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EFSAS Commentary

Pashtun Tahafuz Movement in Pakistan; A fight for basic Human Rights


On 8 April 2018, a 26-year-old human right activist Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen, from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan, held an impassionate speech during a huge rally in Peshawar, Pakistan. Manzoor Pashteen, leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM - Pashtun Protection Movement), demanded basic human rights for the Pashtun community in Pakistan and release of enforced disappeared persons abducted by Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agencies. He stressed that he believed in the rule of law and his demand comprised of presenting the enforced disappeared persons in court, which should be the only authority to ascertain whether they are guilty for their alleged crimes.

The PTM, since their first peaceful protest on 26 January 2018, after the extra-judicial killing of an innocent youth, Naqeebullah Mehsud, gathered supporters through social media, spreading pamphlets and word of mouth invitations, throughout Pakistan, especially in the provinces Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Balochistan.

One of PTM’s demands, is the abolishment of the Front Crimes Regulations (FCR) that was enacted by the British Empire in an attempt to cease any rebellion by the Pashtuns. The FCR has long been seen as a ‘legal tool’ to violate human rights of the Pashtun community in FATA. A decade ago, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, said that the FCR is "obnoxious to all recognized modern principles governing the dispensation of justice". The former President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, amended the FCR in 2011, yet it has widely been criticized due to lack of effectiveness and implementation of the revised law.

Negotiations were made before the creation of Pakistan, between Muhammed Ali Jinnah and Ghaffar Khan, and as per historical records, a new agreement was reached with tribal chiefs to maintain the existing arrangements in tribal areas in exchange for support to Pakistan. This exchange, effectively increased the influence of tribal leaders, and kept the general population of these regions underdeveloped and in poverty. Subsequently, the agreement reached, was revised by the government in 1952, to gain greater control over the tribal areas.

According to Pakistan’s first ever official ‘Multidimensional Poverty Index’ report, compiled with support from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pakistan and Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), the highest rate of multidimensional poverty exists in FATA. Nearly 73% of the people live in poverty, while the poverty rate in Pakistan is nearly 39%. The overall literacy in FATA is 33.3%, while the national average is 58%. Similarly, the adult literacy is 28% against the national average of 78%. FATA has been consistently the poorest region of Pakistan according to ‘FATA Development Indicators Household Survey 2013-2014’.

The Pashtun youth have taken an initiative for their rights on their own and started their ‘Movement for the Protection of Pashtuns’. Born around 1979, or even after the Soviet-Afghan War began, they have never experienced a peaceful period, nor have they held any bright future perspectives in society. They believe, that following the same path their elder tribal leaders did for many years, will not give them any opportunities of achieving these perspectives. Ironically, the Awami Nationalist Party (ANP), a secular and leftist Pashtun party, has turned its back against the PTM as it is seen as a major competitor, especially considering the upcoming elections of 2018.

Because of its strategic position, FATA was used against the Soviets and in the 'War on Terror’ against terrorist organizations operating from Afghanistan. Consequently, thousands of terrorists crossed the porous Durand Line border into the FATA region in order to seek safe havens and remained in this region while continuing their terrorist activities. This resulted in prolonged atrocities faced by the common people in this region at the hands of terrorists, which many believe, enjoy the backing of Pakistan’s military establishment. 

The PTM stresses that its peaceful protests and rallies should not be viewed as hostile activities against the Pakistani Government or a fight on political level. According to Manzoor Pashteen, it is a fight for equal rights. Pashteen said while addressing the recent rally that, "...His community is calling for their constitutional right to live without fear”.  Their demands mainly consist of implementation of the Constitution in FATA, and to bring forward details about enforced disappearances, followed by fair trials.

“More than 32,000 Pashtuns are missing or have been abducted from FATA during the last one decade”, said PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen during his speech to students and civil society activists at the office of the Progressive Students Collective.

The Pakistani media channels failed to broadcast the huge rally held in Peshawar on 8 April 2018, which many saw as a blackout by the media. In Pakistan, whenever people gather to demonstrate against human rights violations, or show their grievances, the local Pakistani media often does not give it due coverage. This attitude of the Pakistani media has been a recurring phenomenon when Baloch, Sindhis and Kashmiris have made demands for justice and protested against exploitation of their resources. Often, such protests and demands are conveniently branded as ‘Anti-national’ and quickly claimed to be supported by ‘foreign hands’. In a veiled reference to the Pashtun movement, Chief of the Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa recently said during a ceremony held at the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, “The people in the country and outside, who are against Pakistan’s integrity must know that the Army with the public backing would not allow anything to happen to the country”. He added during the same ceremony that, “...’Engineered protests’ would not be allowed to reverse the gains of counterterrorism operations”, as he went on to caution the nation against forgetting sacrifices of ‘real heroes’.

According to international experts and analysts, there is a link with the action, or in this case, inaction of the Pakistani media and the military establishment. The media is intimidated by repercussions it may face if it might broadcast anything which criticizes the powerful military rulers of Pakistan. Attacks on journalists, like the one on Hamid Mir in 2014, because of extensive reporting on the Taliban, attributed to ‘unidentified gunmen’, but believed to have been carried out by intelligence agencies, further substantiate this notion.

According to the leader of the movement, Manzoor Pashteen, many atrocities have been committed by Pakistan’s own security forces and intelligence agencies against Pashtuns in FATA and that should not be neglected. In a recent interview with Deutsche Welle, he said:

“I have been told by intelligence agencies that I should give up this demand. But I have made it clear to them that even if they have killed all missing persons, they must let us know. They told me they would accept any other demand except releasing missing people and the issue of extrajudicial killings”.

The reluctance of the military establishment and intelligence apparatus to meet this demand, as expressed by Manzoor Pashteen, is understandable as it would mean accepting responsibility and confessing to the crime of abducting and/or killing more than 32,000 Pakistani citizens in the last decade.

On the contrary, to hide such human rights violations and silence critics, the Army and intelligence agencies often commit more human rights violations; It has been reported that the police has registered a criminal case against Pashteen for criticizing the government and security agencies while activists also claimed that a prominent member of Pashteen's movement, Sadiq Achakzai, was seized by security agencies in Quetta. These tactics are not new, as Baloch, Sindhi and Kashmiri leaders, demanding an end to State oppression, in earlier instances, have either been jailed under fabricated (terrorism) charges, enforced disappeared or killed. Such atrocities and overall track-record of the powerful military establishment, raise concerns regarding the fact as to whether a 26-year old courageous youth will indeed succeed in his quest for justice and if this ‘Pashtun Spring' will see the summer.

‘Heroes’, as the Armed Forces have been referred to by General Bajwa, are difficult to be honored by Pashtuns, Balochs, Sindhis and Kashmiris as the majority of the atrocities faced by them have been committed by these ‘heroes’ and terrorists acting under the patronage of the Armed Forces; The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement accuses the powerful Army of sheltering terrorists, specifically, the Haqqani Network, which is affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, in Pashtun areas.

In such a situation, real heroes of Pakistan like Manzoor Pashteen, fighting for basic human rights, are extremely vulnerable and under threat for demanding to live without fear, as they are caught between two very dangerous adversaries; The Military and terrorists supported by the Military.