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Un-shrouding the Pashtun tahaffuz (protection) movement (PTM)

Amjed Jaaved

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The PTM emerged on Pakistan’s public scene as a non-violent rights movement. It, initially, just wanted that `extrajudicial’ killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud, a Pusthun be probed. With invisible funds and support, internal and external, it began to hold rallies, contact senators, and academia, including elite Lahore University of Management. Indian media is in the forefront, highlighting `plight’ of the hapless Pushtuns and predatory Pakistan army.

Look at the PTM’s demands, as published by Indian magazine The Quint dated June 28, 2018 (What does Pushtun Tahafuz Movement in Pakistan want?):

– Judicial enquiry to set up for [Naqeebullah] Mehsud’s killing, allegedly in an extrajudicial police encounter.

-Stop racial profiling of the Pushtuns in the country, like humiliating them at checkpoints or harassing them in the name of search operations.

-To release the missing persons or produce them before court of law, if they have allegedly committed a crime.

-The Army must not abduct or open fire on innocents in the tribal areas, or use violence or collective punishments against entire villages and tribes.

-Removal of the entire landmine in the tribal areas, that the protesters claimed have killed 35 people including many children since 2009.” (mark the undertone of highlighted words).

Government’s view: According to media reports, the government agrees to most of the PTM’s demands. But, it can’t provide an opportunity to terrorists who fled to Afghanistan to walk back. Pakistan Army took a number of steps to meet the PTMs demands (like reduction of check posts).

 Senior military officers took off veneer of rank to talk to PTM leaders, eye-ball-to-eye-ball.  The PTM demands were well reflected in media, including Herald.

Off-course over-ebullient behavior: The PTM is more fond of talking to international media, particularly Afghan diaspora, than Pakistan’s `toothless’ governments. During the PTM’s meetings abroad, they proudly hoist Afghan national flag. It erupted in ruckus during a London meeting.  

A solidarity event (June 23, 2018), held in Britain, was attended by  Mr. Falak Naz Khan Yousafzai, Mr Yousaf Ali Khan, Mr. Zahid Mohmand (aka Faiq Khan), besides Ziauddin Yousafzai (father of  Malala Yousafzai)), Ziauddin Yousafzai.  Regrettably, this event focused less on PTM’s demands and more on `Pakistan’s complicity with Taliban’. Malala’s father alleged, “Pakistan army and intelligence agencies knew that Fazalullah was a terrorist who continued to operate radio station in Swat’.

We respect Malala’s courage. But, his father’s tirade against Pakistan army is not understood.  Maybe, it would be better if the PTM remains focused on its demands.

Anti-Pak Army/ISI sentiments: In its muffled resentment, the PTM even accused Pak army of harassing women, and even of even rapes (. Investigations by women rights bodies did not coirm the allegation. The PTM got away by pleading that honour code restraints the Pashtun women from speaking out (Taha Siddiqui,  Pakistan’s Pashtun Women Are Breaking Silence On Army’s Abuse, The Quint January 30, 2019).

Michael Kugelman, Woodrow Wilson Centre notes ‘the movement’s rhetoric, particularly in more recent weeks, has been unabashedly hostile toward the military. At one rally, the PTM’s top leader, Manzoor Pashteen, identified “GHQ”—a reference to the military’s general headquarters—as “the place that destroyed us.” Protesters also chant about the “uniform” backing terrorism. At the April 22 protest, Pashteen referred to military generals as “traitors.” And according to one of the few Pakistani media accounts of the April 22 protest, at least one speaker alleged that the military was complicit in a horrific terrorist attack, claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, on an Army-run school, which was populated with the children of soldiers, in Peshawar back in December 2014. Such witheringly anti-military rhetoric, according to the PTM’s harshest critics, exemplifies how the movement has lost its appeal and descended into ethnic-power politics while becoming “a political party in all but name.” More broadly, it angers many others in Pakistan who venerate the military and regard such vociferous criticism as wholly unjustifiable.

The PTM does not espouse or engage in violence; Pashteen has specifically advised protesters to clasp their hands behind their backs if subjected to violent reprisals. Still, its heated rhetoric against the military, rooted in deep-seated, long-standing grievances, enables critics to brand it with the anti-state label, which decreases the likelihood that the security establishment will be receptive to its demands.

While addressing a rally at Orakzai (April 20, 2019), Pakistan’s prime minister expressed sympathy with Pashtun Tahafuzz Movement demands. But he expressed ennui at anti-army slogans. Earlier, our senate’s special committee had patiently heard their demands.

Of course, the PTM has several demands most of which have been admitted by the government, even by ISPR. But, the organisation sometimes voices concerns that are exterior to Pashtoon welfare. For instance, Pashteen, at times, regurgitates allegations spoon fed by Western media. Here I quote his remarks from his Herald May 2018 interview (The Pashteen Question: The Making of a New Nationalist Movement, p. 48).  Manzoor Pashteen `rejected ISI’s official claim that army had brought peace to the tribal area’. `The army did not eliminate even a single Taliban leader.  All the 87 Taliban commanders were killed in the last 18 years were eliminated in drone strikes ’_Except Abdullah Mehsud, who exploded himself to death after he was besieged by the army’. 

He berates Pak army operations and extols drone strikes. For one thing drone strikes amount to aggression. In an article, David Swanson pointed out that any use of military force, be it a drone attack, amounts to a war. The Kellogg-Briand Pact made war a crime in 1928 and various atrocities became criminal acts at Nuremberg and Tokyo.

The UN charter maintained war as a crime, but limited it to an ‘aggressive’ war, and gave immunity to any wars launched with the UN approval. If that is indeed the case, did the UN allow drone attacks on Pakistan? Drone attacks on our territory are a clear violation of our sovereignty as an independent state

Pashteen did not mention that drone attacks are a sacrilege of Pakistan’s sovereignty. He did not mention `collateral damage’ in terms of innocent women, children, and adults killed. 

Like Pashteen, C. Christine Fair, and a host of other like-minded writers are skeptical of Pakistan army’s role in the so-called war on terror. She  in his article `Pakistan: Perfidious ally in the war on terror’  says `Pakistan at increasing odds with international community which has come to see Pakistan  as both the fire-fighter and the arsonist…Even the Pakistan army is deeply anti-American…the US-Pakistan relationship is uncertain,…whether their counterpart is a treacherous friend or an outright foe’. The article is included in Mohammad Ayoob and Etga Ulgar (eds.) book `Assessing the War on Terror’.

The PTM is against fencing of Pak-Afghan border. They threaten to pull it down. To appease Ashraf Ghani government it occasionally agitates the Durand Line issue. They threaten to approach the United Nations for acceptance of their demands. An unsuccessful anti-army demonstration was held outside UN office. PTM alleges that Pak army is hands in glove with Taliban. Army wants to settle Taliban in depopulated areas.

Backlash: Michael Kugelman says `Pashtuns in Pakistan are “frequently labeled as terrorists or drug dealers” (“Why Pakistan’s Pashtuns Are Pushing Back”, National Interest April 29, 2018). He adds, “Last year, police in Punjab province were ordered to pay special attention to Pashtuns and to treat them as potential terror suspects (Most members of the Pakistani Taliban, the deadliest terrorist organization in Pakistan over the last decade, are Pashtuns.) He observes, `The tribal areas, buffeted by conflict for many years, are returning to a state of normalcy, thanks to a robust counterterrorism offensive in North Waziristan that has degraded anti-state militants and resulted in a relative respite in terrorist attacks across the country. Last November, I visited Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan. Pakistani military officials there declared that terrorism had been eliminated; they claimed that there were no more no-go areas; and they showcased new roads, markets, and hospitals. While the military speaks of peace and development in the tribal belt, the PTM speaks of indignity and injustice. In a country where street protests are often led by religious hardliners and internationally designated terrorists, the emergence of a peaceful rights movement calling for more dignity and justice is a heartening development. However, its confrontational rhetoric has rubbed many Pakistanis the wrong way. Ultimately, the strong resistance PTM has encountered could limit its prospects for success. And a lack of success could have a significant cost’.

Inference: Doubtless `patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel’. India is overplaying PTM to tarnish Pakistan’s image. The PTM should make public its funding sources. Lest the PTM is dubbed unpatriotic, it should stick on course. And confine itself to its demands. Yet, they should be allowed to exercise their rights to free speech and assembly unfettered. 

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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South Asia

India may attack Pakistan under false flag operations

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Prime Minister Imran Khan once again stressed that India is gearing up for false flag operation to divert the entire world’s attention from the genocide it is committing in its part of Jammu & Kashmir.

India is accustomed to attacking Pakistan on lame excuses to divert world attention to its crimes. Last year, in February, using the self-designed Pulwama incident, committed surgical strikes deep into Pakistan. Just after the hours of Pulwama incident, without conducting any inquiry or collecting evidence, the Indian Prime Minister blamed Pakistan and threatened with surgical strikes. Pulwama was pre-planned and used as a lame excuse only. A similar trick can be repeated by India again.

In fact, India is facing a massive economic crisis, internal insurgencies, mass-protests, ethnic divides, and religious discrimination. Poor agriculture declined Industrial output, and lack of economic activities, the country is facing enormous challenges.

Due to its poor records of Human rights and religious discrimination, the world reaction is intensified. Human rights watch’s reports, or the US commission on religious freedom’s story, or EU reports, all are condemning India. Islamophobia has distanced India from the Muslim world too. India is facing isolation internationally.

Having disputes with all its neighbors, India is under immense pressure. Indian territorial disputes with Nepal had taken a new turn, when Nepal issued a new Map, showing its whole territory, parts of Indian Occupied territories too. Amended Citizenship Act may impact two million Muslims and may face deportation to Bangladesh, and water disputes make two countries (India-Bangladesh) enemies. With Mayanmar, territorial disputes and refugee issues also made odd-relations between them. By supporting Tamil insurgents, India spoiled its relations with Sri Lanka.  Over-interference in domestic politics, its ties with the Maldives soared. The Illegal occupation of Jammu & Kashmir, Gurdaspur, Juna Ghar, is the real cause of tension between India and Pakistan. Denial of right of Self-Determination of Kashmiri people for seven decades and non-implementation of UN resolutions passed in 1948 on Kashmir are genuine concerns for Pakistan. Frequent violation of line of control and cross-border terrorism is a matter of serious attention. Indian occupation of Chinese territory and border clashes are getting severe recently. India hosts the Dalai Lama’s exiled government of Tibet, and openly opposing BRI is causing discomfort between two countries. The over-tilt toward the US and Indian attempts to compete and contain China may be a genuine issue of concern for Beijing.

The recent tension with Nepal and China may become a catalyst, and India makes another false flag operation against Pakistan. India is using spy-drones against Pakistan, one of such was shot down by Pakistan 650 meters inside Pakistani territory.

Indian frequent violations of Line of Control (LoC) and cross border terrorism, are the tools to incite Pakistan and force to a full-fledged war.

Pakistan is in the hands of visionary leadership, and the people of Pakistan are peace-loving in nature. Pakistan has been observing restrains and patience because we know the consequences of war, especially when both India and Pakistan are nuclear states and posses enough piles of weapons to eradicate each other. If India is crazy, we are not.

It is an appeal to the international community to intervene and force India to cool down its war-craze. UN and P5 may notice an aggressive Indian attitude toward all its neighbors, especially with Pakistan. Timely intervention may avert a big disaster. 

However, our love for peace may not be mistaken as a weakness. If war imposed, Pakistan is in a position to surprise India. We did surprise India last year on 27 February and can surprise in a much stronger way if a situation arose in the future.

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Afghan Peace Process and Indian Involvement

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The Afghan peace process initiated in 2018, marred with episodic halts, finally witnesses an agreement between the US and Taliban on February 29, 2020, in Doha. Both signatories Taliban and the US agreed to some core conditions and compromises to be made. Afghanistan, a land known as the Graveyard of Empires has become a huge quagmire for the US forces and now even after 18 years of war they are still nowhere close to defeating the Taliban. Eventually Taliban had to be accommodated in the US strategy for Afghanistan. The Taliban are still stronger on the ground. There have been occasions even after the deal when Taliban were found to carry out attacks to show off their military strength and presence. This sends out a message to the US that a reduction in violence may not be confused with complete termination of attacks. Taliban being fully aware of their limitations as a disciplined troop, realize it would be hard for them to bring back their militia into the region if peace process doesn’t settle desirably. Geographically Afghanistan is at the crossroads of Central Asia and South Asia and is also bordered with Middle Eastern states. Such geographical presence makes everything happening in Afghanistan reach a dozen of adjacent countries with great intensity and magnitude. Recently concluded agreement in February this year has offered a world to witness a historic moment in which parties at dispute are finally making adjustments to end this protracted war. This agreement will have far reaching impact on many regional countries which will be compelled to respond according to their interests and likely benefits.

Most recent development in the Afghan Peace process is the induction of a “Power sharing Deal” between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. The power sharing deal is a political settlement wherein both Ghani and Abdullahare looking forward to sharing the burden together in a hope to pave a path to peace, improved governance, human rights, laws, values eventually moving towards successful materialization of Afghan Peace Process to have stable Afghanistan.US secretary of state Mike Pompeo also supported this political settlement to end the conflict. In the meantime, Secretary-General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg applauded the deal between Ghani and Abdullah.

This however wasn’t an easy feat. US had to nudge the naysayer: India in this case;for its negative and its covert activities to derail the peace process. India finds a stable Afghanistan unfavorable to execute its illicit activities and propaganda. There would be less chances to exploit the soil of Afghanistan for its vested interests. Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation had a meeting with India’s External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar in New Delhi and conveyed the firm message for India to shun its anti-peace role in Afghanistan. Chief Negotiator of Taliban, Abbas Stanikzai also criticized India stating “India has always played a negative role in Afghanistan. India supported traitors in the country.” Such Taliban sentiments are prevalent but rarely expressed. Afghan government/NDS and RAW has consistently opposed peace with the Taliban as both stands to gain from discrediting the Taliban. Therefore, depicting Taliban as violent and active propaganda showing them as unreliable to firmly handle the evolving situation, serves Indian interest. Coupled with all this, a delayed withdrawal of US troops and attacks still being carried out in Afghanistan fueled the violent situation to the relief of spoilers of peace that want to see the peace deal completely derailed.

India’s Afghanistan policy is very much  Pakistan-specific. India doesn’t want peace in Afghanistan because unrest on Pakistan’s western border makes it doubly challenging for Pakistan to secure its borders on two fronts. India backed anti-separatist elements get free flow across the porous Durand line into Baluchistan.  This is the very reason India never favored a peaceful political settlement between Taliban and Afghan government. Some Indian analysts such as former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran openly argue that Indian policy should aim at preventing complete Taliban takeover of Kabul, provoking Taliban towards a broad-based government.

While India remained active in hampering the peace process, globally Pakistan’s key role in the entire peace process has been highly appreciated. Zalmay Khalilzad US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation praised Pakistan’s efforts for the deal. Moreover, Pakistan’s role in the peace process is also recognized by Russia, China, and the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan has made several efforts to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table with the US which eventually resulted in the much awaited peace agreement and has become a ray of hope for the stability of Afghanistan and region as well. There is no doubt this peace deal is in the interest of Pakistan and peace of region because stable Afghanistan means stable Pakistan. Moreover, there are now brighter prospects for lesser clashes near Durand Line between Pakistan Armed Forces and Afghan Forces .Afghan forces have been time and again attacking Pakistani forces near the Pak-Afghan border.  It is hoped that the new political regime will also help in maintaining border peace between the two neighboring countries. However, one has to keep looking out for possible Indian mischief as it doesn’t want peace to prevail in Afghanistan.

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World Must React to Hindutva Terrorism

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The Hindu ideology has transformed into the crude discourses of anti-Muslim platitudes and therefore, existing language of local stereotypes in India has been reinforced with modern offensive terms of intolerance especially against minorities. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, Hindu nationalism has erupted as a dominant power and this power has been executed by rightwing forces to implement the agenda of ideology based on Hindutva. V.D. Savarkar in 1923, used this term to accentuate that Hindutva was not synonymous with Hinduism. Hindutva is a racial ideology to establish Hindu identity while disposing of Indian nationalism in favour of Hindu nationalism. Hindutva’s aspiration is not only restricted to the ballot box, but its magnitude has also started to fabricate societal bondage in India. Through its offensive means “Hindu Renaissance” has made inroads into schooling, developmental initiatives, business activities, community, and virtually every other area of public life. What has transpired is that Hindutva has been growing and expanding well beyond the traditional sphere to explicitly or partially linked organizational network of its militant wings like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Hinduism is considered to be a nonviolent faith but unfortunately, racists mindset of Hindutva activists, who just perceive the material aspect of religion, exploited this faith. The aim of Hindutva is to create Hindu political dominance over non-Hindus through violent means while reducing demographic aspects of minorities to second-class citizens. Hindutva has embodied in the financial, social and cultural realms of India and its most influential incarnation is the sphere of radicalism and militancy. Signature activities of militant Hindutva include violence such as deliberate anarchy; the closure of 100 churches in 2018;the bomb blast of Samjhauta express; the anti-Muslim genocide in Gujarat 2002; thousands of deaths during anti-Sikh pogrom in 1984; vicious assaults on lower caste Dalits and the brutal death of India’s revolutionary leader Gandhi. Despite having strong evidence in most instances, victims of such crimes mostly avoided the repercussions of their acts. Now Indian society has accepted the alteration of glorifying Hindu extremism. The most prominent instance is two times election victories of the current Indian Prime Minister Modi, who was the driving force behind the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom.Hindutva’s extremist philosophy is once again capable of dictating the sociopolitical existence of India when Narendra Modi, who once operated as the main Hindu nationalist leader, gained power.

During the recent Delhi Riots, Indian government immediately claimed that the bloodshed was random as the neighbourhoods in India’s capital were burning and bloodletting engulfed about 40 bodies, most of them Muslim. The killings were neither accidental nor unwarned but they were inevitable due to continuous detest by Hindutva extremists towards Muslims. The initiatives of PM Narendra Modi have imposed tyranny, seized organizations and fostered religious hate. Methodically, the persistence of Modi’s policies is producing a toxic Hindu extremist environment.BJP government has appointed most heads of the major universities and cultural institutions from factions of extremist Hindu nationalist allies. Place names have been modified – even in the curriculum – to play down the connection of Muslims to India and to give Hindutva ideology most prominent position. With these policies in hands, it was just being a matter of time before everything blows up and Delhi riots are just a genesis of future religious conflicts in India. Several Muslim Indians have already claimed that they never feel so oppressed.

The official policy is skewed towards Indian Muslims and the whole society is at the crossroads. Terrorist activities and Muslims are often associated with each other because that is the natural understanding propagated by Hindu nationalists. BJP’s leadership has openly categorized Muslims as terrorists and suggested: “to feed them bullets, not biryani.”There are numerous, profound and long term implications of this witch hunt for Muslims. Hindutva outfits act in secrecy to carry out their dark plans with a veil of tradition. The false flag operations, the Malegaon Blast by Abhinav Bharat, Hement Karkare’s assassination and death of Advocate ShahidAzmi are major instances of Hindutva terrorist activities.

India is also at the brink of a new form of religious polarization in the latest crisis created by Covid-19. Thanks to the efforts of Hindutva nationalists, the Indian government is also scapegoating Muslims for the spread of the coronavirus. BJP’s leaders in India are calling for a boycott to do business with Muslims by spreading rumours that Muslim vendors are infecting vegetables with saliva. The pandemic has offered Hindu nationalists a fresh chance to suppress an otherwise vulnerable minority community and Indian Muslims are sensing more terror against them by Hindutva fanatics. 

Although the social inequalities in India remain a cause for alarm, the senseless aggression of its military is getting increasingly worrisome. PM Modi upset the whole India as he denied the decade-old tradition of giving the Indian army baton to the senior general as head of military forces; rather, by superseding two well-regarded generals in December 2016, he appointed hardcore Hindutva nationalist General Bipin Rawat. Subsequently, Modi has also created the Department of Military Affairs and institutionalised the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to further adjust General Rawat into mainstream military decision making. Given the hawkish approach to Kashmir and other current insurgencies in India by General Rawat and the spreading of BJP’s nationalist narrative, the change was perceived as a politicizing the army.The infamous release under bail and reintegration into the Army of an intelligence officer after completing nine years incarcerated for violence and terrorism indictments further illustrate India’s military alliance with ultra-right-wing nationalist terrorism. Lt. Col. ShirkantPurohit is claimed to be the creator of another radical Hindu extremist party, Abhinav Bharat and he was also active in many militant assaults targeting Muslims under the influence Hindutva or Saffron terrorism.

As India aims to reach the global community and prove its international superiority, the world must be mindful of the transformation of India from a democratic and thriving society into a suffocating repressive religious ideology. The world must take note of the 2020 Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which recommends entitling India as “country of particular concern” for instituting national level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims, and much more. Whereas in India Muslims are being murdered, the majority of the world is too sluggish to denounce these atrocities. Increased regional radicalisation and terror threats would be motivated by the Modi regime’s ability to carry on with its ideology of Hindutva. The international community must start paying more emphasis on countering Hindutva and saffron terrorism.

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