Dilemmas surrounding Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) – Durdana Najam

In a complete paradox, the security paradigm – upon which the country’s safety structure has been built – has produced more fears and doubts than peace. The ingrained fear is that Pakistan is a fragile nation and India our number one enemy is always on the lookout for an opportunity to destroy the country. Bangladesh is an example. It is another story that, we provided the opportunity to dismember Pakistan on a platter, to both the nationalists from East Pakistan and India.  However, the fact that India connived to break up Pakistan in the cover of humanitarian assistance cannot be justified, either.

Over the years, Pakistan’s security structure has become utterly obtuse. Overprotective policies combined with strategies to use the tribal communities as proxies in Kashmir and Afghanistan, without a thought-out plan of rehabilitation, growth and structural reforms, has bitten us in more than one way. The worst albatross around our neck has been the birth of Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. And the worst abode for them has been the tribal belt, which over the years had become a terrorism-churning factory. Not that Pakistan planned the area to become one of such kind. The inadvertent policies, of not regulating law and order, in FATA and with no check applied on who could enter and leave the hinterland, turned the place into a scorpion’s den that eventually came to poison us.

And now we have the Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement (PTM).

With what has gone on in FATA since the Afghan Jihad days of Zia, there were supposed to be repercussions at some time. The matter of missing people has reverberated for years now, in the corridors of justice. When the former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, in a suo-motu notice instructed the law enforcement agencies to produce missing people, we witnessed moving scenes outside the Supreme Court. A mother died of cardiac arrest when she saw her son reduced to a skeleton, while in custody. A long silence followed those hearing until the PTM lent it a new vigour.

The PTM revolves around three main issues: the missing persons, extrajudicial killing of Pashtuns and the check posts in FATA.  The murder of Naqibullah Mehsud in Karachi was the harbinger of this movement.  There is always one incident that sets the ball rolling.  But, instead of hearing the Pashtuns, there are various confusing narratives surrounding the movement. The convenience of throwing real issues in the ‘foreign conspiracy’ box is adopted when there are things to hide.  We have social media posts telling us about the forces funding the movement. Also, statements by the army chief and lack of coverage by the mainstream of rallies is also adding to the growing anger among members of the movement.

Moreover, why is the game of hide and seek being played by the media and policy makers around the PTM? Why allow perceptions to form unreal images?  Why enable wild thinking to replace facts? Let there be coverage of the events. Also, if high-ups could sit with hate-mongering Khadim Rizvi and negotiate a deal, why can’t similar positions be taken towards peaceful PTM protestors? So far, there is lack of ownership towards this issue. Whose problem is FATA? The reluctance to answer this question, for long, has been the cause of delays in FATA reforms.

If the Pashtuns are raising their voice for the injustices committed against them over the years, how does this demand become a security threat? In the name of collateral damage, we let the people of FATA die, develop psychological problems, and commit suicides, because of various ‘strategic-depth’ policies implemented in the region. Additionally, due to lack of political freedom for political parties under the FCR, the region has benefited little even from their elected parliamentarians. Why not, then, after all these miseries should the state sit with them and ensure that future ‘security-threats’, if any, are avoided?

Pakistan’s state security paradigm must shed the fear pillars. The state has been in crises, and at least three consecutive generations in FATA have been raised in the shadows of war. If they have questions, it’s their legitimate right. Why shy away from answering them.  As of now, we can delve in the hope that, no foreign hands are orchestrating the movement, but if we keep to the habit of pushing skeletons in the cupboard, we may eventually end up inviting the external element.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore. (



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