Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa on Thursday said that while the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) is itself "not an issue", certain individuals "playing in foreign hands" are exploiting the sentiments of people who have suffered hardships because of terrorism.

The army chief's remarks, which he made while interacting with students of various universities at the Corps Auditorium during a visit to Peshawar, come days after the military's spokesperson at a press conference read out a charge sheet against PTM, accusing the Pashtun ethnic rights movement of receiving funds from foreign intelligence agencies and hinting at a possible action against it.

"PTM itself is not an issue. The issues being highlighted [by the movement] are genuine and natural in post-operation environment," Gen Bajwa was quoted as saying in an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement. "However, few individuals playing in foreign hands are by design exploiting sentiments of the people who have actually suffered at the hands of terrorism and now need care."

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PTM is a rights-based alliance that, besides calling for the de-mining of the former tribal areas and greater freedom of movement in the latter, has insisted on an end to the practices of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and unlawful detentions, and for their practitioners to be held to account within a truth and reconciliation framework.

The army chief stressed that both the government and the security forces were working to address the genuine issues of the residents of tribal areas "regardless of where they come from".

“For us progress towards enduring peace through socio-economic development comes first and we shall fail all inimical forces and their conspiracies trying to undo our gains,” he vowed.

Lauding the efforts of the Pakistani nation and the armed forces for defeating terrorism, the army chief said it was now time "to have its dividends through socio-economic development in which education is [the] most important".

According to the press release, the students during the meeting expressed their complete support for the Pakistani armed forces, saying "they will be contributors and not bystanders to [a] bright future of Pakistan and [that] they will not be swayed by detractors of any type."

It was the first time since last August that Gen Bajwa directly addressed the issue of the PTM, which has found wide traction among the Pashtun youth.

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