Activists of Pashtun Protection Movement protest against the arrest of their activists and leaders, in Karachi on February 10, 2019. The PTM has rattled the military since it burst onto the scene early last year with a call to end alleged abuses by security forces targeting ethnic Pashtuns in the restive northwestern tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. Photo: AFP/Rizwan Tabassum

The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) led by Manzoor Ahmed Pashteen has arisen from Pashtun grievances against Pakistani security and political policies that have alienated and held back the Pashtun community.

Grievances that have inspired young Pashtuns to work for the nationalist cause include the tragedy of Babrra in August 1948, state atrocities against freedom fighter Faqir of Ipi (Mirza Ali Khan Wazir), the assassination of Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai (also known as Khan Shaheed) in 1973, the introduction of jihadist doctrines and the establishment of factories in Pashtun border areas, the planned escalation of Talibanization in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Swat in the era following the 9/11 terror attacks, extensive military operations, tens of thousands of killings of Pashtuns, and the displacement of Pashtuns. The support of the Pashtun intelligentsia for the energetic Pashteen across the world made the PTM a popular non-violent movement.

On the last day of a Pashtun sit-in in Islamabad, Pashteen proclaimed that the PTM would remain a non-parliamentary body to avoid controversies among Pashtuns on political grounds. With a five-point charter of demands, the PTM campaigned from Khyber to Karachi and from Swat to Quetta in a quest for Pashtun identity, dignity, security and prosperity.

Irrespective of geographical division, tribalism and political ideology, Pashtuns across the globe supported the PTM and Pashteen in the nationalist cause. The 2018 general election proved very unfortunate for the PTM; two of its top leaders were elected as parliamentarians, violating the founding principle of the movement. The situation led to controversies among the PTM activists relating to political ideology. The reason was clear: If the PTM is a non-parliamentary movement, then why did its top leaders contest the election? Pashteen strongly criticized the two leaders but was still unable to sway PTM activists on this very critical issue.

After the merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the government’s announcement of elections in the former FATA opened a new chapter of debate among PTM activists. The forces of darkness significantly propagated the importance and strength of parliamentary politics, calling it the only possible place where Pashtun problems can be resolved. The powerful Pakistani state strategically backed this narrative in order to divide the PTM on the basis of parliamentary debate.

Old players with smart tactics were launched to support pro-parliament activists within the movement. Designed and structured tactics were practiced in the name of security, such as the ECL (Exit Control List), expulsion from parent parties and the registration of FIRs to enhance the position of selected players for future games. A blame-game policy effectively drew a line of ideological hatred between activists. Social-media activists were emotionally manipulated to move the PTM toward the pro-parliamentary position. The forces of darkness constructively engaged some selected members of the PTM to sabotage the entire movement with the poisonous stance of electoral participation. Currently, there are a number of candidates who are waiting to contest the upcoming provincial election in the former FATA.

Most members of civil rights movements strictly abide by the principles of and decisions made by their leaders when it is in the general best interest of the nation. The PTM is a civil rights movement, not a political ideology. The movement aims to work for the dignity and security of Pashtuns in Pakistan. Activists from all political parties in Khyber Pashtunkhwa and the Pashtun belt of Balochistan are supporting the PTM’s nationalist cause.

Though parliament is the right place for resolving all sorts of political issues, the participation of PTM activists in any election will divide Pashtuns

Though parliament is the right place for resolving all sorts of political issues, the participation of PTM activists in any election will divide Pashtuns. Contesting an election in a personal capacity or as an independent candidate by any member will surely help to draw votes of sympathy from those who support a Pashtun uprising to secure basic and fundamental rights. Besides wrangling among activists, the decision will threaten the political interests of activists’ parent parties. To be relevant, activists will prefer to vote against PTM candidates – the ultimate failure of the entire movement.

Pashtuns have lost more than enough over the last four decades.  Talibanization and the poor security situation have greatly undermined Pakistan’s Pashtun belts. The PTM is a movement of hope and a source of strength and unity. Manzoor Pashteen is the unopposed leader of the movement. For the first time, Pashtuns have chosen Pashteen, an unbiased and unanimously supported leader to lead Pashtuns in their fight for constitutional rights.

Pashtuns have aligned themselves with the PTM in the hope of having a secure, stable and prosperous future. Pashteen has decided that the PTM shall remain non-parliamentary, as it is in the interest of Pashtuns. Challenging this very significant decision by means of propaganda and tactical attempts will cripple the movement. Controversies relating to political (and economic) interests will lead us to disintegration and complete failure.

Rahim Nasar writes on regional security, political and strategic affairs with special focus on South Asia, Central Asia and Indian Ocean regions. He tweets on @RahimNasari.

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