The Pakistani military is facing immense opposition in the restive northwestern region — not from the Taliban, but rather a popular anti-war Pashtun movement, whose leader Manzoor Pashteen spoke to DW about the conflict.
On May 26, an armed confrontation between Pakistani troops and supporters of a Pashtun nationalist movement left at least 13 people dead and 25 others wounded, including five soldiers. The incident took place at Khar Kamar checkpoint in the North Waziristan region, near the Afghan border.
The protest was led by two members of parliament — Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar — who are members of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). The military arrested both parliamentarians for allegedly attacking the Khar Kamar checkpoint.
The PTM has gained considerable strength in the past two years, drawing tens of thousands of people to its protest rallies. Its supporters are critical of the war on terror, which they say has ravaged Pashtun areas in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The PTM demands an end to extra-judicial killings and arbitrary detentions of Pashtuns in the name of the war on terror. The movement has struck a chord with thousands of Pashtuns, who blame both the Pakistani military and jihadists for destruction in their region.
The Pashtun issue has been a sensitive one for Pakistan since the South Asian country gained independence from British rule in 1947. With a large Pashtun population in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the idea of an independent Pashtun-majority homeland baffled Pakistan right from the beginning. Some experts say Pakistani authorities favored Islamization of the region to rein in the “Pashtunistan” movement, led by liberal and secular politicians and activists.
The Afghan government, which usually refrains from commenting on Pakistan’s domestic politics, has praised PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen’s campaign in the past. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani shared several tweets about the “Pashtun march” in February 2018, hoping that it would succeed in “uprooting and eradicating terrorism from the region.”
Last month, Major General Asif Ghafoor, a spokesman for the Pakistani military, accused the PTM leadership of working against the country. He alleged that the PTM is receiving money from Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies.
In an interview with DW, Pashteen talked about the clash in May with Pakistani troops and the “anti-state” allegations against his movement.
DW: Why didn’t you immediately respond to the May 26 clash?
Manzoor Pashteen: We don’t speak out without evidence. Until I received credible evidence of what exactly happened [on May 26], I refrained from commenting on it.