Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) a self-styled Pashtun rights movement, which emerged a few months back, has hit the headlines in the national and international media and its leader Manzur Pashteen became a household name in Pakthun- inhabited areas, but the group soon become controversial. This was bound to happen because although the PTM may have benign and humanist aims of protecting the rights of Pashtuns, it was formed by anti-social elements with ulterior motives.
The main line of argument of the PTM has been that the Pashtuns as a community in Pakistan have been facing a grave threat to their security and political and legal discrimination. Manzur Pashteen, the articulate speaker who heads the PTM, is said to hail from the Mehsud tribe of South Waziristan. The PTM evolved from the Mehsud Tahaffuz Movement and came into the national limelight after the extra-judicial killing of a Pashtun, Naqeeb Ullah Mehsud by the Karachi police in January this year. Following 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. Noticeably, the PTM has been asking mainly for the safety of Pashtuns and their rights and lives in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) specifically Waziristan. This is evident from the fact that Naqibullah was a Mehsud and belonged to the Mehsud tribe of SWA of FATA. However, it has been more than a decade that Pashtuns have been facing discrimination and security threats including the dislocation of the entire 3.5 million population of the Malakand Division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2009, due to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) insurgency there, but the PTM, or any other organization from FATA, never raised their voices against the unprecedented displacement and problems faced by Pashtuns.
The PTM was never heard of when Malala Yousafzai was shot by the TTP in the head. Therefore, the PTM does not qualify to assume the name of Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement. However, the nomenclature was adopted to get wider media publicity and sympathies of the gullible members of groups across Pakistan. Although the murder of Naqeebullah Mehsud was loathsome and Senior Superintendent of Policy (SSP) Karachi, Rao Anwar, who is charged of the extra-judicial murder, must be brought to justice. But the question remains: there are millions of Pashtuns living in Karachi and how many of them have been killed by SSP Rao Anwar? This needs to be answered but the PTM and its leaders do not seem to have any answer.
In fact, the PTM and its perpetrators wanted to have an incident to trigger their movement and Naqeebullah’s murder in Karachi was deemed the one to be exploited. The wider coverage of mainstream media TV channels in Pakistan of Naqibullah’s murder further motivated the PTM to capitalize upon the opportunity. Thus, the PTM rose from nowhere and started holding meetings and agitating. Consequently, the mainstream media started giving the group coverage, thinking it to be a genuine movement to speak against injustice. Even mainstream political parties, like the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Awami National Party (ANP) threw their support behind the PTM and Pashteen. The PTI head Imran Khan went to the extent in stating that all the demands of the PTM were totally justified. However, he did not know the wider agenda of the PTM and its perpetrators. It is important to note that the PTM made Naqibullah’s murder a point to criticize Pakistani security forces and openly blamed them for committing excesses in FATA. This was strange, because Naqibullah was killed by the Karachi police and the PTM was taking to task security forces in FATA for usurping the rights of Pashtuns! At this point people started understanding the nefarious designs of the PTM and its backers. Supporters and political parties which first lauded the PTM, started distancing themselves from the group. Imran Khan unequivocally said in a rally in Mardan in KP that although his party supported the genuine demands of the PTM but (in a clear allusion to its leadership) those who were trying to bring Pakistani security forces into disrepute were his enemies.
Although one does not exactly know about the agenda of the PTM, but this writer knows the people who formed the PTM, since long and their political mindset. Most of the leading lights of the PTM are chauvinist Pashtuns holding extreme ethno-nationalistic views. Mostly, the Balochistan based Paktunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) of Mehmud Khan Achakzai’s party men are behind the PTM and Pashteen. Achakzai is a close ally of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) particularly its 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. Thus, the rise of the PTM has very much to do with the mainstream political developments of the country, including the disqualification of Sharif. The PkMAP anti-Pakistan sentiments are well-known. The PkMAP and other Pashtun nationalists also have some 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 rejuvenate Pashtun 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, an ethnic Pashtun, who also had his party government in the Pashtun-dominated Khyber Pakhuunkhwa province from 2013 to 2018, who has the most extensive following among the Pashtun youth. The PkMAP strategized that if PTI and Khan would support the PTM it would lose, what it thinks, is the support of the security establishment, whereas in case of PTI failure to back the PTM, the Pashtun 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 is quite significant.
The leaders of the PTM consider Afghanistan more important than Pakistan and that was the very reason that they got backing from Afghanistan. The statement of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in favour of the PTM was an undiplomatic statement and tantamount to interfering in the internal affairs of Pakistan. The Foreign Office of Pakistan failed to vociferously decry this statement by the Afghan president. 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 and launching terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. Afghanistan has a history of following 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 anti-Pakistan sentiments of the PTM was fully exposed when a person carrying a Pakistani flag was forcibly evicted from the movement rally in Swat.
The statement of Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, alluding to the PTM and Pashteen, that when peace had been restored in FATA certain forces started to sabotage it, was very important. As mentioned earlier, there was no point to criticize Pakistani forces at a time when they have won unprecedented victories against terrorists and insurgents in FATA and significantly purged the region of them. The advances of Pakistani state forces against the terrorist and insurgents in FATA can be gauged from the fact that for the first time ever, the remotest valleys and plains of FATA have been brought under the state writ, including the thickly forested Shawal Valley between North and South Waziristan and Rajgal in Khyber Agency. Successes in FATA have added to the stature of the Pakistani security forces and enemies of Pakistan who had orchestrated a well-thought out plan to trap Pakistani forces in the strategic quagmire of FATA have been stymied.