THE Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, though its roots go further back, is now a year old.
Sparked by the extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud, since it began its long march to Islamabad last January, it has consistently held the same set of demands. Besides calling for the demining of the former tribal areas and greater freedom of movement in the latter, the rights-based alliance has insisted on an end to the practices of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and unlawful detentions, and for its practitioners to be held to account within a truth and reconciliation framework.
While there have been criticisms about some of their more provocative rallying cries, none can dispute the fact that their agenda is constitutional and their protest nonviolent. The PTM’s message has resonated among many — not only Pakhtun — citizens across the country, particularly the youth who desire a more equitable relationship between society and the state. And within just a few months of its emergence, two PTM-affiliated candidates from Waziristan were elected to the National Assembly in last year’s general election. Its presence and impact on the national stage cannot be ignored.
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For all these reasons, therefore, it is regrettable that, barring some initial steps to address their concerns, the response to the PTM by the state apparatus and mainstream political classes at both federal and provincial levels has largely been paranoid and counterproductive. Indicative of this were the blanket arrests on terrorism charges of scores of PTM leaders and supporters in Karachi on Monday following a peaceful gathering in Sohrab Goth the day before.
Such heavy-handedness towards the movement can only lead to what is most feared — the hardening of their disaffection and the potential for violent factions to emerge. Pakistan can only benefit from the diversity and plurality of public discourse — even dissenting — but it cannot from further bouts of violence. Instead of attempting to discredit and suppress the PTM, it must be brought into the mainstream through an honest and sincere engagement on issues that require systemic reform.
Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2019