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The Pashtun movement is not burning buses or seeking separation — it is a fight for dignity

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There is nothing wrong with the PTM’s demands — it is not a separatist movement, nor is it threatening to invade parliament or the Supreme Court.

Back in January, when I first wrote about an aspiring model becoming the victim of racial profiling, never could have I imagined that his death would lead to a full-scale national movement for Pashtun rights.

This was something many of us had been fighting for in an individual capacity for many years.

One of the three main leaders of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) is Mohsin Dawar, a lawyer and an adherent of the core Bacha Khan values of non-violence and education over aggression and militancy. Following the Zarb-e-Azb operation in 2014, Mohsin and I worked together to save the school years of around 950 children. The total number of displaced children exceeded 86,000 in the neighbouring city of Bannu.

The repeated failures of the government and the daily agony of watching his people stripped of dignity made Mohsin so demoralised that he asked me for advice about immigration.

I convinced him to stay put and fight on. He put his heart back into the political route he had been actively a part of since student life. In the last three years, Mohsin helped my foundation with legal advice for women following domestic violence and custody issues.

On 3 February, I personally joined the PTM stage in Islamabad to support the perfectly reasonable demands of the organisers. They were asking to be given the full status of a Pakistani citizen, and not to be labelled as militants or viewed with suspicion and hatred based on their Pashtun appearance.

Instead, the youth were pronounced foreign agents and were attacked on social media.

Four months later, the issue has escalated to such an extent that the army chief called it an unfair hybrid war. This statement is an oxymoron, as a war is never won by being fair to the enemy.

There is nothing wrong with the PTM’s demands.

It is not a separatist movement. It is not threatening to invade parliament or the Supreme Court. It is not burning down public transport. It is not bringing businesses or the state to a halt.

If anything, the peaceful protest is, for the first time, uniting different ethnicities.

Sunday’s protest in Lahore brought people of different regions and racial origins together. What could represent the oft-questioned ideology of Pakistan more beautifully?

The Pashtuns, who are described in popular media as oppressors of women, demonstrated how women in the protest could not only participate but also be treated with respect. Many female reporters and commentators were surprised by this. Young men shared the podium with eloquent female speakers like Ismat Jehan as well as burqa-clad victims who speak of their personal tragic experiences. This is in stark contrast to most political jalsas in Pakistan.

So why are we reinforcing our extremist image when we are grey-listed by the Financial Action Task Force? Why are we seeing videos of army officers distributing money to those who sit in the capital spewing hate and abuse? Why has the media been forced to black out the coverage of a peaceful protest?

Some are suspicious that this is like the Arab spring, designed to create anarchy and topple governments. But then, wasn’t the 2014 azadi dharna in the red zone allowed to do exactly that for 126 days?

I, too, may have doubted the intentions and content of Manzoor Pashteen’s speeches if I had not seen the devastation following the operation in north Waziristan with my own eyes, courtesy of an ISPR tour.

I have witnessed burqa-clad women queuing for hours in the heat for identity checks, and then being treated disrespectfully. If it hurts me to see the proud Pashtuns stripped of every ounce of dignity, imagine how someone who has lost his home, his son, his livelihood and his freedom feels.

Can someone in pain and anger not be forgiven for one slogan ‘Yeh jo dehshatgardi hai, iskay peechay vardi hai’ (the uniform is to be blamed for the terror and fear), which was, incidentally, coined in the Zia-ul-Haq years in Lahore.

The authorities flooded the grounds with sewerage water to stop the protest Sunday. Isn’t it a sign of weakness that our state can’t tolerate criticism?

And finally, if there is specific intelligence and concrete evidence that the PTM is a bottom-up approach of the enemies of state? Isn’t it better to nip the protests by listening to grievances and resolving issues? Let’s neutralise rebellion by better governance.

Most issues have simple solutions. But I suspect is we want to create bigger problems for ourselves. That is a dilemma no one can solve for me.

Reham Khan is a journalist, child rights activist, and single parent in Pakistan.

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  1. The country is not run by IAS/IPS officers alone. The down-the-line staff have to pitch in to provide inputs and execution response with commitment and integrity. That is where merit comes into picture. You cant expect a police officer who is recruited on considerations other than merit is capable of making an FIR and charge sheet and defend the same in court pitted against legal luminaries. It is not the IPS officers who have to face this chin music. If the file does not come with proper notings and findings, however good the IAS/IPS officer is , he is of no use. This is the major problem facing the country. The last-mile connectivity to the citizens is riddled with corruption, bigotry , incompetence and callousness without the fear of even GOD.

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