World News /17 Jul 2019

Pashtuns Want to Unify Pakistan. They’re not Seeking a Bangladesh 2.0.

A petition was brought to a Pakistani court to ban the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). The petition also called on the Pakistani government to quell the movement’s almost nil coverage by the media.

PTM is a grassroots movement led by local Pashtuns yearning to be a part of Pakistani society as equal citizens. They’re demanding basic human rights. The movement is urging the Pakistani government to convert their impoverished war zone-esque habitats into sustainable dignified residential areas. In addition, they are calling for an end to enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, and extrajudicial killings. These demands are as a result of systemic abuses by the Pakistani government against the Pashtun minority.

What’s ironic is that these rights are not alien to Pakistan’s constitution. Pakistan’s Pashtuns are demanding the very rights that are enshrined in their own constitution. Yet, the petition describes PTM as a threat because it has criticized Pakistan’s most powerful institution, the army.

PTM is critical of the army’s mismanagement of the Pashtun belt (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and Balochistan province). For decades, the army has scapegoated and persecuted local Pashtuns to further advance its regional interests. Pakistan has been using the Pashtun belt as a breeding ground to nurture terrorists and proxy groups against Afghanistan and India, its regional adversaries. The army’s policy of sponsoring groups like the Taliban has come at the cost of denying ordinary Pashtuns their rights.

Due to the army’s vested interests in maintaining the Pashtun belt as a geostrategic hub for terrorist groups and proxy forces, the army has led a defamation campaign against the PTM. The army has designated PTM as a foreign-backed movement and has persistently claimed that PTM attacked soldiers during a protest, although the New York Times reported that PTM members were unarmed. The army’s smear campaign against PTM signifies the importance that it places on foreign policy at the expense of domestic politics.

Further, the army is anxious about PTM’s demands as it clashes with the army’s policy of propping up non-state actors against India and Afghanistan. If Islamabad gives into PTM’s demands, the army will lack the resources, in particular, the physical land, it requires to harbor malign actors. Should the government treat Pashtuns equally as other ethnic groups and prevent the army from using the Pashtun belt as a springboard to spread regional terrorism, the army’s ability to support the Taliban would be diminished.

Despite PTM’s criticism of the army, it still views the Pakistani government as legitimate.

The social contract theory highlights the implicit agreement between governments and their citizens. Citizens abide by a government’s laws in exchange for the protection of natural rights and security. A government’s legitimacy is derived from this interplay.

PTM is abiding by the social contract. Manzoor Pashteen, the leader of PTM, identifies as a loyal tax-paying Pakistani dedicated to non-violent protests to attain equality. PTM’s demands reflect their recognition of the government in Islamabad as the legitimate sovereign provider of these rights which is why they’re demanding it from them.

Although PTM is often accused of being anti-Pakistan, in reality, it’s not. They are neither separatists nor nationalists. Quite the contrary. PTM seeks to unify the Pashtun belt with the greater Pakistani society. Their demands are inclusion and integration into Pakistani society along the principles of equality, dignity, and human rights.

However, the army’s deliberate alienation and demonization of PTM could give PTM activists the message that their government isn’t interested in providing them with their basic human rights. Not the PTM, but the army’s misconduct with PTM activists could induce another Bangladesh-like division within Pakistani society.

In the upcoming days, the Pakistani judiciary will determine whether or not to ban PTM. While the petition failed to acknowledge that PTM is a unifying movement, Pakistan’s justice system shouldn’t fail to recognize this inherent truth.

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