Pakistan is home to approximately 30 million Pashtuns. Pashtuns account for 15 percent of the overall population of Pakistan, which exceeds the 200 million mark and constitutes a minority. Despite being a minority, Pakistani Pashtuns have always played a constructive role in the economic, cultural, political and even military fields of the country. They never hesitated from flaunting their patriotic feelings towards Pakistan. However, this patriotism was never received well, or at least it never saw a similar type of untainted payback from the other side. Wrong policies by the Pakistani state towards its Pashtun population is what caused the uprising of the dynamic Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM).
Opposite to the prevalent opinion, I am of a belief that Pashtuns in Pakistan are not a victim of systematic discrimination by the Pakistani state institutions. That is to say that Pashtuns in Pakistan, as well as, on the Afghan side of the Durand Line, fell prey to the larger geopolitical game, and that they were/are not suppressed racially due to the reality of being Pashtuns by their ethnicity. This fact can be found as reasonable, if not entirely comforting, by having a look at the history of the Pakistani army, the most organized and influential institution in the country. Of the chiefs of the Pakistani military (practically one of the highest positions within the Pakistani state), four have been Pashtuns, namely, Generals Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan (also severed as the President), Gul Hasan Khan and Waheed Kakar. Moreover, the current Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, is also an ethnic Pashtun.
The Pashtun tribal areas of Pakistan and the southern Pashtun populated regions of Afghanistan, which have suffered the most from the wave of extremism, served as the front line to this ‘big game.’ Assessing Pashtuns as warrior-like and more susceptible to religious fundamentalism, the Pakistani state and its secret services apparatus, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), ill-used the tribal Pashtuns for attaining its so-called “strategic-dept” in the region in a completely unjustifiable manner. Initially, the Pakistani army, under the name of Jihad, used the Pathan (Pashtun) tribesmen in its fight over Kashmir with India, its main rival. Later, it created and actively supported the Pashtun dominated Taliban group in order to influence the course of Afghan politics and subsequently balance its greater power dynamics with India in the region. In between these games of power and politics, it was the Pashtuns that suffered the most lethal blow.
The policies pursued by the Pakistani security institutions have gravely damaged the Pashtuns living in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nevertheless, the plan to influence the events of Kabul through a religiously extremist Taliban Movement also fired back adversely against the Pakistani state. The Pakistani faction of the Taliban, Tehrik-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), started aiming public and private targets on Pakistani soil. Although Pakistan has, after suffering heavy losses, been successful in containing the extremist group (TTP) by conducting over several military operations in the tribal regions, the real wound has been left unhealed, and it continues to compromise the futures of the young Pashtuns living in those areas. Many ethnic Pashtuns lost their lives due to this terrorization, they suffered cultural and economic damages beyond repair, and large numbers were left as brainwashed by this wave of religious extremism initiated by the Pakistani state.
The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), after what the Pakistani Pashtuns have gone through, is a voice amidst devastation that is asking for a rightful justice and accountability. The movement is unique and unprecedented. However, the PTM leadership, in order to achieve success, must remain thoughtful of the common Pakistani opinion to their cause. PTM’s success is highly dependent upon the support that it obtains from the other social and political factions from within the Pakistani soil towards the wrongs done by the high-level security institutions. In that sense, PTM must rethink on the virtues of its unnecessary flirting with the Afghan state, and establish itself as an entirely indigenous movement, as opposed to one that is falsely alleged to have been funded by NDS and RAW.
PTM through its non-violent approach is not only a sign of hope for the much-aggrieved Pakistani Pashtuns, but it also assists the democratic cause of Pakistan. PTM challenges the wrong policies undertaken by the all omnipotent Pakistani military and its secret services apparatus, the ISI, as has been done never before. Through its impenetrable determination, PTM can be a start for the end of an unaccountable dictatorial rule of the army in an otherwise democratic Pakistan. This would not only prove to be beneficial for Pakistan as a democratic entity as it would empower its fragile civil institutions but can also help ease tensions in the region with Afghanistan and India.
PTM is a sign of hope and determination for every group undergoing oppression and injustices. It, in this sense, is BRAVE, RIGHT, and REQUIRED.
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