In recent months, a new movement has emerged on Pakistan’s political stage. The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), or the Pashtun Protection Movement, rose to prominence following the extrajudicial killing of a Pashtun shopkeeper, Naqeebullah Mehsud by Karachi police in January 2018.
The Pashtuns are the second-largest ethnic group in the country, mostly living in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region in the western part of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Since the war on terror began, the dangerous FATA landscape has been a hotbed for militancy and insurgency, with Pakistan’s Armed Forces conducting various military operations to rid these areas from terrorists.
Unfortunately, as a consequence, the Pashtun community has bore the brunt of Pakistan’s military operations. The Pashtun population suffered the most as a result of the war on terror in Pakistan, with thousands killed over the years in terror attacks, military operations and American drone strikes in the tribal region. This has rendered a large population of Pashtuns disaffected and displaced.
Tensions have long been simmering in the Pashtun community. Tired of being subject to discriminatory policies, marginalisation and decades of state oppression, on April 8, the PTM held their largest mass demonstration to date. Despite a media blackout on the movement’s activities, the PTM is gaining attention and popular support amongst young Pashtuns. More than 60,000 protesters rallied in the city of Peshawar, challenging the Punjabi-dominated state and the military, peacefully calling for the protected rights of Pashtuns as citizens of Pakistan.
Whilst their grievances are many, their main demands call for the release of missing persons and political prisoners, an end to extrajudicial killings and the humiliating treatment and harassment at security checkpoints under the pretext of search operations, and the removal landmines in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
Moving forward, the government of Pakistan and by extension, the army should constructively engage with the leaders of the PTM and seek to address their concerns. Pakistan can only move forward as a nation if all ethnic groups are afforded fair and equal treatment. To achieve this, Pakistan must address the legitimate concerns raised by the Pashtun community. Pakistan is no stranger to a disgruntled ethnic minority and should be all too aware of what could transpire if these concerns are dismissed, having previously parted with East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh. Pakistan should, therefore, be extremely careful in how they handle this situation lest history repeats itself, with the country witnessing another partition, but this time with a Pashtun majority calling for a separate nation of their own.