Journalist, social and human right activist and a leading female figure within the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, Saana Ijaz’s interview with the editor of Dawat M. Tariq Bazger
The government must put an end to the breeding of terrorist organizations that not only interfere in neighboring
Afghanistan and other regional nations but also serve to terrorize its own citizens
Bazger: By profession, you were a journalist; what was it that led you to join the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement and enter the struggle for the rights of Pashtuns?
Sanna Ejaz: I have always been a political activist, both before and throughout my career as a journalist. I joined the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement when I could no longer sit back and watch the atrocities that were committed against our masses, especially those against the Pashtuns. For me, the term Pashtun embodies all those that reside in our motherland of Pashtunkhwa, irrespective of their gender, religion, language, beliefs or political affiliations.
After 4 long decades of war followed by the international community’s toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, a regime that was fully endorsed by the State of Pakistan, conditions worsened in our motherland. Countless so-called “terrorists” flooded into Pashtunkhwa from Afghanistan where they were given a safe haven to re-organize themselves and wreak havoc not only on the Afghan people, but also on the Pashtuns of Pakistan, the international community, NATO and ISAF (International Serving Assistance Force) personnel in Afghanistan. Pakistan was afforded the status of a non-NATO ally and partner in the “War on Terror” and accepted billions of dollars in security aid. However, instead of countering the increasing terrorism and extremism, it breathed life into those same terrorist organizations only this time the aim was not only interference in Afghanistan but included the killing of Pashtuns on the Pakistan side of the Durand Line as well. Numerous operations were launched and sustained both through financial assistance and through the use of media propaganda causing needless suffering of Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand Line. A bogus distinction was made by the State between “good terrorists” and “bad terrorists,” allowing such “good terrorist” sanctuaries to easily murder hundreds of thousands of Pashtuns and displace those that remained from their lands in FATA (Fedral Administered Tribel Area) and SWAT. This orchestrated game was a well-engineered narrative of the State to not only kill but racially profile the Pashtuns of Pakistan, resulting in enforced disappearances, fake encounters, the spread of landmines throughout Pashtunkhwa and a variety of other terror attacks. The damage inflicted by witnessing brutal murders, losing family and members of the community and dealing with their wounded has been engrained in the psyche of those that remain. The result is not only a loss in human life, but in irreparable damage to the property, economy, and culture of Pashtunkhwa; damage that may well take decades to repair. The world was kept in the dark of the atrocities being committed in Pashtunkhwa and Pashtuns themselves were hesitant about speaking out against the State of Pakistan. It was only when an aspiring Pashtun model, Naqibullah Mesud was brutally and senselessly murdered and his murder justified by Police Chief, Rao Anwar, claiming that Mesud was a terrorist. This fake encounter operation served as a catalyst for Pashtun youth who began to organize and request that the UN Human Rights organizations investigate the trampling of human rights in Pashtunkhwa. These youth demanded that the State adhere to the constitutional and human rights of Pashtuns as well as other nationalities and religions minorities. I, at this time, had already been following in the footsteps of Bacha Khan and Khan Shaheed and could not justify not becoming a part of this movement to demand basic human rights as well as the constitutional rights guaranteed to all citizens of Pakistan.
Bazger: Prior to joining the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement you were a journalist, social activist and a human rights activist; could you tell me why you gave up your professional journalistic career which was your primary means of financial stability?
Sanna Ejaz: Upon joining the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, I was forcefully removed from both my position with the NGO and as anchor for Pakistani Television (PTV). Members of the deep state intervened to oust me from PTV and then put pressure on Shirkatgah, a women’s resource center, to remove me from that position as well. Even as Shirkatgah itself worked with UN Human Rights organizations, they chose to compromise their mission and vision to appease the Pakistani state agencies. The same state agencies that continually stalked and harassed my journalistic sources and myself in order to hinder me from performing my duties.
Bazger: After being forced out of your position with PTV and that of Shirkatgah, have you tried to obtain a position elsewhere, and if so, what difficulties have you faced?
Sanna Ejaz: To date I have not obtained any employment after my anchor position at PTV. I want nothing more than to be able to provide financially for myself and my family, but I cannot compromise my morals and ethics in doing so. The fight for basic human rights for all Pashtuns is worth the risk I take in being alienated and blacklisted in the professional workforce. If I am able to secure a position in journalism or social activism, fields that I have worked in for the last decade, that will allow me to continue my struggle for human rights, then that would be ideal.
Bazger: Now that you have gained notoriety as a human rights activist amongst the people on both sides of the Durand Line, as well as those living in diaspora throughout the world, and are considered a hero of sorts, what if any effect has this had on your day to day living in Peshawar and Pashtunkhwa in general. Has the government also embraced your identity as a human rights champion for Pashtuns?
Sanna Ejaz: My nation and my people are the center of gravity of my very being. I owe them this sacrifice and so much more at a time when they have had such grave injustice and misery inflicted upon them; and in return I have felt that same loyalty and love from them because we are one nation and one people, and our very means of survival is dependent on one another.
I don’t think the government will ever even entertain the idea of accepting me nevertheless revering me for my human rights struggle; this is simply due to the fact that the deep state is the very violator of the constitution of the country and of the UN-mandated human rights that we are fighting for. How could they possible accept us? The State has imprinted the term traitors on our foreheads through means such as social media, speeches and large media organizations.
Bazger: From the onset of this movement, what changes have you seen amongst Pashtuns themselves?
Sanna Ejaz: PTM is a collective movement of Pashtuns from all walks of life that have been continually and systematically victimized in Pakistan and this movement has created a sense of unity among them. This sense of unity is a very positive and progressive step both socially and politically. Pashtun youth have seen the positive attention that their stance for human rights has garnered as they are endorsed and backed by the nationalistic political parties, human rights organizations and democratic voices from not only across the country but from across the entire globe.
Bazger: The Pashtun Tahafuz movement is considered a movement for all Pashtuns and indeed, this movement has seemingly awakened a sense of unity and brotherhood among the Pashtun nation. What is your opinion about this?
Sanna Ejaz: When any nation toils through a dark era such as the one the Pashtun nation has been subjected to, there will inevitably arise from that journey a sense of unity due to the common struggle faced by every individual to attain a peaceful existence on this earth. As Pashtuns/Afghans we are in the midst of this struggle to be allowed to live peacefully as a nation not only with our basic human rights respected, but also the opportunity to live within a democratic society in equity with the rest of the free world.
This struggle will mark the last phase of terrorism and extremism in Pashtunkhwa because we now know that we have been used as collateral damage to benefit a small portion of the country, a portion that is the true cause of terror and extremism by means of its national policy implemented on our lands. The world’s eyes have been opened and the international pressure will help to put an end to these wrongdoings.
The constitution of the country should be respected and should serve each and every one of its citizens just as the basic human rights of each citizen should be guaranteed. This is what any citizen would expect of their governing body. Pakistan should remain a federation of Pashtuns, Baloch, Sindhi, Siraiki and Punjabi nations where all religious and sectarian minorities are free to live a peaceful life. The government must put an end to the breeding of terrorist organizations that not only interfere in neighboring Afghanistan and other regional nations, but also serve to terrorize its own citizens. Democracy should be respected, and the voices of human rights activists should not be silenced but instead celebrated. Currently the army is the supreme power leading the country’s foreign and domestic policies, constituting not only a conflict of interest but also a gross abuse of military power. The monopolization of the government by the army creates an institution in which every aspect of civics fails, including internal development, foreign policy, judicial proceedings, legislative process, elections and the economy. The army must be reigned in to conduct itself within the frame of the constitution, not as an institution supreme to parliament, the constitution and the general public it serves. It is inevitable that these common goals should unite Pashtuns across physical or imaginary borders.
Bazger: Can you speak to the role of women within the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement?
Sanna Ejaz: Pashtun women have been disproportionately victimized and have suffered tremendously in the current political climate of this country; whether that be at the hands of terrorism or the war on terror. For every man that has suffered, a woman has suffered twice as much; for every man that has been killed, abducted or wounded there are women who have been left behind having lost their husbands, children, breadwinners, economic and social security. Often times these are women that do not have the education or means to provide for themselves or for their children. PTM has provided a platform for these women to speak out and make their grievances and the injustices inflicted upon them known to the international community. This movement has given a voice to the voiceless irrespective of education level, social status, language or religious affiliations.
Bazger: Since the beginning of this movement, how has the role of women evolved?
Sanna Ejaz: With each passing day more and more people join in the PTM struggle, including men and women alike. There is no doubt that with the increase in the general public’s awareness of PTM’s goals and objectives, more and more women have joined and will continue to join in the movement. The participation in this movement by women from all walks of life has opened the door for each and every woman to demand an end to the injustices inflicted on them. PTM has provided Pashtun women a means by which to break political as well as social barriers.
Bazger: You have repeatedly called upon Pashtuns to include their wives, daughters, mothers and sisters in PTM gatherings and protests calling for the fair treatment of the Pashtun people. Have you seen any progress in this regard?
Sanna Ejaz: Most definitely! This movement is based on a struggle for basic human rights that are owed to every individual regardless of their gender; it is a pure and sacred movement for the benefit of every single Pashtun. This is a point we have made clear in every gathering and protest. The effect of which can clearly be seen by the increasing number of female participants in marches, protests, gatherings, and social media. Pashtun women all over the world have joined the PTM, either in person or by means of raising their voices in support.
Bazger: Why is the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement experiencing a blackout on Pakistani general media? Is the issue with the media itself or is there a larger play at hand?
Sanna Ejaz: The deep state or the army dictatorship has crippled this so-called free society for the last seven decades. It is inconceivable that any sane voice which does not play homage to the army be heard without serious repercussions. The media has changed from a medium to distribute unbiased information to nothing more than a mouthpiece for the army. The PTM is censored because it calls for checks and balances within the governing body and the military, it demands human rights for Pashtuns and other ethnicities, and speaks out against atrocities committed by the army.
Bazger: When it comes to Pakistani agencies, what is it that they fear when it comes to individuals like yourself and Manzor Pashteen, individuals with no weapons or power?
Sanna Ejaz: Our power lies in our lack of need for weapons to make our point known. In fact, the Pakistani government would be content if we resorted to being the gun toting people they have painted us to be. They are afraid now of our logical stance and peaceful protest, they are afraid of our questions regarding the injustices inflicted upon our people because they, being a part of the cause, have no answers to give. We put forth our agenda and call for justice of the Pashtun nations as well as other victims of extrajudicial operations in a peaceful non-violent manner that continually attracts more and more people to join the movement. Our power is in our slogans and our message, which are more powerful than their “guns.”
Bazger: Another important question – what was it that led Afghans to consider the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement as their movement that speaks to them as well? It seems that in no time at all, PTM has transformed into a major movement within the region, what makes Pashtuns trust this movement? What is it about Manzor Pashteen and his comrades?
Sanna Ejaz: It isn’t just the individuals involved that speaks to the PTM following; the narrative representing victims of terrorism and extremism is what is liked by the masses. They have felt the atrocities, the killings, the terrorist attacks, the mass murders, the missing persons, the fake encounters, the fake operations, internal displacement of those that remain, and land mines strewn across their motherland. It is this frustration that has motivated and driven Pashtuns to unite in order to put an end to the wrath that the army has unleashed on them under one guise or another.
Bazger: Time and time again the Pakistani military has accused the Pashtun Tahafuz movement of receiving support from India and Afghanistan, even claiming that the symbolic cap, which has become a symbol of freedom and revolution for PTM, comes from Afghanistan. Do these accusations have merit or are do they signify nervousness from the military?
Sanna Ejaz: Such accusations are a status quo for the militarized government at any time that their actions are questioned. Leaders such as Bacha Khan and Khan Shaheed also met with similar accusations and propaganda from the government. It is a dictator state and being such, fear is spread among the population through fake news and real attacks. We have all been dubbed “traitors” even though all we have asked for is the rights granted to us by the constitution of Pakistan and the UN Human Rights charter. It is the fear of having their atrocities exposed and having to answer for their actions that leads the military to try to discredit our movement with baseless accusations. We are the voice of the voiceless and the advocates of a people that have been discriminated against and victimized for far too long, a people that includes Pashtuns, as well as other ethnicities, deemed expendable by the military running this government. We are called traitors by this government for demanding democracy, transparent accountability for wrongs committed against us a nation, implementation of the constitution, and the reinstatement of parliament as a fully functional entity. It is the military’s duty to our borders, not to interfere in the politics of the country and dictate policy through the use of force and fear. Any stance or movement that calls for checks and balances on the power of the military is deemed by the military as treason; even if the leader of such a movement is Fatima Jinnah. (Fatima Jinnah is the sister of Pakistan Jinnah Seb who was also ostracized when she demanded the rights of her people from the then dictator General Ayub)
Bazger: What difficulties to you face as a Pashtun raising your voice for the rights of your nation? Do you fear for your life?
Sanna Ejaz: To be honest, my love for my homeland, nation and people and having seen the crimes committed against them has backed me into a corner in such a way that even fear of death seems inconsequential at this point. Death is a difficult reality to face in any situation, but we are of the belief that life can end any day and will eventually end one day so why shouldn’t one live it fighting for what is right and just. It is a sacrifice that we are all willing to make to give our Pashtun nation a chance to experience peace, progress, and prosperity.
Bazger: What message do you have for Pashtun women and young girls?
Sanna Ejaz: My message to Pashtun women is to come forward, speak up, and stand up for the rights of your motherland, for the rights of your people, for your own right to live without fear and without being persecuted for just being who you are. It is the voices of brave Pashtun women that are being heard louder than anyone right now, they are the backbone of this movement. They are exercising their right to be heard and to assemble, the very rights guaranteed by the articles of the constitution of Pakistan and the UN Human Rights Charter. We have been silent for way too long, this is our opportunity to end the injustices inflicted upon the Pashtun nation and give our future generations a change at a long and peaceful existence.
Bazger: What is your message for your fellow Afghans/Pashtuns and what can they do to support you?
Sanna Ejaz: Afghans are a part of our nation and we are a part of theirs; we share common enemies in “terrorism” and “extremism”, common heroes, a common history, geography and culture. We have all been victimized but will not succumb to the wrongdoings inflicted on us. We should all stand together, united for peace, love, and diversity in the region. I am hopeful that positive strides are being made on both sides of the Durand line, but also know that this struggle is a long and tedious one so we must stay focused to our cause and we must stay unified at all costs.
Bazger: Hundreds of thousands of Afghans/Pashtuns live abroad in Europe, Australia, Asia etc., and feel connected to your struggle – what can these individuals do to support the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement?
Sanna Ejaz: Whether here or abroad, every Afghan/Pashtun is a part of our nation, of our collective tribe. I ask of those living abroad to promote unity amongst each other, to help raise awareness for our cause, and to educate those in the countries you live in regarding the effects of their governments’ financial support to regimes who in turn use that same money to commit human rights offenses against its own people. I ask that Afghans/Pashtuns abroad speak up and provide a morale to those who are participating in this struggle at the ground level. There is strength in numbers and we are uplifted and encouraged in seeing you come out and protest in the cities you live in.
Bazger: In recent events, an Indian pilot was captured and treated with an immense amount of respect and honor before being released to the care of his own nation, while at the same time tens of thousands of PTM activists are either being held in Pakistani prisons without a fair trial or their whereabouts are unknown – what in your opinion is the reason for this?
Sanna Ejaz: The systematic abduction and detainment of social activists and peaceful protestors goes against not only the constitution of Pakistan, and the UN Human Rights Charter, but is a violation of any the basic human right to equal and fair treatment. The military has used these abductions and unlawful detainments as a form of intimidation and harassment of the PTM and aims to discourage any of its citizens from questioning the atrocities it has committed for decades. This method of silencing activists has worked in the past but will no longer suffice in today’s world. Social media has provided a platform for the voiceless to be heard and now serves as a stage for the world to witness the human rights abuses of this brutal regime. The military must understand now that the policy of creating terrorism and extremism, interfering in neighboring countries such as Afghanistan and abusing its own citizens is causing harm to their image both at home and abroad. They must abide by international human rights norms and follow the constitution of the country in granting equal treatment and rights to each and every citizen. It is the 21st century and people will not be ruled in this malicious manner any longer.
Bazger: Can you share a memorable moment from this struggle?
Sanna Ejaz: There were some children of families victimized by this regime that had no financial support as their families were left in economic ruin. I was able to enroll these children in school and provide some aid. Now, each time I visit them, I see their faces light up and their eyes sparkle with hope. I feel as though I am seeing a glimpse of the future of Pashtunkhwa, my homeland; a peaceful and progressive future.
Bazger: You must hear many heartbreaking stories from mothers, sisters, and brothers of those they have lost. Can you share one that comes to mind?
Sanna Ejaz: The situations of Khaisoor and Hayat, which garnered significant media attention, were very sad and tough to process; however, what was most difficult was hearing from the widows in Swat. These women lost their sole breadwinners, protectors, and partners and were left to fend for themselves and their young children on their own, a position they were never prepared for. To hear them day after day, tell stories of their missing loved ones, some gone for years was enough to break anyone’s heart. These stories were only the tip of the iceberg as one has to wonder how many stories are still kept in the dark and never told.
Bazger: What is your message for those governments that continue to close their eyes to the plight of Pashtuns and offer financial assistance to their aggressors?
Sanna Ejaz: My message to those supporting this brutal regime, whether financially or logistically, is that time is up! Pashtuns have opened their eyes to their plight and have reached a point of no return in demanding their right to a peaceful existence. We will no longer be pacified by fear or quelled by division because we have seen the worst, we have lost everything and each and every one of us is ready to demand rights for ourselves and for each other. Supporting regimes such as this one will seal the fate of any supporter similar to that of monstrous dictators like Hitler and Mussolini.
Bazger: What do you ask of the international community in terms of support for the PTM and Pashtun as well as Baloch rights?
Sanna Ejaz: I would like to express to the international community that we all share one world and we are nothing more than a global village. We each bear the responsibility of supporting the victims of terrorism, whether at the hands of militants or states. Injustice anywhere is never containable and will bleed out until it affects each and every one of us. We must all stand together to ensure that the human rights of every individual are never compromised and that the regimes who wreak terror and havoc on their citizens and contribute to regional instability are financially and politically isolated until they respect every human being’s basic right to a peaceful existence.
Source: Dawat Magazine Issue 236