The nascent Pushtun Tahafuz Movement is not a treasonous movement. It is not against the integrity of Pakistan. No one can deny the fact that the people of Pakistan’s FATA have suffered the worst brunt of US’s war in Afghanistan, not to mention Pakistan’s own clean-up operations. Wars lead to social break down in the areas where they are fought. The shock generated by total social break down leads to self-organization not seen before. As such, the emergence of the PTM is comprehensible. It is triggered by an act of injustice, Naqeeb ullah Mehsud’s murder by a policeman who absconded after killing an innocent.
The PTM, as such, is a social movement, not an insurgency. How can any one think of putting it down? It is akin to Black Lives Matter movement in the USA, where excessive police killings of the Afro-American citizens led to the Afro-American citizens organizing themselves across all states of the USA to make an organized demand for end to such brutality. The first erudite spokesperson for the grievance the blacks expressed collectively was no less than the President of the United States, Barack Obama. Sensing the tension that was brewing post Zimmerman acquittal in Florida on July 13, 2013, Barack Obama became the spokesperson for Afro-Americans and stated unequivocally that there is racism in America, and that before he became a senator, he too was stopped by police at night if he stepped out to buy a pack of cigarettes, and questioned for no other reason than the fact that he is black. Empathy from the President of the United States immediately calmed the tense nerves of the blacks. The Afro-Americans could not find a better spokesperson for their grievance than the President of the United States. Obama’s wisdom saved America damages from the riots that were all set to follow Zimmerman’s acquittal. The leaders of Pakistan must treat the PTM in similar manner. Needless to mention, the Black Lives Matter movement materialized only after Obama left office.
Imagine what would have happened if Obama had chosen to proselytize instead of empathyzing with the blacks, and had alleged that the blacks who are out on the streets against the Zimmerman verdict are miscreants and misdirected individuals……that the fact that Obama is the President of the United States shows that there is no racism in America……that the verdict of the court must be respected and law must be obeyed?! Had the POTUS made such pronouncements, he would have enraged a restive people even further by speaking irritating half truths to those who had lost members of their community to unjustified police shoot outs.
A modern nation state does not suppress movement for social justice. Such suppression turbo charges the movement and could transform it into uprising.
War causes economic dislocation (businesses and jobs are halted), social dislocation, (people have to migrate out of war zones and move to neighborhoods where they are surrounded by strangers) psychological dislocation, (they lose their loved ones in a violent separation) and structural dislocation, (their homes and neighborhoods are destroyed in bombardment). In the case of FATA, yet another hazard faced its people, their cognitive branding as people from a terror infested area and therefore possibly contaminated. This cognitive aspect of the war on terror has been a particularly vicious one. Both the state’s and the rebels’ perpetual man hunts has led to the disappearance of many an innocent persons.
Given the set of domestic and international circumstances, my patriotism demands that I support the PTM. If Pakistanis do not support the legitimate demands of the PTM activists, we will be building a wall around them which will suffocate them. In such a state, support from outsiders will begin to matter. In due course, foreign bribes will be rolling in to turn activists into separatists. The foreign hand knows how to draw on the long standing insurrectionary tradition in FATA. Gun running would hardly be a problem. Channels already exist and are hard to choke.
In Fata, the traditional mechanisms of control have been weakened, leading to the release of energies that have helped to create a new political space. The moment war started, we should have known that such a space will come to exist. It usually takes a decade for a people exposed to violence to recover and start organizing as an interest gourp. Islamabad and Rawalpindi should have been prepared to deal with the matter eruditely. Badmouthing the movement for no good reason exhibits poor capacity to deal with political developments in a sophisticated manner.
PTM is built on a victory. It has won support through demonstrated ability to be heard. Rao Anwar, the absconder, has been produced before the court. Movements built on acts of victory should be congratulated, not suppressed. We must let the PTM youth have faith in the institutions of Pakistan – we must let them see and feel that the latter work for them. All over the Muslim world, the war on terror has led to heightened ethnic identities. It is only where this rise in sentiment has been maltreated by the concerned authorities that separatist movements have developed.
It is up to the state in Pakistan to blow the PTM out of its current proportions or channel it towards positive achievements. Mishandling the movement could have a crippling effect on reconstruction and peace building in the affected areas. Suppression of the movement will inevitably lead to broadening of its alliances. Business leaders, workers, academics and house wives and elite within a community tend to lend support to those they believe are working for safeguarding their rights and are suffering in the process. If there is no suppression, other groups within the community do not feel the need to join hands with the movement, as an active group seems to be making fair headway on its own.
If the authorities know of an enemy hand behind the movement, they must put it before the public in a convincing manner so Pashtuns and fellow Pakistanis do not support the current leadership of the movement. As things stand right now, the PTM is standing up for something. You suppress it, it will turn into against something – namely you, the suppressor. What will follow will be our enemy supporting the movement at all levels, verbal, diplomatic, financial and finally the support of the last stage the Indians openly allude to after the Hindu extremists have come to occupy New Delhi. They will see an opportunity to bank roll the urban poor to join in the making of an ugly movement they’d be steering themselves undercover.
A well read Pakistani politician, Shireen Mazari has lost no time in coming out to support the PTM. She has done so because she has studied all aspects of security during her pursuit of doctorate in the subject. She has acknowledged the fact that the community that is making the demand for fairer treatment has suffered hell on earth and deserves to be heard. Mariam Nawaz, a politician who stands at the opposite end of the spectrum, has also expressed similar thoughts. I second the stance of both the politicians.
The authorities must trust the Pashtun youth that is peacefully active for its rights it perceives as being violated. If the state empowers the youth with trust, they will respond positively. Right now is a critical time for channeling the movement towards a positive outcome for the nation. A very senior member of the Pak military recently stated that after a long and arduous journey, just as we reached our destination, a movement has started. He is right in qualifying the timing of the PTM. It is when the war is over, the suffering is over and the fear is over, that there is an intense longing to break decisively with the past and to work for making sure it does not return.
Because of the American posture, there is fear that war could start again. There is fear that discrimination against the survivors of war could become embedded. Eighty percent of the members of FATA’s youth population works short term in bad conditions in the mega cities of all over Pakistan- they are the constituency of the PTM movement.
Engage the movement by directing them towards positive pursuits and helping them attain reforms in justice, health care, education, income generation, poverty alleviation, land cultivation and shelter provision. Last but not the least, the community needs social and legal protection against the crime of discrimination, especially when it is perpetrated by mindless and unbridled officers in law enforcement.
The military and civilian authorities’ support to the PTM should be part of the rehabilitation and repatriation effort.