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April 12, 2018

Deflections galore


April 12, 2018

Pakistan’s media seems to have a weird relationship with the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM). From Naqeebullah making the headlines, to an almost complete silence during the Islamabad dharna, to Manzoor Pashteen being invited to prime-time talk shows, our media’s focus has followed a pattern that hasn’t matched the exponential increase in the PTM’s popularity.

Some are arguing that this shift of media focus was because the media “ignored” the plight of Pashtuns. Takes some stretch of the imagination to say that the smaller crowd in Karachi, protesting against the Sindh government and the Sindh police, was worthy of headlines across all channels. But the much larger crowd in Islamabad, with a much larger spectrum of protest, was not worthy of the same?

However, in any case, whether ignored or faced with a blackout, the PTM recently did get a relatively higher proportion of time on our talk shows. The increased focus, though, came with a set of deflections that are taking the spotlight away from the very basic demands of the PTM. The following are four such deflections that seem to be in fashion these days.

First, there is the allegation that the PTM and its leaders are guilty of ‘sedition’, because they are disrespecting this country’s institutions – institutions that have given us martyrs. I fail to understand the idea of linking martyrs to issues of institutional performance. Our police have given thousands of martyrs, some of whom grappled suicide bombers to stop them from detonating in larger crowds. As Pakistanis, we should have nothing but respect for our martyrs and eternal gratitude towards their families. Martyrdom is the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and there is nothing we can do to repay our martyrs or their families. However, should police performance not be scrutinised out of respect to police martyrs?

Second, there is an attempt by some quarters to declare the arrest and possible punishment for Rao Anwar to be the answer to the PTM’s demands. Such reductionist thinking ignores the thousands of Naqeebs who have died under similar circumstances and hundreds of Rao Anwars who are suspected of carrying out these killings. The outpouring of sympathy for the PTM wasn’t just for Naqeeb; there are many more who have been killed in an extrajudicial manner and not only by Rao Anwar. Similarly, extrajudicial killings is not the only issue raised by the PTM. There is the issue of missing persons, humiliation at checkpoints, and landmines in Waziristan which have nothing to do with Rao Anwar, so how will his trial be a response to these demands?

Third, there are some who believe that the merger of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will meet the PTM’s demands. However, missing persons is as much a problem of Fata as it is of KP and Balochistan. In fact, as per the latest official statistics from the Commission on Inquiry of Enforced Disappearances, KP accounts for 55 percent of the cases collected by the commission. This is the highest proportion of missing persons among all regions of Pakistan, including Fata. Similarly, issues with checkpoints are not limited to Fata; recently there was a protest in Swat after an infant died in the waiting line of a check point, while on the way to the hospital. So how will a merger with KP magically solve these problems in Fata?

Fourth, there have been many who are worried about the public support for the PTM in Afghanistan. The worry being that this is an attempt at secession. This particular brand of mind-reading analysts makes an extra effort in ignoring the PTM and its leaders’ repeated pleas that they are demanding their constitutional rights as Pakistanis. Recently, in an interview with the Voice of America, Pashteen encouraged Afghans to take up their issues with the Afghan government through peaceful protest, just like the Pashtuns of Pakistan are doing.

The PTM’s insistence on the need for peace is very relevant to Afghan psyche. The war on terror has disproportionately affected the Pashtun belts of both Pakistan and Afghanistan. This shared sense of adversity has resulted in a yearning for peace expressed through poetry, song and other mediums that both sides can relate to. More importantly, this cross-border consoling started long before the PTM came on the scene. So when the movement’s leaders speak about the costs of war and the need for ensuring peace, and that too in Pashto, they have sympathetic ears on the other side of the Durand Line as well. In all of this, if Ashraf Ghani, an elected president, tweets in favor of the PTM then that is more to respond to the sentiments within his own voter base rather than an attempt at ‘sowing discord’ in Pakistan.

It seems that by not committing sedition and by not demanding secession, the PTM and its leaders have disappointed many ‘patriotic’ hawks who seem to be programmed to deal only with “traitors”. Their efforts to misrepresent the PTM and its leadership seem quite desperate, and an insult to the intelligence of the masses they are trying to convince. The PTM’s leadership is making its case as Pakistanis, and in constitutional terms. It is only fair that any weakness in their arguments be pointed out in constitutional terms as well. Deflection never solves problems, it only exacerbates them. Let’s not make this mistake with the Pashtuns.

The writer is a freelance contributor.

He blogs at

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @iopyne

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