‘Articulating the past does not mean knowing it as it really was but taking control of the memory in the moment of danger,’ wrote Walter Benjamin in the wake of fascism’s rise to power. It is the tradition of the oppressed to draw upon the memory and poetry of the past. This backwards leap is a dialectical one as Benjamin understood it: first towards the past, breaking the continuum of time, and then towards the future constituting new memory. As such, the very act of remembering becomes political. Thus the French Jacobins conjured up the dead of the Roman period; the Bolsheviks were borrowing from the imaginaries of Paris Communards. So goes the story of history, giving birth to events and personages who disrupt the rule of emergency. One such personage in Pakistan’s context is Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen, the charismatic leader of the newly launched Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM). As some pointed out, it is one of the most inspiring mass movements following the Lawyers Movement of 2007. In contrast to the latter, however, it is emerging from grassroots and has captured the imagination of far more segments of society: Pakhtuns from war-torn remote areas; Hazara and Shia religious minorities persecuted by terror groups; Baloch pushed against the wall on their own land; journalists threatened for their work by ‘unknown’ elements; social and human rights activists; and many others fed up with how things work in Pakistan. Many who are rallying around it look upon the movement as one resembling Khudai Khidmatgar and Manzoor Pashteen as a torch-bearer of Badshah Khan’s legacy. Badshah Khan was anti-colonial leader commanding a powerful, moral and spiritual presence in the collective memory of Pakhtuns, owing to his own grassroots work in Pakhtun society. He launched Khudai Khidmatgar movement based on his philosophy of non-violence and universal humanism in the late 1920’s for reforming Pakhtun society and ending the British rule. When Badshah Khan embarked on his mission, Pakhtuns from the ‘Frontier’ were occupying a subaltern position in a double sense. One aspect of their subaltern concerned the Orientalist production of Pakhtuns as the object of knowledge by the colonial regime: hence the ‘noble savage’, ‘unruly’ and ‘violent’ people, ‘hot-headed’ and more ‘manly’ against their ‘effeminate’ Indian counterparts etc., were the images that mediated their relationships with the colonial regime and other Indian social groups. The second aspect made them incapable — as ‘volatile’ peasantry and tribes — of possessing their own agency to be able to act as conscious political actors, in the eyes of North Indian bourgeoisie and colonial regime: hence the late opening, and development, of the representative institutions in the ‘Frontier’. These were the twin material-ideological positions subverted by Khudai Khidmatgar movement that carried out the gigantic task of socio-political and moral transformation of Pakhtun society. Much has changed since the colonial regime ended but the colonial setup has remained intact here with all its repressive material-ideological apparatuses. ‘In colonies, the truth stands naked,’ wrote Sartre in the preface to Fanon’s ‘The Wretched of the Earth’. A picture of one signboard at a certain military checkpost in FATA says: ‘Stop, or you will be shot.’ This is the truth that stands naked in FATA today where, in the useful words of Fanon, ‘the agents of government speak the language of pure force.’ True to colonial tradition, people here have been denied representative institutions and constitutional guarantees. Here Orientalist representations are combined with the eternal rule of emergency enacted by the British Raj, ie Frontier Crimes Regulations act. It is here where the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has worked its miracles, turning the whole region into a social experiment laboratory and its inhabitants into ‘savages’ to be disciplined at check posts, subjected to collective punishments in curfewed nights, and disappeared in other cases. Additionally, owing to the military operations, the socio-cultural dislocations these people faced have precipitated traumatic symptoms and a memory crisis in the whole generation, sharpening the nostalgic quest for roots. They long not only for a lost place but also a different time — as exemplified in Ghulam Daur’s recent book on Waziristan. Is it not high time that our artists, writers and intellectuals brought the social memory of Bengal, Fata and other ethnic, religious and oppressed groups to the fore and saved it from suffering the fate of eternal amnesia? The generational memory of painful war, destruction of human lives and homes, life under constant surveillance of drones and gunship helicopters and later in camps in scorching heat and freezing winter, is a nightmare forcing itself heavily upon their collective memory — merging the past and present — which is potentially too much to forget. Scholars such as Halbwachs have noted that social groups’ formation and preservation of memory is tied crucially to places, physical spaces and bodies, which in the case of FATA and peripheries have been reduced to rubble along with the memories they materialised — as can be seen in Raza Wazir’s moving essay for The New York Times — leaving individuals uncertain, rootless, and unable to navigate themselves on the map of personal and social memory. What is remembered and forgotten is closely linked with the issues of power and hegemony. Memory, therefore, has an important role in exclusion and inclusion, and in the formation of national identities and political action. This takes us back to Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement and its leader — Manzoor Pashteen — who is a master storyteller and speaks truth to power. The aforementioned dialectic of too much (to forget) and too less (to remember) memory has been shaping the political consciousness of these Pakhtuns from the war-torn region for the past decade or so. Consequently, we have seen the emergence of a unique movement in the shape of PTM, consolidated by its focus on storytelling and transmission of collective memory. It has laid bare the truth of colonially inherited material-ideological apparatuses, while also preserving the memory of the dead and those who went ‘missing’. In this age of anger where political-economic and ideological demands are increasingly being channelled through exclusionist, myopic and narrowly-defined identity politics, the non-violent path taken by Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement is an exemplary one as it has unanimously become a symbol of resistance for all. ‘Non-violence is more powerful than the atomic bomb,’ Pashteen said in one of his speeches. His humanist aura, rustic ways, popular appeal and speeches have led many to compare him with Badshah Khan. It tellingly reveals how those gathering around Pashteen are living their relationship with their own political subjectivisation and memory inherited from the dead generations. Pashteen’s image, as Farrukh Hammad put it, is the direct opposite of an urban educated lot of activists coming from expensive schools with fancy degrees and high-sounding English talk. True change makers come from the grassroots rooted in place, speaking their own language. For true redemption to take place, as Benjamin said, the process of remembering in of itself is not sufficient. It must be accompanied by reparation for the failures of our defeated ancestors and the injustices and sufferings inflicted on the dead generations. The struggle must go on until the dead and alive are equally avenged. Therefore, PTM needs to engage all the persecuted ethnic, religious, and gender groups, turning the movement into a general struggle for the liberation of oppressed. Emerging from the horrors of Holocaust, the late twentieth-century Western culture obsessed itself with the issue of memory, in what has been called ‘memory boom’, leading up to the creation of separate academic disciplines such as ‘memory and trauma studies’, ‘cultural memory’ and ‘politics of memory’. The widespread proliferation of museums, films on wars and genocide, memoirs of Holocaust survivors, and the resurgence of public memorials and monuments, have given memory a visibility and material form. The writer is an activist and has an interest in social theory, history and literature Published in Daily Times, April 5th 2018.