The Plight of Pashtuns in Pakistan

For decades Pakistan’s all powerful military has been in control of country whether directly, as in military dictatorships, or indirectly by installation of a ‘puppet’ Head of State. Recently the Pakistan military has been quit reluctant in getting what it wants, jumping like a ping pong, its ‘selected’ candidate as Prime minister, its media critics hounded into compliance, creating a domestic ruckus from Kashmir issue and a reason to tighten its grip on the nation. 

In their effort to wrest control and power from every possible institution, Pakistan’s military has so ruthless in crushing all forms of dissension that, at times, picking up fight and challenging the brass seemed a fight not worth picking. On the contrary, the military has also been reluctant in ‘championing’ themselves as saviours of ‘humanity’ for every crisis outside the boundaries of Pakistan.

Some Pashtuns protesting against Pakistan military calling them ‘HR abusers’. Pashtuns in Pakistan specifically in former FATA region has faced several human and civil rights abuses over the years at the hands of both Pakistan’s establishment and military. Image sourced from The Charticle.

One more demonstration of Pakistani military’s authoritarianism and cellularly absolutists character was this year on May 26 when Pakistan tried to suppress a rights demonstration in the troubled region of Waziristan. At a peaceful protest organised by Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) – an umbrella organisation and a political movement for protection of basic rights of Pashtuns in Pakistan – at Khar Kamar checkpoint in northern Waziristan, Pakistan’s dictatorial military initiated violent confrontation that left at least 13 people dead and 25 others wounded.

The protest was led by two members of parliament — Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar — who are members of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). The military, being true to its suppressing tactics, arrested the Pashtun parliamentarian Ali Wazir for allegedly attacking the Khar Kamar checkpoint. “Their time is up,” Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, the spokesman, said of the P.T.M. at a news conference insinuating about an ever harder approach towards PTM. “North Waziristan has become a black hole since the incident,” said Mohsin Dawar, post arrest of his fellow Ali Wazir. “Curfew has been imposed. Phones are not working. Roads are closed. The entire district has become a jail.”

Ali Wazir, left and Mohsin Dawar, right, leaders of the Pashtun nationalist movement and political front – Pashtun Tahafuz Movement; heading towards a rally against human rights violations by security forces in Karachi. Source: NYT and Akhtar Soomro/Reuters.

The protest was in reaction to series of severe human rights abuses by Pakistan Army in the Pashtun tribal regions, predominantly the small region of Waziristan close to Afghan border. The suppression was another failed attempt at crushing a voice of dissent, a movement gaining ground in Pakhtunkhwa. PTM movement is steered by a 26 year old young dynamic leader from improvised tribal background of Waziristan – Manzoor Pashteen – in a place where dissent is crushed, suppressed, silenced and censored as anti-state, anti-Islam or as a product of nefarious foreign influence. 

The 26 year old young Pashtun tribesman from Waziristan, Manzoor Pashteen, is the founding member and leader of Pashtun movement for protection – Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). DW/Getty Images/A. Qureshi.

Despite all cryptic attempts by Pak establishment, PTM rose to prominence from a small university in the remote outpost ranges of Waziristan in early 2018. Although the grievances PTM tapped into—discrimination against tribal people, violence by the Taliban, and military presence in the area—were long-standing, the trigger for the group’s recent explosion was the extrajudicial killing of an aspiring model and artist from Waziristan – Naqeebullah Mehsud –in the city of Karachi in January 2018. 

Months ago I wrote about the rise of Pashtuns against the state encouraged and deeply embedded discriminatory attitude of Pakistan Army towards Pashtuns. The situation hasn’t improved a bit, only subjecting to further deteriorations in Pashtun life. Naqeebullah’s killing was a quintessential example of Pakistan’s state espoused system of extra judicial killings and human rights violations. The young boy’s death bought back all the dark memories of Pakistan’s discrimination against Pashtuns in the past. 

Pashtuns in Pakistan have been governed through draconian colonial laws for years and upon that came Pakistan military with its ever authoritarian oppressive character. Military pillorying collective punishment to all villagers for the crime of one person was the most frequent tactic, particularly in the Waziristan of FATA. 

In suspicion of any Taliban links in the village, the Pakistani Army completely decimated the entire villages, bulldozing the homes of family members of suspected militants and inflicting collective punishments to entire community/village.

No Pashtunwali practices including Jirga were allowed by Pakistan forces in these cases. Landmines were installed in village and community areas of Pashtuns in villages in Waziristan of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Instead of Taliban militants, these landmines used to affect average civilians, children and women.

Pakistani forces – an epitome of desuetude and egregious banality – used its well-versed tactic of arresting, kidnapping and extra-judicial killings of dissenting voices who dare to challenge the brass. Pakistan has a history of using these tactics and inflicting severe punishments on Pashtuns. One such heinous incident from the history was ‘Babrra Massacre’ of 12th August, 1948, when 600 unarmed Pashtuns supporters of Khudai Khidmatgar Movement, gathered on Babrra ground Hashtnagar, were brutally killed on the orders of Muslim League leader Abdul Qayyum Khan Kashmiri (the then C.M. of NWFP).

Even after this horrendous mass shooting of innocent civilians, neither A. Q. K. Kashmiri nor the Pakistan authorities, showed any grievances or atonement. Speaking at provincial assembly A.Q. Khan disparagingly said “They were lucky that the police ammunition ran out; otherwise not a single soul would have survived.”

There have been punishments meted out to students who support PTM and professors are forced to identify students attending rallies so authorities can take actions. Pashteen has been called a ‘traitor’ and a ‘terrorist’ by Pakistani establishments and PTM has been labelled as foreign funded organisation. Media coverage of PTM and Pashteen has been blocked and no media is allowed to air news about them.

“Punishment is all about sending a message to keep silent” told Pashteen to the Associated Press. Pashteen told “One thousand percent we were sure we would be killed”. Pakistan is construct of preposterous institutions – a personification of fallacy – deeply enmeshed in extremism and hugely reliant on fawning. Impugning the Army spawns a series of severe punishments and sometimes extra judicial killings.

“The military has become a state within a state”. “PTM leader Pashteen doesn’t mince his words and has made it clear who he holds responsible for the Pashtun suffering: “We have to identify the place that destroyed us,” Pashteen said at a recent rally. “It is GHQ!” he said, referring to the Pakistani military headquarters in Rawalpindi, cited a DW article.

One slogan that PTM regularly uses to highlight the misdeed of Pakistani forces is “Yeh jo dehshatgardi hai, is ke peechay wardi hai” (behind this terrorism, is the [military] uniform). 

Pashtuns – who have been subjected to gross human rights abuses in their own land – are quickly morphing into an achtung force for justice. The unremittingly difficult condition of Pashtuns in Pakistan is a gonged reminder to the world to wake up to reality and leave the bed of banality it is sleeping into for years now.

Pashtun Tahafuz Movement is not an encoring performance steered for scoring brownie points, rather it is a strong rebuttal to the embedded world order, a chance of conformity towards realism for the entire global intelligentsia. The plight of Pashtuns in Pakistan must make the world to mirror Pakistan – when it ping pongs in every external conflict pufferying itself as the global human rights champion – that it is needs to see no further than inside to exercise it’s supposed champion finesse. 


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About the Author

Yogendra Thakur
A student and two time state topper in Astrophysics and Art of Lecturing. Primary focus areas are Indology and Economics.