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Rise of the Firebrands.

Byline: Dr. Raza Khan

The recent rise of the self-explained Pashtun rights movements named Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) has gained prominence through extensive media coverage but the sudden momentum of the group's rise has also raised eyebrows despite sympathy for its ostensible goals. The PTM thinks that the Pashtuns as an ethnic group and the community in Pakistan has been facing grave threats to their security, rights and identity. It has, therefore, come to the forefront to safeguard the rights of the group. The PTM is led by a firebrand orator Manzur Pashteen, who has become a social media celebrity in a section of young Pashtuns in the country.

Although the PTM has been around in Pakistan for the last couple of years, it gained prominence following the extra-judicial murder of a young Pashtun man Naqeeb Ullah Mehsud by the Karachi police in January this year. Since the killing of Naqeeb Mehsud, activists of this social movement have been actively holding public rallies and protest marches in many cities across the country. At the outset, the PTM and Manzur Pashteen attracted large-scale support and attention among the Pashtuns but this wave of popularity could not be sustained because the group manifested more as a Pashtun sub-nationalist group instead of an outfit working to protect the rights of the ethno-linguistic group. This was very much on the cards because those like this writer, who know the background of the group and its moving spirits and their intentions, were very much clear about the gradual unfolding of the group agenda.

Here it must be mentioned that the very rise to prominence of the PTM in Pakistan was sudden but strange. As mentioned, it was the killing of Naqeeb Mehsud in Karachi which triggered the PTM that has been asking primarily for the safety of Pashtuns and their rights and lives in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), specifically Waziristan, from where Pashteen also hails. The only connection between the Naqeeb murder by Karachi police and Pashtun rights in FATA was that the former belonged to Waziristan. Then again, strangely during their meetings, the PTM has been taking to task the military forces of Pakistan, particularly their operations in Waziristan and FATA, primarily through stirring anti-military sentiments. It must be noted that Naqeeb was killed by the Karachi police and the military had nothing to do with it.

This shows that the PTM and Manzur Pashteen wanted to exploit the media coverage which the Naqeeb killing received in Pakistan for its own vested interests. The foremost interest of the PTM seems to be to bring into disrepute the country's security forces, blaming them of committing atrocities in FATA which is inhabited by Pashtuns. This is again strange because criticizing the country's armed forces is beyond understanding, particularly at a time when they have restored order and peace in FATA after more than 14 years of unrest and crisis by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Noticeably the TTP, which emerged in 2007, was founded by Baitullah Mehsud, also from the Mehsud tribe of South Waziristan.

The anti-Pakistan stance of the PTM was further exposed when the group and its leader failed to criticize Afghanistan and its authorities for housing and supporting the TTP rank and file on their soil, launching terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. Instead it was Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, who gave a statement in favour of the PTM. This undiplomatic statement by Ghani, which was interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan, exposed the PTM and Pashteen quite early because Afghanistan has a history of having an anti-Pakistan policy, always disputing the sanctity or the internationally recognized border between the two countries, the Durand Line and having irredentist claims on Pakistan's Pashtun inhabited areas.

The statement of Pakistan Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, alluding to the PTM and Pashteen, said that when peace had been restored in the FATA, certain forces started sabotaging it. This was very important and very thought-provoking. As mentioned earlier there was no point in criticizing the Pakistani forces at a time when they have won unprecedented victories against terrorists and insurgents in the FATA and have freed the region from them.

The advances of Pakistani state forces against the terrorists and insurgents in FATA could be gauged from the fact that for the first time ever the remotest valleys and plains of FATA had been brought under state writ, including the thickly forested Shawal Valley between North and South Waziristan and Rajgal in the Khyber Agency. Successes in FATA have added to the stature of Pakistani security forces and enemies of Pakistan who had orchestrated a well-thought out plan to trap Pakistani forces in the strategic quagmire of the FATA, are quite dejected.

Mostly the Balochistan-based Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) of Mehmood Khan Achakzai is behind the PTM and Pashteen. Achakzai is a close ally of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), particularly the ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Bringing the PTM into the limelight seemed to be a well thought out strategy of the PKMAP and its likeminded elements. The PKMAP's anti-Pakistan sentiments are well-known. This party and other Pakthun nationalists also have other motives to support the PTM and Pashteen. The party thinks that the ostensible simple stance of the PTM of protecting the Pashtun rights would not only resurrect the sapping Pakhtun nationalist sentiments in Pakistan but would also unnerve the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

Because it is the PTI and its charismatic leader Imran Khan who also had his party government in the Pashtun-dominated Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province from 2013 to 2018 and has the most extensive following among the Pashtun youth. That was the reason that when the PTM emerged, the PTI head supported the demands of the group. However, when it transpired that the group had an anti-Pakistan and anti-military agenda, Imran Khan unequivocally decried the group. The PkMAP strategized that if PTI and Imran would support the PTM, it would lose, what it thinks, the support of the security establishment, whereas PTI's failure to back the PTM Pakhtun youth would give up support to the PTI. The timing of the rise of the PTM just a few months before the national elections in this regard was quite significant.

The PTM, despite having a simple agenda of protecting Pakhtun rights and lives, stands very much exposed due to its anti-state agenda and that is the reason that the group has lost steam and would disappear with time.
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Publication:South Asia
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Jun 30, 2018
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