WHERE there are disagreements and differences, dialogue is necessary and desirable. The Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement has stirred the national conscience — and controversy as well.

At its core, as has now been publicly acknowledged by government and military officials, what the PTM is seeking is legitimate, just and constitutional. Certainly, some of the intemperate remarks by PTM leaders cannot be condoned and are manifestly counterproductive.

It is not clear how positive change can be effected when the motives and very character of those with whom dialogue is necessary are challenged.

Just as Manzoor Pashteen and his fellow youth leaders have made some wild accusations against sections of the state, the PTM leadership has been attacked as anti-state and anti-Pakistan. Neither of those sets of accusations has been helpful and it is welcome that PTM has now met a group of tribal and political mediators after the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa apex committee endorsed talks with the PTM last week.

The mediating jirga is expected to meet government and military officials to convey the PTM’s demands while the PTM leadership will consult its members about the next steps for the group.

At least two points need to be made here. For the state, it is necessary to address the core of the PTM’s demands: missing persons and an overhaul of security measures in Fata. Resolving the issue of missing persons is critical to establishing Pakistan as a constitutional, rule-of-law, rights-protecting republic.

Too often the debate on missing persons is skewed towards the alleged necessities and constraints of the long fight against militancy. The fight against militancy, terrorism and extremism is more than a decade old and will almost certainly extend into the foreseeable future.

There was and is no justification for the state to not declare, bring charges against and put on trial all terrorism suspects who are in custody. What does and should differentiate the state from the militant is the lawfulness of all that the state does.

Similarly, as Fata is progressively resettled and reforms are enacted in the region, the people there must be treated with the same dignity and rights that Pakistanis elsewhere in the country demand. For the PTM, if it continues with its national rallies, the decision to hold a rally in Karachi on May 12 should be reconsidered.

The ethnic hues of that dark day should be avoided. Further divisive rhetoric by the PTM should also be immediately eschewed.

Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2018

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