Anyone who takes the risk of challenging the policies of the deep state in Pakistan is destined to be called a traitor. The arrest of Manzoor Pashteen, the leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, is not a surprise. Pashteen was arrested in Peshawar on Monday and sent to prison on judicial remand for 14 days. The charge against him is sedition, and it has been stated in the First Investigation Report (FIR) that in a speech in Dera Ismail Khan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, on January 18 he threatened the state by saying he does not believe in the constitution of Pakistan.

This FIR itself is a mockery of the state and its brutal use of force and the judicial system to its advantage, as the constitution has been abrogated four times by military dictators but they never were sent to jail for not believing in the constitution and subverting it.

Pashteen’s arrest was always in the cards, but one wonders how the invisible forces can even think that by his arrest they will suppress the movement for Pashtun rights, or that he will change his views in prison.

So far we have seen that unlike the major political parties such as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which faltered when put to the test, the PTM has successfully stood up to the state without compromising. The demands of this ethnic-Pashtun movement are simple and in accordance with the constitution, calling for the arrest of “encounter specialist” Rao Anwar, asking the authorities not to adopt the policy of “good Taliban and bad Taliban,” and giving the people of the tribal areas equal economic opportunity.

Life for the less-developed areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan is entirely different from urban Pakistan, so naturally the youth of these areas when they protest for their rights are bitter and have a lack of trust in the state. The state needs to act, and it needs to make sure that the genuine concerns of the PTM are addressed, but it seems that the state has not learned the very basic lesson that it is its duty to be answerable to those citizens who have a sense of deprivation due to government policies.

Arresting citizens who demand their rights and portraying them as traitors to the people of urban Pakistan who have no clue of what exactly is going on in the tribal belts of KP and Balochistan will only increase the divide within the masses. Unlike the other political movements like the PPP, which showed defiance against the dictatorship of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq but then returned to power after making a deal with the military establishment, and the recent U-turn by the PML-N from the politics of resistance to the politics of dealmaking, Pashteen and his movement have no compromise in their genes. This is mainly because the PTM is purely focused on the fundamental rights of Pashtuns and it demands that the state work under the ambit of the constitution. It has no objective to attain power, and that makes it entirely different from all the other major political parties.

In fact, two of its prominent leaders, Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar, were also arrested last year but they faced up to the oppression and did not surrender.

It it not rocket science that our government needs to understand the concept of democracy and the role of a modern and civilized state in the light of the 21st century. The colonial mindset of the era of British rule is outdated and won’t work any more.

The government needs to decide now whether it wants to remain an authoritarian state where the actual power lies with a group that is armed and uses accusations of treason to exploit the masses or whether it is ready to change this style of governing and let the masses take ownership of the state by freeing them from the fear of enforced disappearances, treason charges, and prison if they raise their voices for their fundamental rights.

If the state wants to continue its dogmatic approach and rule with fear and force, then the fate of traveling in blind circles will continue for Pakistan. However, if the state is ready to devise a new social contract with its citizens based on mutual respect and equal opportunities and status for every citizen, then the chances are that Pakistan can get out of this quagmire of self-inflicted problems.

For argument’s sake, let’s accept that the establishment’s charges are true and the PTM is being funded by external hands to destabilize the tribal belt in Pakistan. The question remains, what has the establishment done to stop young Pashtun minds from becoming tools of these alleged foreign elements? Is it not the duty of the establishment that indirectly rules the country to think of the tribal belt and Pashtun youth as collateral damage of the war in Afghanistan and to address their problems?

If the PTM is really funded by external hands and Manzoor Pashteen is a traitor, then why is the state afraid to start a dialogue with him in the presence of intellectuals and people from the media? If Pashteen is a traitor, he will have no ground to stand on.

But Pashteen is not ready to accept the hegemony of the military establishment in state affairs, and he is saying what even the likes of Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari and Asfandyar Ali Khan don’t dare to say. He is making his voice heard in every nook and corner of the country despite being banned from the mainstream media. The reason is that there are millions who are not Pashtuns but who like Pashteen and his supporters are unhappy over the role of the establishment in the affairs of state.

Only a meaningful dialogue can break the ice between the state and the PTM – and not only the PTM, but the state needs to start a dialogue with the masses through the intellectuals instead of the power-hungry political elite, as the current breed of politicians do not represent the true voices of the masses and are only interested in their own vested interests.

It is time for the state to start a dialogue with the youth of PTM, and the government institutions should work under the ambit of the constitution, as ruling with fear and by brainwashing the masses will only produce more slaves. And more and more youth deprived of the opportunities to live, to grow and to get equal opportunities will join movements like the PTM.

If the barrel of the gun could guarantee the future of a country, the Soviet Union could not have collapsed, and the debacle of East Pakistan could never have happened. It is a social contract that allows civic liberties, freedom and equal rights to the citizens that guarantees smooth sailing and the survival of a federation.

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