The Pashtun March and the Right Side of History

Source: Youtube

A day ago, a massive procession took place in Peshawar of a movement that is being shunned by the mainstream media in Pakistan like the plague. The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement or the Protection of the Pashtuns Movement, spearheaded by young fearless activist Peshteen Manzoor.

The movement started with the extrajudicial killing of a charismatic young man Naqeeb Mehsud in Karachi. It was not long when the Pashtuns started to see a pattern in an almost national scale of profiling. It was not long before it was noticed that people of a certain ethnic and lingual persuasion were being stopped more frequently at the military checkposts.

Of course, there is some recent history to the predominantly Punjabi military being suspicious of rebellion among Pashtuns. The war on terror, the anti-state Islamist Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the attacks on high-ranking military personnel, and the latest friction between Islamabad and Kabul have all been a part of it.

Now with the recent xenophobia setting in about the Afghans, it would not be wrong to say that the Pashtuns have never felt more alienated. Traditionally, the Pashtuns have never really considered Afghan a hard border and it has been porous throughout the history of Pakistan. But with the recent military leaders putting stricter fences across it, and the way the military polices parts of the Pashtun majority Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the FATA considering the Mullah Fazlullah episode.

However, it has been an open secret that the military has been traditionally backing up the Islamist elements in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and has always considered the secular and leftist elements a threat, as in the rest of Pakistan. People even raise question marks about the way the military operation was carried out against the militants. This leaves the Pashtuns, with a good number far more progressive than the social conservative majority in Punjab, with absolutely no choice but to follow a very narrow path of nationalism that the military establishment approves of.

All of this becomes a disaster and an extrajudicial killing by the law enforcement in Karachi proves to be the last straw. Forget the Balochs, dozens of Pashtun families have coming out with their list of missing persons, which are in all likelihood have been abducted and detained by state security and military intelligence agencies. The state of the federation is not strong indeed.

But it is very important to think beyond the idea of Pakistan or the precarious federation that the nationalists so love to cling on to. It is important to give precedence to human rights over any brutal ideas of nationalism.

Your claims to support the dissenting minorities in governments you don’t like sound hypocritical if you are not sensitive about the rights of your own. And you can’t possibly claim to be a democracy if you are cornering dissenting voices like that. The same happened with Mama Qadeer, who was leading a dissenting movement for the rights of the missing Baloch people. All they want is a day in the court. But then again, the support for democracy, or even the understanding of the idea, is already scarce in a country where you find a great conservative nationalist majority rooting for the military rule.

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People like Zaid Hamid, a pro-military nationalist opinion leader, are already calling Manzoor Ahmed Pashteen a traitor and an agent of India’s RAW. That is the way to further alienate an already wounded community and to push a dissenting patriot out of the circle of debate, especially when he insists that his movement is non-violent and only looking for justice in the court of law. How are those unfair demands? Some say it was the movement that prompted Army Chief Bajwa to visit the slain Naqeeb Mehsud’s home, only five days ago, and the DG ISPR also had to acknowledge Pashteen in his press conference.

Often the idea of avoiding repeating another Bangladesh is brought up when it comes to the rights of the people of provinces other than Punjab, but the Pashtoon Tahafuz Movement is an opportunity for food for thought. Perhaps, there has been a greater disconnect with the Balochs but the Punjabis and Pashtoon live in such an intertwined society that a conflict between them will spell utter chaos. This is why it is important not to push a marginalized group further to the brink and to further escalate tensions by racial profiling, whether subtle or more explicit. It is sad if anyone has respect for a state which promotes such discrimination.

It is very important to stand on the right side of history today because even if you are a Punjabi that sides with Manzoor Pashteen, history might not judge you kindly in the future. This movement for the demands of just being treated fairly needs to reach beyond ethnic lines.

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