Over the past few years, several different political groups in Pakistan seem to have embraced the ‘Long March’ and ‘Dharna’ route as a solution to their problems. From the PML-N and PTI, to religious and ethnic parties across the nation; each has used this tactic in order to pressurize the government into bowing to their demands. While this approach has not always been successful, it has always managed to draw widespread attention from the media and the press, ultimately empowering the protestors and leaving the government susceptible to their stipulations.
Recently, it was the Pashtuns who took the same route as so many others before them, and staged a sit in at the Islamabad Press Club. However, there was something very unique about this gathering. Except for being members of the Pashtun ethnicity, none of the protestors were part of a specific political organization, and in many cases had diverging demands and hailed from different parts of the country.
Yet, they did not let these differences get in the way of their protest, and instead came together to present their case to the government. The demonstrators also managed to remain civil throughout the whole episode, in stark contrast to the November 2017 sit in organized by various religious parties at the Faizabad Interchange in Islamabad, which led to roadblocks, property damage and even loss of life.
The movement was initially started in South Waziristan by the members of the Mehsud tribe. The extra-judicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud, an aspiring model, by Karachi policeman SSP Rao Anwar Ahmed Khan, led to protests from the young man’s family for his killers to be brought to justice. When the perpetrator was allowed to go into hiding due to the inactivity of the police force, members of Naqeebullah’s tribe started to mobilize under the name of the Mehsud Tahafuz Movement (MTM), led by 26-year-old, Manzoor Pashteen.
Soon the MTM announced their plans for a long march, starting from their lands in FATA and KPK, and ending at the Press Club in Islamabad. They urged others to join them, and soon Pashtun communities from across the nation started to mobilize as well. From Karachi to Gilgit, Pashtuns started to join the MTM movement, which had by now coalesced into a united Pashtun movement prompting them to change their name to the All Pakhtun Qaumi Jirga (APQJ) and later, to the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM).
Upon reaching the Islamabad Press Club, the members of the movement vowed to stay there in protest unless a list of their demands were met. These included the capture and punishment of SSP Rao Anwar, the removal of landmines in various regions of FATA, as well as reparation for the people that were victims of these horrifying explosive devices. The PTM also demanded that the government help recover the multitude of missing persons from the Pashtun community, as well as bring an end to the harassment and cases of extrajudicial killing in the KPK and FATA region.
Going over the PTM’s list of demands, it becomes very clear that their strife arose from a collective belief amongst the Pashtun community that they have been marginalized in Pakistan for far too long. The center has always treated the inhabitants of FATA quite poorly, and since the inception of the War on Terror back in 2001, the situation has gotten even worse. KPK itself was affected greatly by the war, with terrorist elements spreading throughout the region, leading to suicide bombings and communal violence.
While the Pakistan Army’s response against these nefarious forces was justifiable and necessary, it led to thousands of people being displaced from their homes and forced to live in makeshift tents and huts. The Pashtun community’s reputation also suffered as they were considered the face of the terrorist threat, while drone attacks and constant bombardment also did not help matters. Worse yet, the leading Pashtun elite, including the Nationalists and the Mullahs, did not exhibit the same kind of desire to solve the difficulties facing the Pashtun community; nor make the efforts to unite the whole population in order for the government to agree to their terms.
While it remains to be seen whether the sit-in and the long march will have any long-term benefits for the Pashtun community, the government’s eagerness to resolve their issues, and the quick resolution to the whole situation, suggests that things might already be looking up.
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