Military risking another debacle like East Pakistan

Sunday, May 26, can be termed another dark day in the history of Pakistan. Pashtun Tahafuz Movement PTM activists were shot by the military in North Waziristan. According to recent reports, three activists died on the spot while dozens suffered gunshot injuries. PTM leader Ali Wazir, who is also a member of parliament, was arrested.

PTM a peaceful movement that has been demanding the fundamental rights of Pashtuns and insisting that the powerful military return to its constitutional role instead of dictating the policies of the state.

There were already signs that an incident like the one on Sunday was coming. A few weeks earlier, Major-General Asif Ghafoor, the director general of inter-services public relations (DG ISPR), warned the PTM that the military would take stern action against it. In that press conference, Ghafoor called PTM members traitors and accused the movement of conspiracy against the state.

On Sunday the PTM was protesting against enforced disappearances in the tribal area when gunfire erupted. The military immediately spread propaganda through the electronic media that PTM activists led by Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar had attacked a military check-post and in retaliation, the military opened fire on the protesters. Since the electronic media in Pakistan always sides with the military establishment, the TV channels repeated this propaganda around the clock. In order to silence the PTM activists and to suppress the truth, the military also imposed a curfew in North Waziristan, while cellular and Internet services were also blocked. However, a few of the PTM activists who recorded the event and managed to flee the area uploaded pictures of the injured people.

Soon after that, social-media platforms were used by the PTM and civil society to bust the propaganda of the military establishment and the electronic media. Such was the pressure of the civil campaign that the chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, had to issue a statement calling for an inquiry into why guns were fired at political activists.

Maryam Nawaz, vice-president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), also condemned the incident but in a soft manner. She did not name anyone but showed her concern about the incident and said in a tweet that these matters can never be solved with the might of gun.

he military establishment, as always, is trying to hide the truth, and through the media it is posing the PTM as a terrorist organization that attacked a military checkpoint. On the contrary, since its birth, the PTM has been a very law-abiding human-rights movement and has never adopted the path of violence. In fact, it is the resistance of PTM against retaliating against the establishment in anger that has earned it a good name in civil society. So the question arises, why would the PTM at this juncture, just when it is gaining popularity across the country, attack a military check post?

Then the other question that comes to mind is why teargas or the firing in the air was not used to disperse the protesters. Is it that the military establishment has lost its patience and  wants to teach the PTM a lesson? Ali Wazir has been arrested and Mohsin Dawar’s whereabouts are still not known at this writing, while it seems that soon PTM chairman Manzoor Pashteen too will be taken under custody by the military establishment on charges of treason.

It seems that the military establishment has not learned any lessons from history, that a movement stripped of its top leadership can prove very dangerous as protests then even go beyond the control of the leaders who have been arrested. The East Pakistan debacle is an example. After freedom fighter Sheikh Mujeeb Rahman was put behind bars, even he was not able to control the outcome, and East Pakistan finally separated and became independent Bangladesh.

The use of force on a human-rights movement that is popular in the Pashtun belts and in parts of Balochistan is unwise, and it shows that the military establishment is feeling the heat. After all, the demands of the PTM are very legitimate and according to the constitution of Pakistan. It demands the arrest of the former police official Raw Anwar who killed Naqeebullah Masood in a fake encounter, and everyone knows that Anwar was a hitman of the powers that be. The PTM demands about producing missing persons in courts is legitimate, and so is the demand for respect and clearing their areas of military checkpoints and landmines. In so doing, the group is actually raising the voice of the helpless in the Pashtun belt.

The military establishment has no answer for the missing-persons issue as anyone who shows dissent can go missing at any time. Such is the state of fear that many of my colleagues, whether they work for TV channels, print media or radio, are happy to spread the one-sided narrative of the establishment as are afraid that speaking or writing the truth could cost them a job, or they they could even join the ranks of the “missing persons.” They are right – even while writing this piece I have a fear that I could go missing at any time while showing dissent, which has already cost me invisible restrictions in the media.

Perhaps my fellow journalists in Pakistan need to understand that this noble profession needs sacrifices, and there is no place in it for the faint of heart and opportunists.

Sadly, greedy and opportunistic people in the guise of journalism are siding with the establishment, and as a result becoming party to the conflict. Three innocent citizens lost their lives and dozens were injured, but for the establishment and the greedy opportunistic journalists, it is business as usual. What they have failed to understand is that the PTM mostly consists of Pashtun youth and they are not doing power politics, so they have nothing to lose – it is the state that has everything at stake.

The formerly voiceless Pashtuns have put their weight behind the PTM, especially youth. It is time that the state stop using force, as movements like the PTM can never be eliminated by violence. Pakistan has already seen the fall of East Pakistan in 1971 when the military dictator General Yahya Khan used force against the popular movement of Bengalis. It is time that the political leadership of the country comes forward and starts a dialogue with the PTM regarding their demands, which are justified and according to the constitution of Pakistan. Otherwise by using these kinds of fascist methods the military establishment will once again push the country into a debacle like 1971.

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