Another victim was recently added to the list of people killed by law-enforcement agencies in Pakistan. Arman Loni was a poet, a writer, and a peaceful young man whose only fault was being a vocal leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). That organization was formed after the death of another young man, from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, in the city of Karachi at the hands of police officer Rao Anwar.

The growing number of people joining the PTM, especially from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, has added worries among the ranks of a military establishment that is already losing its grip on state affairs as it faces resentment not only from the PTM but also from the province of Punjab, where ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s vote bank has gradually started raising its voice.

Arman Loni was attending a PTM protest in the city of Loralai, where according to the group’s leadership he was tortured to death by the police. However, the police maintain that Loni suffered a fatal heart attack during the PTM sit-in.

It has been a tradition in Pakistan that the deep state uses fake police encounters and state oppression to silence critics. According to Reuters, Mohsin Dawar, a sitting member of Parliament and a leader of the PTM, said: “It was a targeted attack on him by police, I think his neck was broken and this was confirmed in the postmortem.”

It has been a tradition in Pakistan that the deep state uses fake police encounters and state oppression to silence critics

After Loni’s death, the Balochistan provincial government tried to stop PTM leaders from attending his funeral. The PTM has been staging demonstrations against the disappearances of people in the country and the extrajudicial killings of citizens at the hands of law-enforcement agencies, but its demonstrations have always been peaceful. The PTM directly accuses the military and its spy agencies of the forced disappearances of people and extrajudicial killings and has accused Rao Anwar of being one of the agencies’ front men. In response, it has been labeled as a traitor organization by the establishment, which claims that the PTM is being funded by foreign spy agencies to destabilize the country.

However, the question arises as to why Rao Anwar was saved by the establishment, an action that eventually gave birth to the PTM. Then arresting PTM activists on charges of terrorism and making them disappear further complicated matters, as the military establishment does not understand a simple point, that Pashtun youth, joined by the general Pashtun population in Balochistan, could trigger a movement like the Arab Spring at any time.

Right now the PTM is peaceful and its demands are legitimate. The constitution of Pakistan does not give permission to any institution to be considered a sacred cow, nor does it allow any authority to kidnap its own citizens or kill them in fake encounters.

The PTM demands the arrest of Rao Anwar, and the withdrawal of charges of terrorism made against its activists, all according to the constitution of Pakistan. The military establishment may not like the anti-army slogans chanted at PTM demonstrations or the anti-establishment narrative it is spreading across the country, but it still needs to address the grievances of the PTM instead of imposing a blanket ban on media to stop coverage of PTM public gatherings or the arrests and disappearances of its activists.

Even the death of Arman Loni was not covered by the mainstream media the way it should have. The large part of the media in Pakistan always ignores the coverage of PTM activities and the TV anchors and journalists seeking guidance from the establishment declare the PTM an anti-Pakistan movement.

The killing of Arman Loni will not silence the PTM, nor can it oppress the resentment that has been growing among Pashtun youth against the establishment. One wonders what is the big deal if Rao Anwar is put behind bars for his crimes and why the establishment, which even forgave the terrorist Ehsansullah Ehsan, the former spokesman of the Taliban, cannot sit down and talk to the PTM leadership to address their issues.

The extrajudicial killings, charges of treason or terrorism and disappearance of activists will only add fuel to the fire. We have just witnessed the brutal Sahiwal massacre where law-enforcement agencies killed innocent citizens on the basis of flawed intelligence reports, and now this recent killing of Arman Loni has raised concerns about freedom of speech and the security of the ordinary citizens.

It has been a problem in Pakistan for long that the establishment not only manipulates political discourse but also indulges in controlling social discourse as well, and as a result, the country is deprived of both democratic and social progress, and it is the strong military establishment that enjoys a monopoly over social and political discourse and enjoys “sacred cow” status.

An institution that manipulates the social and political domains of society can never command respect, as it is not its constitutional duty nor its right to indulge in these kinds of activities. On the other hand, the silence from Prime Minister Imran Khan and his ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party on the extrajudicial killing of Arman Loni has  once again proved that a selected government installed through a fractured mandate can never have the courage to implement rule of law, and it lacks the authority to push the establishment back to its original duty of protecting the borders.

Until the establishment realizes that it is the part of the problem, and leaves democratic and social discourse to elected representatives and political leaders, there will be no solution to the problems of Pakistan. The extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances will continue, and as a result Pakistan will always remain in a state of unrest where the focus will remain on maintaining the status quo, instead of social, political and economic development.

——

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Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar is a columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.

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