Martin Luther King said “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” Of all the truths we have come to accept, war is the hardest to swallow. Where does the notion that killing another person, nay people en masse, will ensure my victory? This is something I have never been able to comprehend. We have been at war for over 15 years. This is a long time and a person can lose a lot over such a lengthy period. People can lose their lives, loved ones, belongings and even their humanity. The useless discussions of whose war it was and who fought it can lead us nowhere. Like all cold-blooded questions, what matters is who won and who lost. And apparently, we’ve won. We’ve won back our lands, our sovereignty, and our monopoly over violence but have we won what makes a piece of land into a nation? Our people. Manzoor Pashteen is 24 years old. Younger than most people who will read this and definitely younger than everybody he’s protesting against. This gives him greater stake in this country, for he will live in it longer, God willing, than those he wants to bring to justice. But justice is a loaded word. Forget the rhetoric, forget the words and the slogans and the banners. Look deeper. Look into his eyes. You won’t see anger or rage. You’ll see despair, frustration and fear. These eyes aren’t looking for retribution, they’re looking for acceptance. They’re looking for understanding. They beg tobe taken as equals, to be taken as victims, to be told a few words of love and gratitude and, perhaps even offered an apology. The war we have fought has been hard, and no amount of appreciation for our armed forces will ever be enough. But wars don’t end with capturing a piece of land, it ends when our worry about normal daily problems takes over our fear of death and destruction Listen to them, lend them your ears. If they go overboard in their emotions, understand that they have suffered. That all they have seen is death and destruction. Understand and you will see that history will not judge you kindly if you let their cries fall on deaf ears. War is not fair or easy. It rips away our human masks and leaves us with one instinct — survival. The war we have fought has been hard and no amount of appreciation for our armed forces will ever be enough. But wars don’t end with capturing a piece of land, it ends when our worry about normal daily problems take over our fear of death and destruction. This is the part when broken hearts are mended and wet eyes are dried. Social media is full of proclamations that deem Manzoor and most of his ilk as agents of foreign agencies. They are seen as pawns in the greater game of politicians or as violent ideologues who want blood. This begs the question from his accusers, why would you heap labels on men and women and children and elders whose only weapons are shrieks of pain and rivers of tears? Why can’t those in power, true power, put a hand over their shoulders and tell them life is going to get better? Where is the treason in asking for basic rights that the Constitution guarantees? Pakhtuns are our countrymen. Pakistan belongs to them as much as to you, me and every other citizen. Do they not deserve dignity, respect or the right to be treated as equals? To quote a response to Martin Luther King “For with a country as with a person, what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” The PTM isn’t a challenge, it is an opportunity to make amends with a wronged community. An opportunity to bring broken sons of the soil into the mainstream and listen to what they have to say. Their souls are crushed, help them believe again. Help them, that’s all they want. This will strengthen the nation, not weaken it. This will ensure that no Pakistani ever walks with his head bowed down. And all you need to do is listen, accept and reflect. The writer is an engineer with keen interest in current affairs. He tweets at @bohemianrevolt Published in Daily Times, April 23rd 2018.