The Pakistani state apparatus should hang its head in shame. Not just because it picked up Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) members and sympathisers in the run-up to the Karachi rally. Not for forcing the group’s leader, Manzoor Pashteen, to undertake a hazardous game of cat-and-mouse with the establishment that ended up lasting some 36 hours. And not even on the basis that Jalila Haider, the young Hazara advocate, found a hunger strike the most effective means of getting the COAS to Quetta to listen to the community’s legitimate grievances. But because of the very real suffering that both the Pashtun and the Hazara have endured over the decades. And that despite everything, both Pashteen and Haider are still preaching peace. At Karachi, the PTM stressed that they were fighting the case of not just of Pashtuns but also that of the people of Sindh, Balochistan and Gilgit. In short, the movement’s leaders cautioned against framing their struggle in ethnic terms. This was, they noted, a fight for constitutional rule in the country. This was a sentiment shared by Haider, who has said described her community’s quest for justice and recognition of fundamental rights as not being about Hazara versus non-Hazara; but, rather, a war between love and hate. She is confident that the former will prevail. The real triumph of these two young and vibrant civil society activists is their collective message of inclusivity. That this has succeeded despite prolonged extra-judicial killings and genocide has exposed the state’s resounding failure to do the same. For in today’s democratic Pakistan, the state continues to cultivate, unwittingly or otherwise, sectarian- and religion-based divisions. From the recent move to make a declaration of faith mandatory to holding public office; to the longstanding persecution of the Ahmadi community and separate electoral registers for the latter; to forced conversions; to lawmakers having the freedom to incite religious hatred uninterrupted on Parliament’s floor; to the civil-military leadership reminding indigenous groups at every turn that “we” are Muslims first and foremost. This has not served the country well. A new trajectory is urgently required. And it is one that must place national unity at its core. In reality, this can mean nothing but upholding the constitutional provision which determines that all citizens are equal before the law. Towards this end, groups like the young Pashtun and Hazara activists make natural partners for the Pakistani state; if, that is, the country is to confidently tread the path of ethnic and religious pluralism in the 21st century. Thus the establishment would do well to view these movements as national assets. Not least because both Manzoor and Haider have, through their conviction to their respective causes and use of social media, deservedly captured the public imagination; humanising the long drawn out suffering that Pakistan’s diverse and indigenous ethnic populations have and continue to endure. The latter have demonstrated their commitment to peaceful pursuit of social justice. Now it is up to the state itself to do the same. * Published in Daily Times, May 15th 2018.