PESHWAR: What started as a peaceful protest against the killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud, a young man from South Waziristan Agency, in Karachi has taken the shape of an ultranationalist movement.

The charged rally of Pakhtun Tahafuz Movement in Peshawar last Sunday had drawn the people from a wide cross-section of society, including families and relatives holding pictures of missing persons, the residents of Fata, political activists and ordinary people.

Initially when the movement was launched in Islamabad, the PTM had few demands, including justice for Naqeebullah Mehsud, release of missing persons languishing in interment centres, removal of landmines, maltreatment of commuters at checkposts in tribal agencies, and abolition of unnecessary checkpoints.

Now, the list of demands is growing day by day and it seems to be bracing for pursuing national agenda rather than confine itself to addressing the grievances of the affected people.

The movement now demands the trial of former president retired general Pervez Musharraf, judicial inquiry into the Army Public School carnage, and investigations through the United Nations into the alleged human rights violations during military operations in Fata.

Some parties, non-entities trying to exploit PTM leader’s popularity to serve ends in KP, Fata

Its leaders also instigate the people to boycott the next general elections if demands are not met.

Grievances and demands presented during the nine days long dharna in Islamabad last Feb were genuine. And the PTM received support from political parties and civil society groups, forcing the government to negotiate a deal with protesters.

However, the demeanor and tone of speakers in Peshawar rally seemed aggressive and provocative. Most speakers used racial slur against a specific ethnic group. PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen, the 26-year-old veterinarian-turned-rights activist, also used racial slur. An insane voice was asking the state to lay down arms, while another speaker warned that Pakhtuns were ready for ‘resistance’.

Pashteen’s racist remarks and provocative language in front of a charged crowd stunned his supporters and sympathisers, too. The young ‘revolutionary’ forgot that the civil society groups from Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan not only supported his narrative but also participated in Islamabad’s dharna. He might not realise that his racist slogans can create hatred in society, which is already divided along ethnic, linguistic and sectarian lines.

Pashteen is leading popular spontaneous social movement, which does not have proper structure and hierarchy. He started social activism from his native Makeen area by launching the Mehsud Tahafuz Movement to highlight the plight of dislocated families.

He later organised the Pakhtun Long March in Islamabad to seek justice for Naqeebullah and two others, who were killed in an alleged fake police encounter in Karachi. The long march turned into the PTM.

The PTM is the first-ever popular social movement in the tribal borderlands. Mehsud’s land has become birthplace of spontaneous movement after the proscribed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. Arguably, the TTP derived its fighting force and leadership from seminaries affiliated with the two factions of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam. Its leadership had graduated from Darul Uloom Akora Khattak and other top seminaries in KP and Fata.

Unlike the TTP, the PTM is being transformed into a Pakhtun nationalist movement. It drew its main leadership except Pashteen from the Awami National Party and other nationalist groups in KP, Fata and Balochistan. This nationalist uprising has worried the ANP leadership, which has become cautious.

Mohsin Dawar, a close lieutenant of Manzoor Pashteen, was the president of the National Youth Organisation, a sister organisation of the ANP. Dr Said Alam Mehsud, another old guard of the ANP, who has formed his Ulasi Tehreek, is among top advisers to the PTM leader. A senior ANP leader nestled near Margalla Hills is tirelessly tweeting and re-tweeting every action and word of the PTM. The ANP has reportedly stopped all its office-bearers from participating in the PTM activities.

Major dilemma with young Pashteen is that he has been surrounded by the leaders of different hues, including democrats, tribal chieftains, nationalists, liberals and old guards of the leftist movement. These people, who could hardly gather people in hundreds, have now been addressing a rally of thousands because of Pashteen’s charisma.

Many PTM supporters are sailing in two boats at the same time. For instance, a tribal elder who delivered a furious speech at the Peshawar rally was standing with the army chief in a group photo in Landi Kotal. These elements are trying to detract the PTM from its original demands and put it in confrontation with the state institutions.

Some political parties and non-entities are trying to capitalise on the popularity of Mr Pashteen. They are using PTM platform to gain their short-term goals in KP and adjoining tribal areas.

The Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, which has a strong vote bank in Pakhtun-populated areas of Balochistan but hardly exists in KP and tribal areas, is trying to gain foothold in the area by using the PTM’s stage.

Manzoor Pashteen has become a crowd puller. He may be very sincere to his cause but he does not know political maneuverings and tricks at this young age. He should be very cautious and should not allow opportunists to misguide him or hijack his movement.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2018