Pashtun Spring: A Grass Root Civil Political & Human Rights Movement
October 26, 2021 Fazal Ur Rehman Afridi
Who are PASHTUNS?
The Pashtuns, historically known as ethnic Afghans mainly live in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They speak the Pashto Language and adhere to Pashtunwali, which is a traditional set of ethics guiding individual and communal conduct123
Globally, the Pashtuns are estimated to number around 50 million5 but an accurate count remains elusive due to the lack of an official census in Afghanistan since 1979. The Pashtuns are a significant minority group in Pakistan, where they constitute the second-largest ethnic group or about 15% of the population. The majority of the Pashtuns live in the region regarded as Pashtunistan, which has been split between the two countries since the British-imposed Durand Line border. There are also significant Pashtun diaspora communities in the cities of Sindh and Punjab in Pakistan, especially in Karachi and Lahore.
A recent Pashtun diaspora has also developed in the Arab Gulf States, primarily in the United Arab Emirates.
As the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan (anywhere between 42 and 60 per cent of the population), Pashtuns have been the dominant ethnolinguistic group for over 300 years. During the Dilli Sultanate era, the 15th–16th century Lodi Dynasty briefly replaced the pre-existing rulers in North India. Other Pashtuns fought the Safavids and before obtaining an independent Mughals state in the early 18th century6 which began with a successful revolution by Mirwais Hotak followed by conquests of Ahmad Shah Durrani7 The Barakzai Dynasty played a vital role during the Great Game from the 19th century to the 20th century as they were caught between the imperialist designs of the British and Russian empires.
The Pashtuns are the world’s largest Segmentary Lineage ethnic group. Estimates of the number of Pashtun tribes and clans range from about 350 to over 4008. There have been many notable Pashtun people throughout history: Ahmad Shah Durrani is regarded as the founder of the modern state of Afghanistan, while Bacha Khan was a Pashtun independence activist against the rule of the British Raj. Some others include Malala Yousofzai, Imran Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Hamid Karzai, and Ashraf Ghani. Looking for the origin of Pashtuns and the Afghans is something like exploring the source of the Amazon.
The vast majority of the Pashtuns are found in the traditional Pashtun Homeland, located in an area south of the Amu Darya in Afghanistan, and west of the Indus River in Pakistan, which includes Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and the northern part of Baluchistan Province. Pashtun communities are located in western and northern Afghanistan, the Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir region, and north-western Punjab Province, Pakistan. There are also sizeable Muslim communities in India, which are of largely Pashtun ancestry9. Throughout the Indian subcontinent, they are often referred to as Pathans
Their modern past stretches back to the Dehli Sultanate, particularly the Hotak Dynasty and the Durrani Empire. The Hotaks were Ghilji tribesmen who rebelled against the Safavids and seized control over much of Persia from 1722 to 172911. This was followed by the conquests of Ahmad Shah Durrani who was a former high-ranking military commander under Nader Shah. He created the last Afghan Empire that covered most of what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, Indian Punjab, as well as the Kohistan and Khorasan provinces of Iran
MAIN PROBLEMS FACED BY PASHTUNS:
BABRRA MASSACRE OF PASHTUNS IN CHARSADDA DISTRICT:
The history of Pashtuns living in Pakistan is replete with lies and deceit right from the genesis of Pakistan. The first massacre of Pashtuns in Pakistan is known as the Babrra massacre which occurred on 12 August 1948 in the Charsadda District of the North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pukhtunkhwa), their hundreds of unarmed members of the Khudai Khidmatgar movement were shot dead on the orders of then Chief Minister Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan13. The protestors were protesting against the promulgation of the Public Safety Ordinance by the provincial governor, terminating the elected government of Dr Khan and the arrests of Khudai Khidmatgar leaders and confiscations of property14 600 people were killed and even larger numbers were injured
LONG HISTORY OF WARS:
Pashtuns are considered to be a royal race with their predecessors like Ahmad Shah Abdali, Sher Shah Suri, Kushal Khan Khattak etc. Unfortunately, a long history of wars and the tensions between British and Soviets and later between Soviets and US made it a battleground for foreign forces.
In recent history, After 9/11 and the subsequent invasion by Swat and FATA by the Pakistani Military resulted in the massive displacement of Pashtuns to Punjab and Sindh. This created tensions between local populations and Pashtuns. Pashtun was stereotyped as a terrorist due to propaganda unleashed by Pakistani media and the military Establishment.
Pashtuns have been caught between the military and militants. The military operations in FATA and KPK destroyed the economy and social fabric of the Pashtun society. Where the 33 billion dollars got from the US were used to develop Punjab, Miran shah Bazar in Waziristan and Bara Market in Khyber Agency (grand Commercial centres in Tribal Areas) were razed to the ground and looted by Pakistan Army. Pashtuns who were the main victims of terrorism and badly needed help felt betrayed by the Pakistani State. This sense of deprivation boiled to the point that the Pashtun educated youth turned out to the streets to protest against these atrocities like humiliation at military check-points, racial profiling, enforced disappearance, torture and arbitrary killings.
LOOTING AND PLUNDERING OF RESOURCES:
Pakistan is considered to be looting and plundering the resources of Pashtuns. According to Said Alam Mehsood, KPK is an energy surplus province but still suffers from hours of load-shedding on daily basis. KPK produce the cheapest hydroelectricity of 5700 MW while its consumption needs are about 1500 MW. The cost of hydroelectricity is 1.25 per unit Pakistani Rupees but the same electricity is re-sold to Pashtuns on 19 per unit Rupees. Electricity is produced by PKP but its distribution is controlled by Punjab. Even the Royalty of Electricity produced is not given to Pashtuns. KPK has the potential to produce over 70000 MW of cheap electricity but the central government controlled by the Punjabi elite does not allow it to exploit this potential.
PKP provides for more than half of the oil demand of Pakistan and produce gas also but the oil Refineries are established in Punjab, which deprives the Pashtuns of thousands of jobs and their right to exploit and further explore the Energy potentials in their region.
Similarly, no royalty is given to Pashtuns for Uranium produced in Karak and Lakki Marwat Areas with the excuse that it is a defence matter. But when it comes to treating cancer (caused by radioactivity), nothing is done in terms of compensation and treatment of cancers patients.
The vast natural resources and forests of Pashtunistan are not exploited for the benefit of locals because the central government controlled by the Punjabi elite does not want Pashtun’s areas to be developed. Rather, militancy and radical Islam is propagated and imposed by establishing about 20000 madrassas (religious Wahhabi schools) to destroy the already constructed infrastructure of tourism and economy in the region. The result of these anti-Pashtun policies of the Punjabi elite is catastrophic for Pashtuns social, economic, political and demographic conditions. With no jobs and perspective in their land, more than 10 million Pashtuns are forced to migrate to other countries to earn their livelihood.
CPEC AND CHINA:
Pashtuns want sovereignty over their land, resources, culture and language. They demand the right to live. Pashtuns reject 21st-century colonialism in the form of CPEC, which will result in the exploitation of their resources while the benefits will be taken by Punjabi and China. Pashtuns want to be equal partners in CPEC and want control over their resources through the re-negotiated contract and transparent and open negotiations. They have serious concerns about the arrival of China in the region and the way the contracts have been signed between Pakistan and China without the consent of the Pashtuns.
Evidence shows that CPEC is constructed on the dead bodies of Baloch’s and Pashtuns while the Economic benefits are taken by a majority ethnic group Punjabis in Pakistan.
CPEC in its present form is not acceptable to Pashtuns. The situation was further complicated due to the arrival of China as a strong strategic partner of Pakistan by launching the CPEC project. Due to CPEC, Pakistan with the active connivance of China and will unleash the worst kind of oppression on both Baloch and Pashtuns. It is ironic to note that the local populations especially the Baloch and Pashtuns who are supposed to be the main beneficiaries and stakeholders in this controversial project are deprived of the very basic amenities like clean drinking water, food, electricity, gas and jobs for survival.
The main stakeholders like Pashtuns and Baloch who were expecting economic development and the resultant prosperity, economic development and social justice were subject to the worst type of state oppression. A war was imposed on them which resulted in grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity. A relentless and systematic campaign of abductions, arbitrary detentions, torture and extra-judicial killings of Baloch and Pashtuns is underway. The Pashtuns and Baloch have been labelled as terrorists and the international community accepted this wrong Pakistani narrative as it is; without any verification and investigation. The Baloch and Pashtuns were never allowed to present their side of the story to the international community.
As Balochs are suffering right from the creation of Pakistan, they were always active politically and diplomatically to present their case to the international community through different channels. The Pashtuns have never been exposed to such high scale state oppression, death and racial profiling in the history of Pakistan. So, at this crucial juncture, they need help from other friendly nations like Afghanistan and oppressed nationalities like Balochs to master the art of politics and diplomacy.
The state atrocities in Balochistan are known to the world for quite a long time as it been happening right from the inception of Pakistan but the Pashtuns phenomenon of state oppression is quite recent. So, Pashtuns were in a dilemma; how to convince the world that they are not terrorists? Rather, they are victims of state terrorism.
Pashtuns on both sides of Afghanistan and Pakistan never accepted the bloody Durand line carved out by British Mortimer Durand in 1889 to use the area as a buffer between British Empire and the Soviets. Revisiting the Durand line is the only solution to the complex problems of Pashtuns in Pakistan. The recent decision of Pakistan to annex FATA into Pakistan is the result of pressure from PTM for the rights of Pashtuns and the long-standing demand of China to loot and plunder its resources and use it as a gateway to Central Asia.
FATA MERGER INTO KPK:
The merger of FATA into KPK or Pakistan shows that Pakistan has sold itself to China to loot and plunder its natural resources and use them as a gateway to reach Central Asia. FATA was a disputed territory between Afghanistan and British Empire and its fate cannot be decided unilaterally without consulting Afghanistan. A rubber stamp Parliament of Pakistan under pressure from the Military cannot decide the fate of FATA. The people of FATA have risen against this Merger with KPK and want the State of Pakistan to listen to them. FATA with its 30000 km of land and 15 million population and vast natural resources is capable of being declared a sovereign Province of Pakistan. If not heard by the State of Pakistan, then the only solution to this dispute will be through a referendum under the UN. The people of FATA are ready to knock at every door including international organisations to protect their sovereignty and preserve the international agreements signed with them and Afghanistan.
ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCES, TORTURE AND EXTRA-JUDICIAL KILLINGS
Any act of Enforced Disappearance is an offence to Human Dignity; states UN Declaration on the protection of all persons from enforced disappearances.
According to PTM, about 75000 innocent Pashtuns have been killed, 32000 are missing and 2.5 million have been internally displaced in the so-called War on Terrorism. 1200 Notables were killed who opposed the occupation of Tribal Areas by the Taliban and Pakistan Army. Every educated and liberal Pashtun is the target of the Pakistan Army and its proxy, the Taliban. The disappeared persons are in 17 known and several unknown Internment Centres spread all over Pakistan, where they are humiliated and tortured. Most of them are suffering from psychological and mental problems. The missing persons who have been released recently are suffering from psychological trauma. Independent observers believe that most of the missing persons have been killed and dumped in mass graves. Pashtuns don’t trust the Pakistan Army, the Pakistani government, the Judiciary and its puppet; the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).
In March 2011 a Commission of Enquiry on Enforced disappearances was established to look into the problem of mission persons. But it appears that it was also a ploy to hoodwink the masses in Pakistan. According to the recently published finding of the Commission 4804 cases of missing persons were investigated in which 3274 Cases were treated and 1710 cases are still pending. Most of the missing persons are Pashtuns. It is ironic to note that the “3274 cases treated” does not mean that these persons have been released or presented before the courts, it just means that these missing persons are detected.
The head of this commission Justice Javed Iqbal threw a bombshell when he revealed before a parliamentary committee that more than 4000 mission persons have been sold by President Musharraf regime to foreign countries for dollars. This statement un-mask the lies and deceits of Pakistani Institutions including the Judiciary. If the honourable Justice is right then more than 8000 Persons are missing rather than 4804 as mentioned in the report of the Commission.
How can such gross human rights violations can happen in a society which claims to be civilised, where the rule of law and supremacy of the constitution prevails? The said commission failed to fix the responsibility on individuals and organisations. Neither it file reports against named individuals responsible directly or indirectly for disappearances.
THE EMERGENCE OF PASHTUN TAHAFUZ MOVEMENT (PTM)
Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), in English called Pashtun Protection Movement, emerged on the Pakistani side of the controversial Durand line. For the first time, the Pashtun Youths under the leadership of Manzoor Pashteen started a non-violent struggle popularly known as PASHTUN SPRING against the Military Establishment of Pakistan.
On February 10, 2018, in Islamabad, for the first time in the history of Pashtuns living in Pakistan, PTM organised a peaceful non-violent protest against the state atrocities, abductions, arbitrary detentions, torture and extra-judicial killing of Pashtuns. Just like Arab Spring, the Pashtun Spring fuelled mainly by social media and Pashtun Times, shook the very foundations of the state of Pakistan and the fear of the state was evaporated in the air.
Consequently, like the domino effect, Pashtuns took to the streets in hundreds and thousands all across Pakistan; from Peshawar to Karachi & Quetta to Swat. They demanded justice under the charismatic leadership of Manzoor Pashteen, Ali Wazir, Mohsin Dawar and Said Alam Mahsood. This grassroots indigenous Movement was supported by young students, teachers, journalists, doctors, intellectuals, professors and human rights activists. It was secular and has brought a fundamental social change in a conservative Pashtun patriarchal tribal society by giving equal opportunity to women to participate in its gatherings and important meetings.
Manzoor Pashteen the 26 years old charismatic leader hailing from Waziristan, a tribal agency in the south of KPK, is the architect of this movement. Pashteen launched this Movement in 2014 along with his 26 die-hard friends to raise their voice against human rights violations and the social, economic and political injustices meted out to Pashtuns in the last four decades by the state of Pakistan in two phases; first in the Eighties by arming and training Mujaheddin against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and then after 9/11 in a so-called war on terror.
Both Pashtuns and U.S. were deceived by the Pakistani Military Establishment. Pashtuns were used as cannon fodder for the war on terror while grabbing 33 billion dollars from the US. These young leaders of PTM have grown up in war and are eye witnesses to the horrors of state-sponsored terrorism and oppression. They know every detail of what happened with Pashtuns and how Pakistan’s institutions are responsible for all their sufferings. They also know how to resolve the problem. These young men have blown away the false narrative of Pakistan’s War on terror, based on lies and deceit.
PASHTUN TAHAFFUZ MOVEMENT (PTM), has worked without any formal organisational structure for some time but now it is in the process of organising its national, regional and international cadres. Contrary to Pashtun’s age-old oral tradition, now PTM has started recording and sharing (through social media) the deep pain of humiliation of Pashtuns, the agonies of war, displacements, abductions, torture, disappearances and killings both by military and its proxies like Taliban.
THE ROLE OF MEDIA, CIVIL SOCIETY AND ARMY:
According to PTM an estimated 320000 cases of Enforced Disappearances have been reported, while 8000 cases of missing persons have been confirmed. Around 1000 missing persons have been released since the launch of the Movement. The success of the Movement can be gauged from fact that it forced the powerful Military to release innocent Pashtuns from its detention Centres. PTM has become a symbol of Pashtun dignity and sovereignty. People have immense confidence and trust in this movement.
Why do Pashtuns trust PTM? The answer is simple and clear; PTM is an indigenous grassroots level movement whose argument is based on primary data collected from areas that suffered most from the war on terrorism.
For many independent observers, the figures presented by PTM are astronomical. Do they have the right to think about Why Pashtuns did not report these cases of missing persons to the Pakistani media? The response is simple. The Pakistani media is denied access to these war-affected areas. In most cases, media self-censor themselves due to fear. After the launch of the PTM in February 2018, the media has received strict orders from the Military not to report their protest rallies and demonstrations. The mainstream Pakistani media blackout indicates that it is an accomplice to the false narrative created by the military to counter-terrorism. To boycott this nonviolent civil rights Movement means that the media is on the side of oppression and tyranny. It seems to be even worse as the Pakistani media has started a coordinated propaganda campaign against PTM to discredit it among the masses. The systematic anti-Pashtun narrative and constant attacks on Pashtuns show that media was directly responsible for propagating the lies of the Pakistani Generals on the war on terror and labelling Pashtuns as uncivilised, savage and warrior nation, supporting terrorism in the region. An EU based Mashal Radio which was reporting on the Pashtuns miseries was banned by Pakistan. To counter this fake narrative of Pakistani media and generals, the peaceful Pashtuns have no option but to boycott Pakistani media and strive to create their own.
Secondly, the families of the disappeared persons are threatened by the Pakistani Military, ISI and Military intelligence not to report the cases of their missing persons; otherwise, other members of their families will face the same fate.
Thirdly, Pashtuns don’t believe anymore in the civilian government as it is criminally abetting military establishment in these gross human rights violations.
The most important factor leading to reporting of the cases of missing persons was the emergence of a credible young Pashtun leadership of PTM whom the Pashtuns trust.
According to PTM, about 75000 innocent Pashtuns have been killed, 32000 are missing and 2.5 million have been internally displaced in the so-called War on Terrorism. 1200 Notables were killed who opposed the occupation of Tribal Areas by the Taliban and Pakistan Army.
Not a single Taliban or Al-Qaeda leader was killed by the Pakistani Military in these operations. Manzoor Pashteen says that since 9/11, 87 Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists were killed 86 were killed by U.S. Drones and one named Abdullah Mahsood (brother of a serving major in Pakistani Military) blew himself in a suicide attack. Only civilian populations and cities were targeted in fake operations to get 33 billion dollars from the US.
According to a retired General Mr Qamar Sulaiman who headed the Air-force Operations, “11600 bombs were dropped on FATA in 2008 only.” Pashtuns want to know as to who was the target of military jets like F-16, gunship helicopters and Artillery shells used in FATA by the Pakistani Army? If
Al-Qaida and Taliban were not the targets then who was the target of Military Operations in Pashtun dominated areas? It is clear as a day that innocent Pashtuns were slaughtered, their homes and properties destroyed, their businesses crumbled and a systematic campaign of humiliation and torture was unleashed at military checkpoints installed on almost every kilometre. It seems that the war on terror was the war against Pashtuns.
According to a prominent Pashtun leader Afrasiab Khattak, the anger in Pashtun dominated areas in Pakistan is like a volcano that may explode and result in rebellion if capped with force.
Ironically, despite dozens of check posts in FATA, the Taliban entered the cities of Bannu and Derra. Ismail Khan without any resistance from Army, broke out of prison, situated in heavily armed Military garrisons and went away without any resistance with hundreds of their comrades.
Taliban are living lavish lives in military cantonments and are given protocol at checkpoints while ordinary citizens are subject to the worst type of humiliation and disgrace by state institutions. Their dignity and honour are trampled under the foot. The question raises as these check-posts are installed to humiliate ordinary citizens or protect the Taliban to move around without any hurdle and attacking innocent civilians with impunity? Peace deals were made with the Taliban and excessive use of force was used against innocent people. Taliban is trained, provided with logistical support, and financed by Pakistan Army.
According to a Retired General named Safdar, in a deal, a Taliban commander Nek Mohammed was paid R.S. 170 million by Pakistan Army. (Dawn) Manzoor Pashteen is on record that he saw a notorious Taliban Commander Khanna in Bannu Cantonment Area as the guest of the Pakistan Army. Ehsanullha Ehsan, a Taliban Spokesman is a royal guest of the Army at Rawalpindi, headquarters of the Pakistan Army.
ATTACK ON ARMY PUBLIC SCHOOL (APC)
Another eye-opening event for Pashtun Nation was the pre-planned Attack on Army Public School Peshawar which resulted in the killing of 144 and the injury of more than 200 students. The students and their parents believe that the attack was engineered by Pakistan Army to use it as an excuse to start military operations in Tribal areas to get a foothold and construct army garrisons in these areas. The school was situated in a heavily protected Army Garrison area. Not a single army personnel was injured or killed in this operation. An army commando who participated in this attack told the media recently that this operation was organised and financed by Pakistan Army along with the Taliban. An army officer on duty told the media that he was in contact with his son inside the school on mobile crying for help but the Army personnel at the entrance door did not allow him to enter to save his child.
Even the Taliban, told the media that they were forced to kill some children when Army violated the pre-planned agreement by attacking them; but most of the children were killed by Army later. Fazal Advocat an ardent human rights defender whose son was killed in the attack blame army for the attack and demand the establishment of the Judicial Commission to inquire about the role of the Army in the massacre. Enayat Khan Pashteen who was hanged for the APC attack was disappeared by Pakistan Army from his hometown in 2010. The question arises as to how a person who disappeared by Army personals in 2010 can attack a school in 2014.
The Military involvement is further proved by the fact that Ehsanullah Ehsan, a Taliban spokesman who accepted the killing of APC children is now a VIP guest of the Pakistan Army. All these facts show the double standards of the Military establishment, which is responsible for the genocide of the Pashtuns. This massacre was used as an excuse to occupy FATA. Subsequently, the Parliament of Pakistan was forced at gunpoint to pass an amendment to merge FATA with KPK without the consent of local Tribesmen.
These are important questions that need to be answered. Pashtuns don’t trust the Pakistan Army, the Pakistani government, the Judiciary and its puppet Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).
Main demands of PTM
1. Pashtuns want their right to LIFE and live with dignity.
2. Pashtuns want peace in their region and request Pakistan Army to stop fake operations and stop supporting the Taliban.
3. Stop enforced disappearances, abductions, torture and killing of Pashtuns.
4. De-mine the FATA region to protect ordinary civilians including children and women from being injured and killed.
5. Arrest and try in courts a police officer Rao Anwar who killed Naqeebullah Mahsood and more than 400 persons in extrajudicial encounters.
6. Release or present before the courts all the missing persons.
7. Stop humiliation and torture of civilians on military check-posts in FATA.
8. Establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings of Pashtuns in Pakistan.
9. Demand the installation of UN Peace Keeping Force in FATA to protect Pashtuns from Taliban and Pak Army massacre.
Pashtuns request, UN Committee and/or Working Group on Enforcement Disappearances, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to investigate the cases of missing persons. To exhort the government of Pakistan to stop these atrocities and bring the culprits to justice. To demand the government of Pakistan to present the missing persons, languishing in detention centres before the courts.
We demand the protection of the leaders and all the worker of the Pashtun Protection Movement. As evidence shows that some non-scrupulous state proxies including the Taliban or even Pakistan Army are directly bent on harming or killing them which will plunge the country into chaos.
Ali Wazir, another prominent leader of the Movement lost 13 members of his family. His house and commercial properties were razed to ground in the so-called war on terror. His only fault was that he and his father was against Taliban’s deployment at Waziristan by Pakistan Army.
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About the Author:
Fazal Ur Rehman Afridi is currently the President of Paris based Think Tank, Khyber Institute for Research and Strategic Studies. He is also a Writer, Journalist and Human Rights Activist.
The article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of the Organisation.
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