Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) aims at protecting the human rights of the ethnic Pashtun people living in the Pashtun Belt in Pakistan i.e. the area comprising KP province, FATA and the Northern Baluchistan. Though PTM has been in existence in Pakistan for the last couple of years, it gained prominence following the extra-judicial murder of a Pashtun boy Naqeeb Ullah Mehsud by the Karachi police in January this year. These days, the activists of this social movement are actively holding public rallies and protest marches in many cities across the country. They have also held public protest rallies in the country’s big cities like Peshawar, Islamabad and Lahore. As a matter of fact, during the last few months, the agenda and scope of PSM has expanded beyond demanding the justice for Naqeeb Mehsud. In a public rally in Lahore on Sunday, PTM leaders demanded the formation of a ‘truth and reconciliation commission’ to thoroughly look into the extra-judicial killings and missing persons. Currently, there is a media blackout on the PTM’s activities in the country. However, the activists and followers of PTM are actively propagating their agenda and demands on social media. Giving a substantial impetus to this movement, a large number of ‘liberal’ journalists, analysts, political and human rights activists have also readily jumped into the PTM’s bandwagon. Similarly, some anti-establishment political parties are covertly supporting PTM. On the other hand, there have also been some Pashtun public rallies, showing solidarity with the armed forces, and rejecting altogether the objective and demands made by the PTM leaders.

The PTM’s current demands range from inquiring into the extra-judicial killing and enforced disappearance of Pashtun people to the clearance of landmines and the removal of security checkposts in North Waziristan. In fact, no one can support the extra-judicial killing or enforced disappearance of any Pakistani. So the extra-judicial killing of Naqeeb Mehsud is equally condemnable and regrettable. His alleged assassin Rao Anwar has been arrested. Indeed, he should be interrogated, tried and punished in accordance with the law. There should certainly be a zero tolerance for any sort of extra-judicial killing by the law enforcing agencies throughout the country.

Noticeably, there has been a significant shift in the organizational agenda of PTM over a short period of time. Instead of keenly protecting the Pashtun human rights, PTM leaders currently look more interested in maligning and discrediting the military. They are openly accusing the military of Pashtun persecution. Unfortunately, some PTM activists are also blaming the military for the 2014 APS Peshawar tragedy. In fact, PTM is holding the military responsible for the underlying Pashtun woes and deprivation in line with some other anti-military ethnic and regional parties. So the current stance and modus operandi adopted by PTM leaders are no more different than that of Mama Qadeer, the founder of “International voice for Baloch Missing Persons”. The instant rise of PTM in Pakistan has certainly raised many eyebrows. However, these sorts of movements and propaganda parties have been mushrooming in Pakistan for a long time. And anti-establishment political parties and individuals have readily been extending their support to these movements in some way. In fact, this ‘anti-military brigade’ hardly misses any opportunity to defame our armed forces.

There is no denying the fact that the Pashtun population has been the worst sufferer of the ongoing war on terror in Pakistan. Thousands of Pashtuns have been killed in numerous terror attacks in KP and FATA. Similarly, a large number of Pashtuns have also lost their lives in various American drone attacks in the tribal areas. Pakistan army has also conducted a number of military operations to clear these areas of militants and terrorists. These military operations rendered a large population of the tribal areas homeless and displaced. It is a fact that these displaced tribesmen have yet not been fully rehabilitated. However, it should not be forgotten that the war on terror in Pakistan was not of our choosing. This war essentially has a geostrategic dimension. The enemies of Pakistan just imposed a complex Fourth Generation War on Pakistan through its numerous proxy militants. This war certainly posed an existential threat to Pakistan. Had Pakistani nation and its armed forces not proactively fought this war, it would have damaged us beyond redemption.

It is a fact that FATA has been the epicenter of terrorist activities inside Pakistan. The extra-territorial character of FATA, coupled with its long porous borders with Afghanistan, just made it a safe haven for the militants all over the region. It should also not be forgotten that the TTP, the premier anti-Pakistan terror outfit, took birth in FATA. It has also been carrying out its terror activities from the same area. Similarly, the TTP comprised most of the militants who were ethnic Pashtun. So were their leaders like Baitullah Mehsud, Hakimullah Mesud and Molvi Fazlullah. It should also not be forgotten that it is not the Pakistani Pashtuns only who have suffered. In fact, the Afghan Pashtun population has suffered more than Pakistani Pashtuns on account of a long civil war, and a subsequent the US war on terror in Afghanistan. But, indeed, there is no one in Afghanistan like PTM to accuse the Afghan government or its army of Pashtun persecution or victimization. While criticizing the military, it should always be kept in mind that it is the Pakistani army which has courageously fought and won a complex war against the anti-state militants and terrorist in the country. Thousands of officers and jawans of Pakistan army have laid their lives in this bloody war to save the country. Similarly, the military has also played an important role in stabilizing the troubled city of Karachi where people have been killed in the streets in broad daylight. One can criticize the military for unnecessarily interfering in the politics, but it can by no means be blamed for a systematic persecution against a specific ethnic or religious group in Pakistan. Therefore, in the name of protecting human rights of a particular ethnic group, it is extremely regrettable to dishonour our armed forces. And who are doing this job is obviously doing no good service to Pakistan.

At present, Pakistan possesses some effective anti-terrorism legislation in the form of Anti-terrorism Act, 1997 and Protection of Pakistan Act, 2014. Besides this, a number of special military courts to try and punish terrorists are also functioning in the country. Therefore, in the presence of an effective legal tool to deal with terrorists, there is absolutely no need to capture and detain suspect terrorists secretly and illegally. In order to avoid controversies regarding the missing persons and enforced disappearances, the security and law enforcing agencies should refrain from apprehending individuals arbitrarily without adopting the due process of law. Our proactive Chief Justice of Pakistan should also intervene to protect the fundamental rights of Pakistanis by putting an end to the extra-judicial killings and unjustified detentions in the country. It is also a high time that our ordinary anti-terrorism courts should replace the special military courts in the country.

The instant removal of security checkposts in North Waziristan is rather an unreasonable demand made by the PTM leaders. Pakistan army has retrieved this area only after conducting a long and hard military operation. Therefore, this area can’t be allowed to fall a prey to militancy and extremism once again. Certainly, Pakistan army can’t withdraw its troops unless the civil administration completely takes control of this area. Pakistan army has just withdrawn its troops from the Swat Valley after a prolonged stay there as the civilian agencies are now capable of administering it. The government should make serious effort to maintainstream FATA. Moreover, there should also be a focus on improving the socio-economic status of the deprived tribesmen. The government should also constructively engage with the disgruntled PTM leaders by addressing their genuine concerns. At the same time, PTM leaders should not be allowed to unnecessarily malign and defame the armed forces in the name of protecting the Pashtuns’ rights.

The writer is a lawyer and columnist based in Lahore.