Pakistan: Pashtun movement (PTM) shakes the status quo - I
by Adam Pal on 16 May 2018 1 Comment

A new Pashtun movement has erupted in Pakistan, mobilizing hundreds-of-thousands of people across the country, with tens-of-thousands attending its public meetings. The state apparatus and the entire ruling class, including all establishment political parties, are trembling at the sight of this huge movement, which originated from the most backward areas of the country – where it was least expected.



The movement started with the killing of 28-year-old Naqeeb ullah Mehsud in Karachi by a notorious Police officer, Rao Anwar, on 13 January. Naqeeb ullah belonged to the Mehsud tribe of North Waziristan and was a shopkeeper in Karachi when he was killed under mysterious circumstances. According to his Facebook posts, he seems like a fun-loving boy who liked tribal dance and songs. On the other hand, Rao Anwar is famous for land-grabbing, and the use of extortion and murder to settle personal disputes.


According to reports he has killed at least 444 people between 2011 and 2018, but not a single inquiry has been made against him. Rao Anwar was also involved in the killing of Murtaza Bhutto in 1996. It is common knowledge that this brutal police officer works for the secret services of Pakistan and is their main instrument to get things done. According to reports, he is also close to former president and leader of PPP, Zardari, and the richest man in Pakistan, real estate tycoon (meaning ‘land grabber’), Malik Riaz.


For Rao Anwar, this killing was business as usual, but contrary to his plans, his actions have sparked a huge movement among Pashtuns in Pakistan. After the murder, initial protests were held in Karachi in which Pashtuns, mainly from Mehsud tribe, came out to protest against this act of brutality. After that, a long march left D.I. Khan near Waziristan on 26 January and reached Islamabad on 1 February, demanding justice for Naqeeb ullah and capital punishment for his killers.


The long march was led by a 24-year-old, Manzoor Pashteen. The protesters called this long march the Mehsud Tahafuz (Protection) Movement, but soon Pashtuns from other tribes joined and in the next few days it was named the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). When these protesting tribesmen reached Islamabad, they got a huge response and a sit-in was organized, which continued for 10 days. More than 15,000 people came to attend this sit-in and fiery speeches were made against the state and its atrocities towards tribal people and Pashtuns in general.


The protesters’ main demands included the arrest and execution of Rao Anwar and his accomplices; the end of state repression in all tribal areas of Pakistan and of Pashtuns generally; the removal of army checkpoints, where ordinary people are humiliated on a daily basis, waiting for hours in queues to go to their homes; the end of the discriminatory Watan Card (a special Identity  card issued to internally displaced people due to terrorism) and for clearing all landmines planted by the army in tribal areas, which have amputated and killed many innocents, including children. Finally, one of the core demands was to produce 32,000 ‘missing’ persons, who have actually been abducted by the army on spurious charges of suspicious activity.


North Waziristan is one of the seven tribal agencies of Pakistan, which are called FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas). These areas on the border of Afghanistan were used by British Imperialism as a buffer zone against Afghanistan and Russia when they drew the Durand Line in 1893. After the so-called Independence since 1947, the status of these areas has not changed and they are one of the most backward parts of the country. The laws and constitution of Pakistan are not applicable and basic facilities are scarce, including schools, hospitals and even water.


When the Americans started an imperialist Dollar Jihad against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, these areas were used as a launching pad to send Jihadis into Afghanistan with the support of Pakistani state. Later, in the so-called War on Terror since 2001, these areas were used as safe havens for Taliban and other Islamic fundamentalists, while US Imperialism used drones to attack their former friends.


Though US Imperialism and the Pakistani state were apparently waging a war against the Taliban and Islamic fundamentalism, in reality this was a war against the ordinary people of these areas in which Islamic fundamentalists were accomplices of Pakistani state and US Imperialism. All these crimes of the Pakistani state and US imperialism are now coming to the surface through this movement.


The leader of this movement is Manzoor Pashteen, who has become a mass figure among Pashtuns in just two months. In his speeches and video messages, he simply describes the atrocities of the Pakistani state and army in so-called operations against Islamic fundamentalism. According to him, in one incident, children and women were killed in an aerial bombing by the Pakistan air force, to which he was an eyewitness. But when he reached a nearby city safely next day and read the newspapers, it was reported that several terrorists have been killed by an air attack. He has also revealed that the homes of ordinary people were destroyed and/or looted by army personnel. In his speeches, he has also related incidents in which army officers were seen holding meetings with Taliban leaders they were supposed to kill or arrest.


He has also described the incidents of humiliation at army checkpoints in North and South Waziristan and other areas in FATA, where ordinary people are punished severely if they even speak up. The plight of families of thousands of ‘missing persons’ is also appalling. They wait for their loved ones for years but can never find out what happened to them. No cases are registered on behalf of such people and no government official knows their whereabouts. Their families don’t know whether they have been killed by the army on fake charges of terrorism or are still alive, rotting in some undeclared prison.


Manzoor Pashteen has raised serious questions about army ‘operations’ going on in these areas for more than decade now. He says that army officers are in complete collaboration with Taliban and other Islamic fundamentalists and he is an eyewitness to many meetings between them. He says this is common knowledge for people of these areas that many army officers and Taliban members are good friends. But ordinary people are suffering due to these operations and hundreds-of-thousands were displaced from their homes, becoming refugees in their own country.


All these discussions have encouraged thousands of other people to come out and raise their voices over these atrocities and share their own stories from the ‘War on Terror’. Inspired by this movement, huge protests have been organized in tribal areas of Bajaur and Landi Kotal, bordering Afghanistan. In Landi Kotal, 17 persons from a working-class family went ‘missing’ for many months following charges of terrorism. The women and children of this family were left in destitution and misery without anything to eat or drink. Locals protested with MPs and other officials demanding their return, but it seemed hopeless. But inspired by this movement, a huge protest was held in this backward area on the border. The protest ended when all those ‘missing’ were returned.


A protest against army checkpoints was also held in Swat, in which around 200 people assembled on the main road. The first response from the state was sending death threats, alongside other measures, including registering a legal case against those who organized the protest. But this met with a fierce response in which a much larger protest was organized. In the end, the state had to withdraw all its cases and the checkpoints were eased for the people of Swat.


Last month, the PTM organized a long march from D.I. Khan to Quetta, with public meetings in Zhob, Qila Saifullah, Khano Zai and finally in Quetta, which is the capital of Balochistan. This got a marvelous response amongst Pashtun communities. Tens-of-thousands of people attended these public meetings, in which similar discussions attacking the brutal role of the army and Pakistani state were held.


In a small city of Zhob, the army tried to sabotage the public meeting by arranging a football match between two local teams, as well as a cultural festival. But the football teams refused to play the match, and despite all measures taken against it, the public meeting was attended by thousands of people. In Qila Saifullah, a case was registered against the leadership of the PTM, but due to pressure from the movement, the state authorities were forced to quash the case on an order of the High Court.


In Quetta, the public meeting attracted more than 50,000 people from all over Balochistan. Ordinary people from other oppressed nationalities also attended this meeting, including Baloch and Hazaras. A huge military operation is also underway against Baloch Nationalists, in which hundreds of political workers have been killed and tortured and their mutilated bodies thrown in the rubbish by the Pakistani state. This operation is targeted more at ordinary people, including women and children, than those waging armed struggle. There is a seething resentment against the Pakistani state among Baloch masses and they are looking for ways to carry this struggle forward.


Hazara in Quetta are also persecuted by Islamic fundamentalists with complete support from the Pakistani state. In a city where army checkpoints are present after every kilometer, these terrorists kill Hazaras (a minority Persian speaking ethnic Shia community) on a regular basis, without ever being confronted or arrested. A Hazara woman also addressed the public meeting in Quetta, which shows the huge potential for this movement to link with other oppressed groups in Pakistan. The presence and mobilization of women around this movement is a progressive development in this deeply conservative and backward society. The public meeting was followed by a mass sit-in by Hazaras in Quetta, following a recent killing of one of their number. It has now entered its fifth day.


The PTM is holding a meeting in Peshawar on 8 April, for which preparations are being made on a mass scale. Students of Peshawar University, alongside ordinary men and women from various tribal areas, are holding meetings to build for this important meeting. Furthermore, students from universities in Islamabad are arranging buses to attend this historic public meeting in Peshawar. Even in preparatory meetings, hundreds of people are attending, while large funds are being collected to make arrangements. This meeting will be a turning point for the PTM. The long march will later head to Karachi, which has undoubtedly the largest Pashtun population of all cities in Pakistan. It will doubtlessly be greeted with enthusiasm and fervor.


This movement has raised alarm bells in the halls of power and the ruling classes are trying their best to quell a rising tide of anger and disgust. This tide is directed towards the barbaric Pakistani state, which is a stooge of US, Chinese and other imperialist powers. Initially, the ruling class tried to stop the movement through its regular measures of filing cases of sedition and official threats, but when they saw that these threats had the effect of throwing oil on a raging fire, they changed their tactics.


In a recent press conference, the spokesperson of the Pakistani army, General Asif Ghafoor, called Manzoor Pashteen a “wonderful boy” and said that the army has held meetings with him and he has explained all the PTM’s positions. He said that he is ready to have further meetings. But all these ‘soft’ words have not yet made any effect on the movement – it is still raging forward.


Alongside these amiable press greetings, venomous propaganda is being unleashed against the movement. It is falsely alleged that the leadership of the movement is being funded by the Indian secret services, RAW, and other enemies of Pakistan. No proof has been produced for these allegations but the media is giving full coverage to these and to press conferences that spew hatred and poison against the leadership of the movement.


The treacherous role of the media as a stooge of the ruling class can be clearly seen here. At first, it ignored the movement and tried to kill it through silence. Most people think the media can make or break any movement. It is true for bourgeois politicians, who have no base among the masses and are raised in nurseries of the establishment and then propped up through the media. But for real movements of the masses, the media is just another enemy to tackle. When the ruling class saw the movement growing despite being ignored, they tried to give it coverage with their own misleading interpretations. Manzoor Pashteen was also interviewed on various TV channels in which anchorpersons tried to tie him in knots. It was amazing to see people from opposing political parties have same reactionary position on this mass movement; asking similar questions and throwing doubts on the leadership.


The most important aspect of this movement is that it has exposed the rottenness of all political parties in the country, which are united in their chorus of abuse and slander. The parties in parliament have never spoken a single word against atrocities affecting tribal peoples, rather they are accomplices in unleashing hell on ordinary people. From left to right, the whole political spectrum has lost all credibility in the eyes of the masses. They no longer trust any of these parties. Though there was seething hatred against these army operations, there was no platform where people could raise their voice and wage their struggle. In such circumstances, the PTM has become the voice of the oppressed, and this has annoyed all political parties with some base among the Pashtun masses.


From religious parties like JUI (Jumat e Ulema Islam – Party of the Islamic Scholars)  and JI (Jumat e Islami – the most notorious of all Islamic Fascist political organizations linked with all international movements for the revival of caliphate including the party of Erdogan in Turkey, Hamas in Palestine, Al Shabab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt, etc.), who support Islamic fundamentalism, to the Pashtun nationalists of ANP (Awami National Party – Peoples national Party) and PkMAP (Pukhtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party) that enjoy warm relations with the Pakistani State, all parties see this movement as a threat to their political fiefdoms and are using every measure to stop it.


The leadership of ANP has openly announced that it is against this movement and has ordered its members not to attend meetings of the PTM or strict action will be taken against them. These nationalists, who are mostly former social democrats, have abandoned their secular and anti-regime traditions long ago and have become an integral part of the ruthless Pakistani state. They also sit in governments at federal and provincial level and have indulged in plunder and corruption like all the others.


This has left genuine proletarians of these parties and ordinary people to look for an alternative avenue for expressing their feelings. In fact, there is no difference among these parties and Islamic parties on the right. The brutal murder of Mashal Khan, a student of Mardan University, last year on false allegations of blasphemy, was an example of their treachery. He was opposing the corruption of university management, which is controlled by the nationalists of ANP. These nationalists then planned his murder with the goons of IJT (an Islamic fundamentalist organization), who carried out the deed on 13 April last year.


All this had the complete backing of the Pakistani state, which has helped to get almost all the accused released through the courts. Many other examples of such betrayals can be cited, including a shameful agreement between the Taliban and Islamic fundamentalists and the ANP when it was in power in Pakhtoonkhwa. Similarly, PkMAP is in a coalition with the right-wing PML(N) (Pakistan Muslim League) party of Nawaz Sharif, an enemy of the working-class, whom the PkMAP leaders hailed as  a national hero.


(To be concluded…)


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