The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has started lodging cases against leaders of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) for inciting people to revolt against the state.
It started after the army had hinted at taking legal action against the PTM leadership for playing in the hands of the enemy, working against national interests and inciting people against national institutions a few weeks ago. It appears the establishment has run out of patience after silently watching the activities of the organization for years. There is no doubt that the enemies of Pakistan are supporting it to create unrest in Pakistan. The movement has largely been peaceful, as it was a calculated move to attract the world attention towards it, without fearing for action from the authorities. However, it has reached a point where it was needed to stop. The main demands of the PTM include demining of the former tribal areas and greater freedom of movement there, an end to killings, enforced disappearances and unlawful detentions, and for their practitioners to be held to account within a truth and reconciliation framework.
Launched in the name of highlighting grievances of Pashtuns, there are visible signs that enemies are using the movement to harm Pakistan. They want to act it like the Mukti Bahini to create a new Bangladesh in Pakistan. However, they are grossly mistaken. It is neither 1971 nor the Pakistan army is the same. It has successfully eliminated the Taliban from its territory, which received training and funding abroad. If the PTM resorts to violence, it will be crushed with an iron hand.
Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa called the PTM leadership “hybrid warriors” in the past and expressed his institution’s resolve to fight them on every front. In his latest remarks, he said the PTM was not an issue itself but certain individuals playing in foreign hands were exploiting the sentiments of people who had suffered hardships because of terrorism. “The issues being highlighted by the movement are genuine and natural in the post-operation environment. However, few individuals playing in foreign hands are by design exploiting sentiments of the people who have actually suffered at the hands of terrorism and now need care,” he told a gathering of students recently. He stressed that both government and security forces were working to address the genuine issues of the residents of tribal areas. “For us, progress towards enduring peace through socio-economic development comes first and we shall fail all inimical forces and their conspiracies trying to undo our gains,” he vowed. Lauding the efforts of the Pakistani nation and the armed forces for defeating terrorism, the Army Chief said it was time “to have its dividends through socio-economic development in which education is the most important”. It was the first time since last August that General Bajwa had directly addressed the issue.
Earlier, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said the Pakistan Army wanted to make an all-out effort to resolve the issues faced by Pashtuns in the erstwhile tribal areas, but the manner adopted by the PTM to voice the grievances would no longer be tolerated. Addressing a press conference at the General Headquarters, the head of the military’s media wing also suggested that the PTM had received funding from Afghan and Indian intelligence services. “We want to do everything for the people of tribal areas, but those who are playing in the hands of people, their time is up,” he warned. However, he clarified that neither people would face any sort of problem nor any unlawful path be adopted.
In his reaction, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said the ISPR should not issue statements on political matters. “Offering political narrative through the ISPR DG has rendered the institute controversial and the PPP does not want this to happen. Policies of ministries should be handled by related ministers,” he told a press conference.
Government and military officials have met PTM leaders several times and heard their grievances patiently. They have assured them of resolving their issues but it will take time. The army has formed 48 teams and 45pc of the areas have been demined. In the process, 101 soldiers have lost their lives. Their demand of clearing away check-posts cannot be accepted abruptly because the army has lost thousands of soldiers at the critical positions. The issue of missing persons is their third demand and the government has set up a commission to resolve it.
Prime Minister Imran Khan also endorsed the PTM demands but said its manner was not good for the country. Addressing a public gathering in the Orakzai tribal district, he acknowledged people had to face difficulties and migrate to other areas during the counterterrorism operations in the tribal areas but added that innocents were also killed in wars. But “how will it benefit Pakistan and the tribal areas to turn people who have been through pain against their army and raise slogans like this?” he asked.
It is clear that the Pakistan army could not be blamed for the destruction caused in the tribal region. Successive governments also failed to provide basic facilities to locals, because the areas were not in the mainstream. After the merger of the tribal areas into the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, it is a big challenge for the government to find ways to improve people’s lives and provide them with all basic necessities.
The army believes the PTM is receiving money from the NDS (Afghan National Directorate of Security) and India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). However, legal action will be taken against the PTM leaders instead of another military operation in the tribal areas. Enemies of Pakistan want an armed conflict in the country. They are inciting locals for their own benefits. The locals should understand that confrontation would not resolve their issues. They will have to wait for some years to benefit from their new status. The federal and provincial governments should also expedite the process of the provision of basic rights to people to avoid unrest in the areas.