On November 3, an Anti-Terrorism Court in Karachi indicted Ali Wazir, member of Pakistan’s National Assembly and a prominent leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), in a sedition case that has seen the legislator in judicial custody over fabricated charges for a year now.
Along with Wazir, his comrade Manzur Pashteen, who has become the face of the Pashtun struggle in Waziristan region, has been accused under the Pakistani Penal Code and the Anti-Terrorism Act of sedition, instigating hate, and for making derogatory remarks against the Pakistani army during the movement’s December 6, 2020 Karachi rally.
The Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement grew out of a series of protests in the North Waziristan and South Waziristan districts of the erstwhile FATA region, which are now a part of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Pashteen has led the protests which were triggered by the fake encounter of a young Pashtun mill worker, Naqeebullah Mehsud, in Karachi by a senior police superintendent on January 13, 2018.
The Mehsud tribe of Pakistan from the regions bordering Afghanistan has been consistently targeted by the Pakistani state’s anti-terrorism offensive since 2007 when Baitullah Mehsud founded the banned militant group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has been associated with terrorist activities within the country.
At the end of the War on Terror, many illegally armed militant groups crossed the Afghanistan border for refuge in Pakistan’s border provinces like Waziristan, from where they continue to operate. Neither the US nor Pakistan has acknowledged their role with regard to these groups and the alleged human rights abuses that have resulted from their presence in the region.
The Pashtun struggle has been rooted in the travesty of being caught in between the army and the Taliban in Pakistan. More than a decade of discrimination has quickly grown into a mass movement since 2018 demanding an end to the war crimes, extrajudicial killings and torture faced by innocent civilian Pashtuns, who have been regularly suspected and arrested under a draconian colonial-era law called the Frontier Crimes Regulation that has governed this tribal belt since the 19th century.
Despite a complete media blackout and zero coverage of their movement in Pakistan, PTM’s stride into a peaceful human rights movement has drawn considerable global attention through their social media outreach and its success can be credited to its leaders.
A veterinary student in his late-20s and a Mehsud himself, Pashteen has been central to voicing the movement’s demands for fair treatment and acknowledgment of the abuse faced by people in the tribal areas by the state-military nexus, which he says has been using the Pashtun tribes in the FATA region as its ‘agents’ according to its convenience.
Ali Wazir, who was arrested after the military opened fire resulting in the death of over a dozen PTM activists at Kharqamar, has lost 18 members of his family to Taliban assassinations in the South Waziristan district over the years. In December 2020, his first cousin and member of the National Assembly, Arif Wazir, was shot dead by ‘unidentified assailants’ outside his house. The government and the army chose to remained tight-lipped about the murder of a legislator.
Despite its initial reluctance to acknowledge and later immense effort to invisibilize the Pashtun movement in the public conscience , the Pakistan military is left with nothing but formula tactics to continue suppressing a non-violent movement through fabricated charges of hate speech and instigating war and ethnic divide in Pakistan.
The indictment of PTM activists in the hate speech case and the simultaneous engagement of the PTI government with far-right hardliner groups like Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP), whose recent protests have seen widespread street violence and public vandalism in Punjab and Sindh provinces, are a signal to what many are calling a double-dealing revealing a weak government with weaker governance policies.
Mohsin Dawar, PTM leader and member of the National Assembly, grew up in the FATA region witnessing the atrocities of the Taliban. He was elected to the National assembly along with Wazir in 2018. On Wazir’s indictment, Dawar said, “By doing deals with TTP & TLP, the State has set a precedence that terrorism, murder, violence will go unpunished & the perpetrators garlanded.”