PTM’s Bannu rally leaves its opponents in quandry

Tens of thousands of Pashtuns from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan provinces in Pakistan held a huge rally in Bannu district sports stadium on Sunday under tha banner of an anti-war, anti-militarist and anti-enforced disappearances movement–PTM–the Pashtun Protection Movement.

Last year Pakistan’s military spokesman threatened this peace-pursuant movement and said “time is up” for Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). The threat was translated into action as dozens of its workers were thrown into prisons across, but the movement’s leadership did not budge even an inch from its standpoint and demands.

After Khar Kamar incident [dozens of PTM supporters were killed by Pakistan army], the movement adopted a wait and see policy for some time.

Though PTM leader, Manzoor Pashteen, was active on social media and was vocal against the so-called war terror imposed on the Pashtun belt and vehemently decried the military for the war economy.

After the call for a rally after almost a year, the movement supporters charged and spread in every small and big town and campaigned for this long-awaited public rally.

Till writing this piece 50 thousand tweets have gone viral and #PashtunLongMarch2Bannu became a top trend for the day. Pakistani political commentators, journalists, and writers are barred to hold news and analyses programs on PTM.

Ironically when PTM was to hold a public rally in the sports stadium, the Bannu district administration also awakened and announced sports events in the same Mandan Park. The purpose was to divert media and public attention from PTM’s rally but people rejected this attempt.

Huge Bannu stadium became smaller one once the PTM workers flooded the ground. In his speech Member National Assembly Ali Wazir again came hard on the military’s war economy policy and bringing back terrorists into the tribal belt.

“Once and for all, I assured that Pashtun will not tolerate any sort of violence on their land again and he warned the policymakers to avoid any such future misadventures”. “Towards Afghanistan, this state [ Pakistan] should work for a peaceful relationship. We consider Afghanistan our own because this is the land of our ancestors and we know how to protect it,” Ali Wazir told the audience.

Wazir also condemned fencing along the controversial Dunand Line and termed and said time is ringing the bell for all warmongers and they should change their stance otherwise we will drag them along these fences.

Mohsin Dawar, a member of the National Assembly also spoke on the occasion. He led 400 vehicles caravan from his constituency to Mandan Park, Bannu.

He replied to the military spokesperson’s claim that “PTM is no more powerful” and said no one can eliminate PTM and today’s massive gathering is a show for those who live in fools’ paradise. We Pashtuns have come out to the streets for rights and until we get these rights we won’t sit back, he told the rally supporters.

PTM top leaders Sana Ijaz, Said Alam Mehsud, Wranga Loni, and many others showed up on the stage. Leaders of the PTM once again called on mainstream Pashtun nationalist political parties to devise a joint strategy for securing rights to their people who have suffered unhearable losses in men and material to an imposed war which benefited one province in Pakistan and one branch of state institution [military] as it received stocks of weapons from the US in the name of weeding out terror.

PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen also sought a Jirga among Asfandyar Khan, Mehmood Khan Achakzai, Mulana Fazal Rahman and Aftab Khan Sherpao where they can collectively think how to drive the troubled Pashtun nation out of this deadly war.

He said we won’t go an inch back from our core demands and will also keep pressurizing the policymakers to form a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” to punish those troops who are involved in war crimes.

PTM hailed the United States for sanctioning, Rao Anwar, a police officer who was declared an offender by the supreme court of Pakistan and found guilty of fake encounters.

“The world is listening to us and that’s why the killer Rao Anwar has designated criminal police officers. Anwar has killed 450 Pashtuns in fake encounters,” the speakers said.

Manzoor Pashteen, the leader of Pakistan’s Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), which advocates for Pashtun rights and an end to militancy and military operations in Pashtun-populated regions in the country, told VOA that his movement welcomes the decision and looks up to the U.S. for “upholding justice.”
“The decision by U.S. Treasury Department to blacklist Rao Anwar and place economic sanctions on him was a good step. Pashtuns feel that America will take steps to uphold justice,” Pashteen told VOA.

The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) last week took action against 18 individuals from six countries, sanctioning them for their roles in human rights abuses. Among those sanctioned was Anwar, a retired Pakistani police officer.

“Rao Anwar is designated for being responsible for or complicit in or having directly or indirectly engaged in serious human rights abuse,” the US Treasury said in a statement released on International Human Rights Day, December 10.

In reaction to Anwar’s designation, Pakistan’s Foreign Office (FO) said this week that he is under trial.

“Given the scope of Global Magnitsky’s act we are surprised that the treasury department failed to hold anyone responsible for the most egregious, extensively reported and independently verified human rights violations and abuses being perpetrated in an occupied Jammu and Kashmir by Indian occupation forces,” Mohammad Faisal told VOA during a press conference last week, accusing the US of not going after India.

Members of PTM credit their movement for the action against Rao. Mohsin Dawar, a member of Pakistan’s National Assembly and a prominent leader of PTM, said their advocacy group played a key role in raising awareness about human rights abuses by security forces in Pakistan.

“The sanctions placed on Rao Anwar by the U.S. Department of Treasury are a validation, a type of recognition of PTM’s stance,” Dawar told VOA. “If we did not pressurize investigation, he would still be serving as a police officer and instead of killing 400 people, he would have killed hundreds more,” he added.

Anwar has been accused of staging numerous fake police encounters in Karachi, in which hundreds of individuals have been allegedly killed.

The most high-profile case that led to the emergence of PTM was the killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud, a 27-year-old shopkeeper-turned-model, during an encounter with police in Karachi.

Police said at the time that Mehsud had been killed in a shootout with members of the Pakistani Taliban, a US-designated terror group operating in Pakistan.

But an internal inquiry cast doubt on that claim, saying Mehsud had no evident link to any militant group.

The killing sparked days of protests and a weekslong march in Pashtun-dominated northwestern Pakistan last year, and led to the establishment of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, also known as the Pashtun Protection Movement, that has since held dozens of rallies across the country demanding basic rights for ethnic Pashtuns.

The movement demands an end to extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, removal of military checkpoints, and the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission.

The PTM charges that Mehsud was one of several hundred Pashtun men racially profiled and killed by Anwar in Karachi. “It was not until we raised our voices about Naqeeb (Mehsud) that an investigation finally took place and the other encounters were revealed,” Dawar, of PTM, said.

A huge place was reserved for missing persons families. Children and women were sharing tragic stories of their dear and near ones with people present in the rally.

There was a complete blackout in Pakistani mainstream but ducked media as the Pindi boys [ the unaccountable and ubiquitous ISI officials] have ordered all media houses not to air PTM programs.

Internet service was restrained in the region but PTM supporters filmed the rally with their mobile phones and flooded social media with footages and photos of the rally.

(The article has been written with input from VOA.)

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