click here to go to the original.