Post #PashtunLongMarch

For the first time, the Pakhtun opened the lid on the can of FATA and other militancy affected areas which were made as-no go areas with the media feeding the state’s narrative to the rest of the people in the country and the world

The #PashtunLongMarch started from D I Khan on January 26, 2018 by the Pakhtun youth which culminated into ten days long sit in in front of Islamabad press club. The march and sit in were ignited by the murder of young Naqeeb Mahsud in a fake police encounter in Karachi. The sit in was called off on February 10, 2018 by its organisers after a written assurance by the federal government to solve their issues presented in the form of four demands. But they vowed to come out again after a month if the government failed to solve their problems.

Keeping in mind the nature of our state and institutional imbalances, one is not sure to what extend the federal government can meet their problems and assuage their miseries. Nonetheless, they announced to postponed the sit in for a month to give time to the government for action on their demands. However, the march and sit in by the young Pakhtun left its deep marks and shattered many myths.

For the first time the Pakhtun opened the lid on the can of FATA and other militancy affected areas which were made as no go areas with the media feeding the official narrative to the rest of the people in the country and the world. Through the march and sit in the youth blew that cover and gave first hand information to the world about their plight and miseries caused by the so called war on terror.

The march also systematically shattered the stereotypes and an engineered image of the Pakhtun as unruly, religiously extremist, intolerant and intrinsically prone to violence and militancy. They proved to the world that they were the victims of the geo-strategic game of their own state as well as of the world powers.

In this regard the peaceful uprising also shattered the state’s unilateral narrative woven around the war on terror project and gave an alternate narrative that put question marks on this high risk geo-strategic drama. Their entire narrative revolved around the oppression, suppression and atrocities borne by them from the military. Such high handedness by the state towards the entire population in the region depicts a gloomy and dangerous picture.

Any state using violence on its own soil against some elements would adopt utmost care and precision not to antagonise the entire population and would strive to win hearts and minds. But here the boot is on the other leg. First-hand account of the protesters showed that the state’s primary focus was on physical and political control of the entire population.

One of the four demands presented by the protesters to the government, and a focal point of speeches during the sit in that also constantly circulated on social media, was the ubiquitous check posts and the humiliating behaviour of the army manning the posts and collective punishment in the aftermath of any terrorist incident.

This is not only happening in FATA but in Swat too. After the military operation in Swat in 2009 and return of the displaced people to the Valley, a wave of target killing started. After a few protests in the wake of target killings, the army resorted to impose curfew and conducted search operation in the area that would suppress any mobilisation and protest by the local. After the blast of February 3, 2018, the existing check posts, along with more snap check posts, the mobility was further choked due to long queues on every check post. By citing security as a reason, the youth of Swat was not allowed to take out a rally in support of Islamabad sit in.

It is an internationally acknowledged fact that such sporadic terrorist acts cannot be controlled with curfew, check posts and suppressing the local population but can be preempted with intelligence operation. The state claimed it preempted numerous terrorist plots and bust its mastermind and perpetrators through thousand successful intelligence operations in Punjab without curfew, check posts and special powers like ‘Action in Aid of Civilian Power Regulation’. Why could similar good practices not be applied in FATA and Malakand Swat?

Instead of putting energies to torpedo the movement, the state should revisit its geo-strategic and foreign policy and refrain from using its own people as gun powder at the altar of myopic national interests. The perpetuation of the status quo can backfire in an extremely destructive way

The youth uprising defeated the narrative of war on terror and exposed it as a war of terror for Pakhtun. It posed many tough questions for the state with no easy answer. If the people of Swat and FATA left their homes and provided every opportunity and cooperation to the army to clear the area from terrorists, why were they treated like hostile population on their returned? Why were the people of FATA made to pledge fresh allegiance to the state with their national identity cards replaced by the ‘Watan Cards’? Why does the state suppress any peaceful protest in the so called militancy affected areas? Why is the issue of the missing persons made untouchable?

The march and sit in in Islamabad put the media, traditional political parties, parliament, our so called nation and international community in the dock.

It transpired that the media was feeding unilateral and manufactured narrative to the nation about the so called war on terror. The black out of the march and sit in for 15 consecutive days by the media, particularly the electronic media, further destroyed its credibility and proved to be a unilateral propaganda tool instead of a source of information.

The political parties never dared to surface the miseries and suffering of the Pakhtun by debating it critically on forums, particularly in the parliament. It also put into question the role of the parliament and its haplessness.

The parliament authorised the use of violence in the form of ‘Action in Aid of Civilian Powers Regulation’ but failed to devise a monitoring mechanism and forgot to revisit it after about 10 years of its promulgation. When the military claimed the Swat operation and Zarb-e-Azb successful, the parliament should have revisited the power given to the military for that purpose.

In the heat of emotion whipped up by the media to create a smokescreen, perhaps, we as a nation celebrated what we should have been mourned. The same is the case with the international community.

The uprising and sit in also provided a platform for the Pakhtun youth from Khyber to Karachi to exchange notes regarding their plight and for the first time the critical mass of Pakhtun population came to know what was happening outside their own hometowns.

The sit in also garnered international solidarity for their cause. By giving it the name of Pakhtun Tahafuz (protection), it is quite evident. The movement’s leading figure, Manzoor Mehsud replaced his surname with Pakhtun. Instead of numerous tribal denominations, by doing that he meant to bring all the Pakhtun within the fold of single ethnicity. The message was loud and clear.

In the given circumstance, perhaps the state will not want the transformation of march into an organised movement. Instead of putting energies to torpedo the movement, the state should revisit its geo-strategic and foreign policy and refrain from using its own people as gun powder at the altar of myopic national interests. The perpetuation of the status quo can backfire in an extremely destructive way.

The writer is a political analyst hailing from Swat. Tweets @MirSwat

Published in Daily Times, February 15th 2018.