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Walking a tightrope

First, they refuted the claims of the movement. Then they used intimidation to silence it. Now, they have openly threatened to use force if the movement crossed the “red line.”

These tactics are neither new nor limited to Pakistan. China has used them. Its leader Mr. Xi has introduced a new episode of repression. Russia is the expert in it. Saudi Arabia just topped the list with Khashoggi’s vicious murder on foreign soil.

What is shocking is that democratically elected leaders have turned into ruthless authoritarians. Look at Erdogan in Turkey. His country is one of the worst for journalists and human rights activists. Hungary’s elected Prime Minister Victor Orban is doing the same thing. He called George Soros, the founder of the Open Society Foundation, the enemy of Hungarians. The Washington Post says that 200 other names of academics, journalists and human rights activists appeared on an enemies list in Hungary.

The Philippine’s President Rodrigo Duterte is known for silencing his opponents by using the dirty tactic of death squads. There is a long list. These guys have felt even more validated with Trump’s rise to power and the latter’s war on media and journalists in his country, calling them “the enemy of the American people.”

Trump’s silence or, better yet, endorsement of Khashoggi’s killing by the death squad allegedly ordered by the Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman further emboldened not just MBS but the global authoritarian brigade. With widespread condemnation of the murder, nonetheless, the ambivalence of the leader of the world’s most celebrated democracy shocked many.

“It’s been you (referring to Army) who had always crossed the red lines … abrogated constitution, hanged elected PM, fought proxy wars, sponsored militancy, destroyed civilian’s properties and markets in cosmetic military operations, humiliated and tortured our people. We have nothing left to lose.”—MohsinDawar

In this rising global atmosphere of fear and hate of freedom, for rights activists and journalists questioning State authority is analogous to walking a tightrope. In Pakistan, the trio of PTM leaders, Manzoor Pashteen, Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar, have risked their lives by challenging the mighty Army for alleged war crimes against their people.

In Pakistan, it is the military establishment who is calling shots while the elected Prime Minister is spinelessly silent. The small cushion against the boys that journalists and rights activists had under Nawaz Sharif is no more since Mr. Khan’s coming to power.

PTM leaders have repeatedly said if they are harmed in any manner, the Pakistan Army and the intelligence institutions will be responsible for it. In a tweet in response to DG ISPR Asif Ghafoor, Mohsin Dawar said, “You have tried your level best to harm us. You charged us in fake cases. You tried to kill us through your proxies (Good Taliban). You tried malicious campaigns against us on print, electronic and social media. You called us traitors, but you still failed to cut down our support.”

In another tweet, Mr. Dawar said, “It’s been you (referring to Army) who had always crossed the red lines……. abrogated constitution, hanged elected PM, fought proxy wars, sponsored militancy, destroyed civilian’s properties & markets in cosmetic military operations, humiliated & tortured our people. We have nothing left to lose.”

In the 70,000 plus deaths from terrorist violence since 2003 in Pakistan, most of them are Pashtuns that the PTM troika represent. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, from 2005 to 2016, 82 percent of casualties in terrorist attacks took place in FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. In numbers, they are close to 50,000 deaths in the predominantly Pashtun populated regions.

When Mr. Dawar says, they have nothing to lose, he refers to these deaths and displacement of about 6 million Pashtuns in bouts of fighting by Pakistan Army against terrorists. He refers to Ali Wazir who has lost over a dozen members of his family to violence by the Taliban. With 30 million people, Pashtuns make the largest ethnic minority in Pakistan.

PTM leadership is aware of the impending threat, but they have not budged an inch from their original claims. As the adage in Pashto goes, they are carrying their head in hand, remaining fearless in the face of danger. That is because perhaps the elite’s technology of fear and power has limitations too. Power is not a top-bottom phenomenon only; it also works from bottom up. The power of ordinary people when cohesive has vanquished the most powerful regimes.

Fear can also be limited in its effectiveness. If you take away everything from people, you also take always their fear. However, let’s not forget that anything can still be expected from the powers that be, but it is also plausible to say that the boys are cautious because they are well aware of the repercussions of use of force, especially when PTM leaders have refused to give them an excuse for it. As it stands, it seems like the boys are being beaten at their own game.

The author is a Phd student and TA at the Division of Global Affairs, Rutgers University

Published in Daily Times, December 13th 2018.


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