PESHAWAR: Weeks after hundreds converged on the federal capital as the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) spearheaded a massive sit-in to secure rights of tribesmen, an even larger show of power appears to be in the offing with the government failing to honour its pledges.
“We knew the demands would not be fulfilled. We are mobilising supporters to stage an even larger demonstration,” Pakhtunkhwa Ulasi Tehreek (PUT) head Said Alam Mehsud told The Express Tribune.
“The government initially wanted 10 days to look into our demands. That later turned into a month-long deadline. Not a single meeting proved productive despite the presence of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif,” said Mehsud, also a founding member of the PTM. “Who is protecting [former Malir SSP] Rao Anwar? Why have the law enforcement agencies failed to nab him?” he said.
The PTM member also claimed that of the 4,000 missing Pashtuns, only 239 had been recovered.
With the deadline having expired, progress has only been registered on one demand: removal of landmines. Other demands include capital punishment for Anwar, freedom of assembly in tribal areas, recovery of missing persons and constitution of a judicial commission to probe extrajudicial killings in Karachi.
Inayatullah Khan, another PTM member who represented the movement in meetings with government representatives, said Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra had asked for a list of those killed or wounded in landmine explosions for compensation.
Commenting on missing persons, Khan said the Fata political administration should help formulate a list of enforced disappearances.
A lackadaisical government has spurred the PTM into organising a larger demonstration in Islamabad. Slated for March 26, the move has evinced strong interest from people across Peshawar, Quetta, Zhob, Qilla Saifullah and other areas.
“We were once just 22 men marching to Islamabad. I believe our cause struck a chord. People joined in droves as we made our way to the federal capital,” rights activist Manzoor Pashteen told The Express Tribune.
In the wake of the Arab Spring, an inspired Pashteen founded the Mehsud Tahafuz Movement in 2013 to secure the rights of tribesmen. An 11-year-old Pashteen left his hometown following a military offensive in Waziristan. What followed was an itinerant life.
“I know how hard it was for my family,” he said. Anyone commanding a following or daring to raise their voice was killed by the Taliban, Pashteen added while reminiscing about militant activities in the tribal areas.
In 2011, he moved to Dera Ismail Khan to read at Gomal University. It was there that Pashteen found an environment conducive to raising awareness on securing fundamental rights. “I started exhorting peers to do just that at university,” he said.
In late 2016, the Mehsud Tahafuz Movement (MTM) staged its first demonstration against landmines. The rights activist said he was “held” by “authorities” in connection with the demonstrations a year later. “We were told to desist but my job was done,” Pashteen said.
With the January 13 ‘encounter’ of Naqeebullah Mehsud ranks swelled as thousands joined the movement. Talking about the MTM transforming into the PTM, Pashteen said taking a stand was all that was needed at times.
Mohsin Dawar, another movement member, claimed the government had been striving to crush the movement. “FIRs have been registered against activists. Cellular networks are suspended. What they do not know is that these antics will only strengthen our resolve,” he said, adding that all they wanted was to “live with dignity”.
While Pashteen says the PTM has provided Pashtun youth with a platform, others have serious reservations.
“The movement turned into the PTM almost overnight in Islamabad. This poses a question in its own right. I suggested Mazloom Tahafuz as a name to prevent it from acquiring an ethnic premise,” Khan said. “If he stays true, the PTM may taste success. But the movement will founder if executed at someone’s behest,” he said.
Some Peshawar lawyers voiced similar reservations.
A veteran lawyer told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity that while a final call was yet to be made, the prospect of any support from the legal community was rather dim.
“It has also been speculated that Pashteen could rival political heavyweights like Awami National Party (ANP) president Asfandyar Wali Khan and Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) chairman Aftab Ahmad Sherpao. This could also explain lawyers’ reluctance to back Pashteen,” he said.
The aforementioned political parties posited otherwise.
QWP provincial chairman Sikandar Sherpao sympathised with the movement. “His (Pashteen’s) demands are legitimate. Grievances should be addressed unless one wants to jeopardise the federation,” Sherpao told The Express Tribune.