The future of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement
Pakistan military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor has alleged that the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) is being funded by India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the Afghan intelligence agency, National Directorate of Security (NDS). At a press conference, he raised questions based on information collected by Pakistan’s security organizations about the funds provided to the PTM by the RAW and NDS, and sought answers before disclosing further details.
A movement that claims to speak for the rights of ethnic Pashtuns in Pakistan has offered to appear before the parliament to answer allegations of foreign funding, but it is unclear how this case will unfold in view of the tough stand taken against it by the powerful military.
However, the PTM has rejected the allegations. Its two members of parliament, Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, said they were willing to appear before an inquiry commission to explain the sources of their funds.
Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir were elected to the National Assembly from North Waziristan and South Waziristan tribal districts, respectively, in the July 2018 general election as independent candidates because the PTM isn’t registered as a political party with the Election Commission of Pakistan. Their presence in the parliament has enabled the PTM to raise its issues at Pakistan’s highest democratic forum and seek support from political parties.
Manzoor Pashteen, PTM’s founder who hails from South Waziristan, also denied allegations and expressed his anger at Pakistani media for denying space to his rights-based movement and accused it of supporting terrorism.
The PTM was formed by activists from the tribal districts in January 2018 when they organized a ‘long march’ to the federal capital, Islamabad, and staged a protest to demand justice for Naqeebullah Mehsud, a young Karachi shopkeeper and aspiring model originally from South Waziristan who was killed in an extrajudicial police encounter. The PTM demanded the arrest and punishment of a senior police officer Rao Anwar for ordering the murder. This was the first and primary PTM demand and it has not been fulfilled.
The other four PTM demands include clearing land-mines taking a toll on civilians, removing roadside security checkpoints where locals faced humiliation, the recovery of thousands of people who went missing during the war against terrorism, and setting up a truth and reconciliation commission.
One major reason for the military’s tough new stand against the PTM is the anti-army slogans raised at its public meetings and the threatening language used by some of its leaders.
The military spokesman maintained that the state was working to resolve these issues by deploying 48 de-mining teams that have cleared 45 percent of the tribal districts of land mines and reducing the number of security checkpoints. He said the government’s commission of inquiry on enforced disappearances was working on the 2,181 pending cases while another 3,659 were disposed of after most of the missing persons were found in internment centers.
In response to warnings by the military spokesperson to PTM leaders that their time was up, Mohsin Dawar defiantly said that their time in fact had just begun. He argued that PTM was facing accusations of receiving foreign funds because it has been demanding accountability for extrajudicial and targeted killings and is seeking the recovery of its missing persons.
In PTM’s view, these excesses occurred during the military operations against militants over a period of more than a decade largely in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which were merged with the adjoining Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in May 2018 and where Pakistani laws and judicial and policing systems are now being extended.
The allegations against PTM are serious as receiving money from foreign intelligence agencies amounts to treason. In the past, the military has spoken of the ‘red lines’ that the PTM must not cross if it wanted to avoid action against its leadership. It is apparent that the military high command now believes those lines have been crossed. The spokesperson alleged the PTM is playing into the hands of Pakistan’s enemies; one major reason for the military’s tough new stand against the PTM is the anti-army slogans raised at its public meetings and the threatening language used by some of its leaders.
It is clear the PTM will be subjected to further curbs. Already, PTM activities aren’t covered by the local media under pressure from the authorities; some of its members have been arrested in cases filed by the police and its leaders have been stopped from traveling abroad. However, the PTM has managed optimum use of social media to spread its message and publicize its activities. It has also received unusually high attention in the international media.
As the military has promised to act against the PTM according to the law, it is possible that the group could be outlawed, its political activities banned and its leaders tried on charges of treason. But this won’t help the cause of the country, or wean people off the PTM, if the government is not working hard enough to address the grievances of the people who suffered displacement and human and material losses due to both militancy and military operations.
– Rahimullah Yusufzai is a senior political and security analyst in Pakistan. He was the first to interview Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar and twice interviewed Osama Bin Laden in 1998.