Over the past year, a Pashtun awakening has transformed war-torn Waziristan from a hotbed of terrorism to a battleground for civil rights. But can the movement bring real change?
Anwar Wazir had a ringside seat for the war that wrecked his homeland.
Before 9/11, Waziristan was Pakistan’s forgotten backyard. Governed by archaic colonial structures, its Pashtun residents denied their full constitutional rights, Waziristan nonetheless was slowly transforming. Despite restricted access to education, a sizable middle class of professionals was being created. Mass employment in the Gulf States, an agricultural revolution, and unregulated cross-border trade with Afghanistan had transformed Waziristan’s economy.
Then came the war in neighboring Afghanistan, and with it the terrorist groups: the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Fleeing U.S. bombs in late 2001, the jihadis moved into Waziristan, which is divided into South and North Waziristan tribal districts. Once in control, they routinely used violence to intimidate and oppress its residents. Yet because residents did not have the strength to oust these groups on their own—and because the Pakistani authorities did nothing to stop their regrouping—Waziristan was often falsely portrayed as a place sympathetic to terrorists. The authorities, meanwhile, stridently denied that terrorists were sheltering there.
Anwar witnessed a different reality on the ground. In 2005, as he settled into a job in the local administration, a volcano of violence was erupting around him. Tribal leaders who served as the glue holding Waziristan’s Wazir, Mehsud, Bhittani, Dawar, and Sulaimankhel Pashtun tribes together were being assassinated. Local criminals had transformed into militants, acting as cannon fodder and guards for the foreign fighters. A new generation of jihadis was be d, was exploiting the unrest as leverage to further perceived national interests. The government was using Waziristan and other regions in the country’s western Pashtun belt, encompassing the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and Balochistan—all bordering Afghanistan—to shelter the Taliban.
Islamabad had bankrolled the Taliban after its emergence in the mid-1990s to shape Afghan politics. The mujaheddin factions it hosted and supported against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s had engaged in an endless civil war following the demise of the country’s pro-Moscow regime in 1992. Islamabad seemed keen on returning the Taliban to power in Kabul to pursue its longstanding quest for a friendly regime there. Pakistan wanted to prevent any potential threats from Afghan irredentism or Pashtun ethno-nationalist groups within the country.
Pakistani governments and the military have always denied sheltering or supporting terrorists. Such explanations hold little credibility among Waziristan’s residents. Anwar was an eyewitness to how Pakistan’s powerful military helped Taliban factions control parts of South Waziristan after a 2007 uprising forced the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan to flee the regional capital, Wana, home to the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe.
“For more than 11 years, from 2007 to 2018, some Taliban factions that the authorities recognized as Aman, or peace committees, committed innumerable atrocities,” he said. “They were taxing locals, ran private prisons, and had divided the entire territory among themselves for policing. I observed that militants were performing the key functions of the state in the presence of tens of thousands of troops.” “They were taxing locals, ran private prisons, and had divided the entire territory among themselves for policing. I observed that militants were performing the key functions of the state in the presence of tens of thousands of troops.”
Waziristan’s civilians had nobody to complain to. Anwar says that despite working for the government, he could do little when security forces set fire to his father’s bus in 2010. He claims the bus was torched as a punishment because soldiers had discovered a bag of fertilizer in the vehicle. The military banned the transport of fertilizers into Waziristan because of its potential use in improvised explosive devices. “The government never responded to any of our petitions for compensation,” he said.
Disillusioned, Anwar became one of the first government employees to back the Pashtun Protection Movement when it sprang to life during a protest in Islamabad in February 2018. That sit-in protest, attended mainly by millennials, was provoked by the January murder of an aspiring model, Naqibullah Mehsud, who was killed by police in an allegedly staged gun battle in the southern seaport city of Karachi. The movement, known by its Urdu initials PTM, has since attracted tens of thousands of young people, in a peaceful movement to demand fundamental human rights and security for Pakistan’s estimated 37 million Pashtuns.
In addition to seeking justice for Mehsud, the PTM articulated Pashtun demands for an end to the bloodshed, insecurity, and uncertainty that had overtaken their homeland since the onset of the War on Terror. It demanded that the judiciary probe unlawful killings of Pashtuns. It called on security forces to charge or release thousands of people who had been taken into custody and disappeared. It called for an end to aggressive searches, checkpoints, stereotyping and other forms of collective punishment of Pashtuns. And it demanded that the military launch a robust demining campaign in Waziristan and other regions where the War on Terror had been waged.
Authorities promised to address Pashtun grievances. But after the PTM organized a few large gatherings in the Pashtun cities of Balochistan Province in March, officials reverted to their standard response to dissent from ethnic minorities: labeling them traitors and enemies of the state. The PTM slogan, “The uniform is behind terrorism,” has particularly angered the military leadership. Anwar became one of the first government employees to lose his job because of his role in the PTM.
The Pashtuns’ Plight, and the PTM’s Promise
In less than a year of existence, the PTM has given Waziristanis a reason to hope for a better life. It seeks to reconstruct the image of Pashtuns, long caricatured by outsiders as ignorant, warlike savages, as a dignified people who have paid in blood and money from years of terrorist violence and military sweeps. And it has returned Waziristan, so often dismissed as an extremist backwater, to the forefront of debates about Pakistan’s future.
One face of the movement is Ali Wazir, a firebrand leader who exemplifies resilience in the face of personal suffering. At the turn of the century, his family was the most prominent among the Ahmadzai Wazir in Wana. His late father, Mirzalam Wazir, was their leading tribal chief.
But while Ali was studying law, his family endured its first tragedy when his elder brother, Farooq Wazir, was assassinated in broad daylight in 2003. The young activist became one of the first Pashtun victims of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan. In subsequent years, Ali lost more than a dozen relatives including his father, brothers, uncles, and cousins to terrorist attacks. Their only apparent crime was to demand that authorities ensure peace and get rid of militants.
His mother, Khwazha Meena, vividly remembers the day in July 2005 when her husband and son were killed. The ambush near their home in Wana also killed two of her brothers-in-law and two of their sons.
“Our whole front yard was red with the blood oozing from our martyrs,” she told journalist Adnan Bhitani. “Our house was eerily silent and empty after their remains were taken to the graveyard for burial. Only the cries of our small children echoed in the blank courtyard.”
While his family was being massacred, Ali languished in a prison under draconian colonial-era regulations. When he was finally briefly released, the funerals had ended.
“I told him not to mourn. They were innocents and were killed while defending their honor,” she recalled. “The tombstones of those who die defending their homeland always shine in the battlefield,” she said, recalling a Pashto couplet she recited to lift his spirits.
Meena sent her orphaned children and grandchildren to the relative safety of Dera Ismail Khan, a dusty city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa near Waziristan. But she herself swore to stay behind at their ancestral home, a large mud house surrounded by apple orchards. Her family says she now lives in a door-less room because she fears the knock of being awakened to tragic news.
“[Over the years], the men killed in our family left behind seven widows. I always tell them not to weep [so our enemies won’t elate in their success],” she said. Ali says his family was not alone in suffering. Almost every family in the region has endured some tragedy.
“Only the Pashtun civilians suffered,” he said. “The Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the Pakistani Army had all joined hands against them.”
Ali, in his 40s, refused to give up. He pioneered a peaceful non-violent struggle and participated in parliamentary elections in 2008 and 2013, inspiring youth with his fiery speeches. The insecurity in Waziristan forced him to stay in Dera Ismail Khan, where scores of others had been displaced after a large-scale military operation in 2009.
“It was a long and dark period when our people suffered in every imaginable way,” Ali recalled. “There were several military operations; people were displaced, and markets were demolished. Targeted assassinations and suicide attacks were common.”
Ali, a lawyer, says the state was only interested in protecting its forces. “The Taliban and al-Qaeda were running parallel courts and meting out punishments, but the government forces were largely relegated to military camps,” he said. He says the government’s failure to implement the promises it made in February prompted PTM leaders to continue their protests.
“The PTM helped the Pashtun youth to transform into a force that clearly articulated the grievances about the atrocities and suffering they have endured,” he said. “Our campaigning pushed the military to rethink its actions.”
The military has relaxed stringent security measures at checkpoints that often-required civilians to wait for hours to move in and out of Waziristan. It has ended the special biometric IDs for Waziristan residents, the Watan Card, which all Waziristan residents needed to carry to travel.
In the larger scheme of things, Ali argues, the PTM protests have helped absolve Waziristan of its reputation as a headquarters for global terror. “When our youth mobilized in a non-violent struggle for peace, they united Pashtuns everywhere and undid the image of Pashtuns as a warlike, barbaric people,” he said.
Many in Waziristan paid with their blood to achieve this. In June, at least four PTM supporters were killed and dozens more injured when local Taliban attacked Ali. Using their Facebook and Twitter accounts, PTM activists uploaded videos showing militants firing on their comrades and the security forces doing little to take on the militants. These videos broadcast the Taliban’s control to the world, which ultimately forced Islamabad to take back control of Wana’s market from the group of Taliban that officials had called a “peace committee.”
In July, Ali won a grassroots victory in the parliamentary election from a constituency in South Waziristan. The residents of Wana bore his expenses and his campaign didn’t have enough work for the hundreds who volunteered.
He says Waziristan has changed because people are adamant about throwing off the yoke of oppression. “After every atrocity, our people now come out to protest peacefully,” he said. “We are determined to achieve our rights within the laws and constitution of Pakistan.” Ali says the military needs to promptly withdraw from Waziristan and hand over control to the civilian administration. “If the state fails to reconsider its inhumane policy, it will have major repercussions for the future,” he said.
A Millennial Movement
It was in Dera Ismail Khan that Ali met Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen, a veterinary student who would become the youthful face of the PTM. Now 24 years old, Pashteen came of age while his family was displaced from their home in South Waziristan in 2009. His initial activism was limited to helping his Mehsud tribe, who he says suffered the most in Pakistan’s war on terrorism. They lost thousands of members, including hundreds of tribal elders—most of whom were victims of targeted assassination. The Mehsuds also lost tens of thousands of houses in the fighting, which decimated their livelihoods and ultimately forced them to flee their homeland for nearly eight years.
“The extremism was deliberately imposed here. The war fought here in the name of terrorism was fake because both sides terrorized civilians,” he told me. “The change now is that such traumatized people are determined to gain all the rights that the [Pakistani] constitution grants them, but they also want accountability for what happened to them.”
Pashteen says the suffering people have endured in Waziristan has changed their perspective. He says local resistance to the Taliban and the excesses of the military failed in the past because their proponents were swiftly killed, which terrified others into submission. “We now have successfully united the population, and they are capable of uniting in protests,” he noted.
Indeed, unprecedented protests have gripped South and North Waziristan during the past year. In most cases, the sit-ins compelled the authorities to listen to their demands.
“We are now locked in a complex web of problems, but we have the master key to unlock them all,” tribal leader Malik Omar Khan said after a successful sit-in protest in August reportedly prompted the authorities to probe whether the security forces shot protesters near Miran Shah, the administrative headquarters of North Waziristan. In November, the authorities in South Waziristan agreed to all PTM demands before its planned protest could begin.
In January, protests sparked by the alleged harassment of women and children by security forces in North Waziristan’s remote Khaisor village dented the military’s narrative of having cleansed the region of terrorists with a large-scale military operation. Beginning in June 2014, Zarb-e Azab, the official name of the offensive, forced some 1 million North Waziristan residents to flee their homes for more than three years. Several thousand of them still languish at a displacement camp in the stony desert of Bakkakhel at the edge of Waziristan.
Pashteen says the recent activism has forced the military and the Taliban to think before committing atrocities against civilians. He says the residents of Waziristan are now acutely aware of and resisting any collusion between the military and the militants, particularly pro-government and surrendered Taliban. “The society in Waziristan will neither allow nor accept and tolerate any militants or Taliban,” he said. “People in Waziristan do not even like to shake their hands.”
Pashteen says the residents of Waziristan, the rest of FATA, and Pashtuns, in general, are acutely aware that they were mere pawns in a war fought for the benefits and interests of others.
“Consider whose homeland within Pakistan prospered while who suffered and whose territories were destroyed,” he said in an apparent reference to Pashtun war-hit regions in northwestern Pakistan compared to the prosperous eastern province of Punjab.
Pashteen says their activism has invited the wrath of both the military and the militants. “Beginning with me and the rest of our leadership and our activists everywhere, we are facing constant persecution and harassment,” he said. While the militants have killed and injured scores of PTM activists in Waziristan, many others have been imprisoned or implicated in court cases. Many have lost government and private jobs. Others, including Pashteen and Ali, face foreign travel bans and restrictions on movement within Pakistan. The PTM’s media coverage is under blanket censorship and its activists have been in and out of prisons for most of the year.
“We pose an existential threat to the business our military has benefited from in the name of [fighting] terrorism,” Pashteen said. Since 9/11 Washington has given more than $30 billion in security and economic assistance to Islamabad. U.S. drone strikes have proved to be the most successful weapon against militants: in Waziristan, more than 370 drone strikes have killed leaders from al-Qaeda, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and the East Turkistan Islamic Movements, along with most leaders of the Pakistani Taliban. But civilian casualties from the drone strikes have sparked major protests. While the Pakistani military supported and quietly allowed the drone attacks, a protest campaign in the country, with some encouragement from the military, blamed the drone strikes for violating Pakistani sovereignty. “The international community should investigate the price we have paid for their military aid to Pakistan,” Pashteen told me.
The Military Response
Pakistan’s powerful military, however, has shown little tolerance of criticism. It has resisted civilian oversight and accountability. After imposing the first martial law in 1958, four military dictators have ruled the country for nearly half of its 70-year history. Generals have mostly called the shots over foreign policy even when civilians are nominally in charge. They have also presumed a monopoly over who to declare patriotic Pakistanis and who to certify as traitors and fifth columnists.
The military was unprepared for the PTM’s emergence in February. Its initial response was to accept the movement’s lesser demands by relaxing curfews, ending aggressive searches on check posts, and launching a demining program in Waziristan. By April, hundreds of disappeared Pashtuns, mostly in military custody, were reunited with their families—but they were released without any court proceedings, as the PTM had demanded.
There was no apparent movement on illegal killings. Rao Anwar, the police officer accused of killing the model Naqeebullah Mehsud, surrendered to the Supreme Court, but was later granted bail, which the PTM interpreted as the state getting him off the hook.
Meanwhile, the PTM persistently campaigned in an election year when the military establishment went all out to prevent former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from returning to power. Though Sharif’s support base is in Punjab, also home to most of the military brass, he had rebranded himself as an opponent of military rule. The PTM’s protests indirectly strengthened his narrative of establishing civilian supremacy through sanctity of the vote.
The PTM’s campaigning enraged the generals at the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi. “No anti-state agenda in the garb of engineered protests aimed at reversing the gains achieved at the heavy cost in blood and national exchequer succeeds,” Pakistani Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa said in mid-April.
In what would become the military’s standard narrative, Bajwa soon linked the PTM to a hybrid war aimed at weakening Pakistan internally. “Our enemies know they cannot beat us fair and square and have thus subjected us to a cruel, evil, and protracted hybrid war. They are trying to weaken our resolve by weakening us from within,” he told newly graduated officers on April 14. “The very resilience of Pakistan comes not just from our military capacity but from the synergetic mix of people who have come together willingly toward a single purpose.”
The Pashtun protests were under an unspoken media ban from day one. When the PTM emerged from the protest outside the Islamabad Press Club in February 2018, few dared to report on it. Many journalists chose to self-censor in a country considered one of the most dangerous for journalists globally. But the controversies surrounding the June killing of unarmed PTM protesters by former Taliban members—whom officials called a peace committee—prompted the military to once again make its views clear.
“We solved their problems, but how then is there still a campaign on social media? How were 5,000 social media accounts created in Afghanistan in a single day, and how was a cap made outside the country and imported into Pakistan [to become the symbol of the PTM]?” chief military spokesman Asif Ghafoor asked journalists on June 4 as he cast aspersions on the movement.
But in a more telling revelation, he defended the Taliban peace committee. “The peace committee has fought in the war against terrorism for years,” he said. “They fought in the war against terrorism and are now doing their part in the [current] phase of stabilization.”
He implied that the peace committee members shot the PTM supporters for their anti-army and anti-state slogans. “A jirga was called to sort out this issue [through dialogue],” he noted. “While the peace committee waited, they [the PTM supporters] came, and they had an altercation. As is their culture, they had weapons, and they began shooting each other.”
As the military worked overtime to counter the PTM in the streets and online over the past year, it also undertook larger strategic initiatives. The year saw noticeable progress on fencing the Durand Line, the 19th-century border that splits the Pashtuns into Afghanistan and Pakistan. Islamabad wants Kabul to accord de jure recognition to the Durand Line as the recognized international border between the two countries.
Successive governments in Kabul, however, argue that only people from both sides of the Durand Line can decide its future once elusive peace and stability are restored. Some of the fence’s early phases were completed in Waziristan, which hampered the movement of cross-border communities. A more consequential development was the integration of FATA. As its last legislative act in May, the outgoing Pakistani Parliament granted equal rights to millions of FATA Pashtuns and merged their homeland into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a process that will take several years to complete.
However, implementing the controversial military-backed merger has been fraught with setbacks. The merger plan outlined a series of political, judicial, economic, and security reforms that have sparked bureaucratic turf wars. In October, the High Court in Peshawar declared the interim law for FATA unconstitutional. Any missteps along the way are bound to add to the PTM’s grievances.
The hot summer months and election campaigning cooled the PTM protests. On a visit to London in October, Ghafoor indicated that the Pakistani military viewed the PTM as a spent force. “We understand that Manzoor Pashteen has no power to organize these protests abroad, but we do know who is behind these protests and the sources of funding,” he told journalists, asking where PTM leaders had been when terror was being unleashed from the tribal areas. “There was no hue and cry then, but now that we have made these areas safe and secure our enemies are doing their best to sow seeds of discord among Pakistanis.”
The PTM responded by organizing a large protest in Bannu. On October 28, tens of thousands of PTM supporters filled a sports stadium. “With your help and support, we have pushed the Pakistani military generals to the extent that they will surrender [to the will of the people],” newly elected North Waziristan lawmaker Mohsin Dawar told the gathering. “If they refuse to surrender to [the popular will], these Pashtuns—the residents of Pakhtunkhwa—will force them to surrender.”
Two days before the PTM gathering in Bannu, a police officer who had served in the dusty city mysteriously disappeared. Police Superintendent Tahir Dawar, 50, was abducted late on October 26 as he went out for a stroll after eating dinner at his house in Islamabad. His family was stunned by his sudden disappearance. Tahir, a native of North Waziristan, had earned government medals for valor. His colleagues in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where he was serving, were also mystified. They knew him as a “capable and diligent officer” who had stood against militants and even survived a suicide bombing.
In Bannu, Noor Islam Dawar, a PTM activist, protested the disappearance. “Is this the reward for his honesty, bravery, and professionalism: to be kidnapped?” he asked protesters on October 28. The PTM gathering that day demanded that Tahir be found soon. But the same day, Iftikhar Durrani, a media adviser to the Pakistani Prime Minister, denied that Tahir had been abducted.
“He had come to Islamabad on a short leave, but his cell phone was off for a short while, which worried his family and created an impression that he had been kidnapped,” he told VOA.
His family’s petitions to the authorities during the next two weeks only brought assurances that he was safe and would be recovered soon. Mohsin raised the issue in the parliament. “It will have a demoralizing impact on the police force if one of its officers cannot be traced,” he said. “It will have a devastating impact on the force facing [terrorist] threats.” By November 11, activists and tribal leaders in North Waziristan had announced a sit-in protest for his recovery in Islamabad on November 14.
But on November 13, alleged photos of his mutilated corpse went viral over the Internet. In a handwritten note reportedly found alongside his body, Islamic State (IS) militants claimed credit for his assassination. The ultra-radical group has carved out a safe haven in eastern Afghanistan since 2015. Shehryar Afridi, junior interior minister, attempted to downplay the news. “It is a matter of national security and someone’s life, and cannot be discussed in an open forum,” he told journalists.
The next day, Tahir’s murder was confirmed, and Pakistani authorities said they were in contact with their Afghan counterparts to bring his body back from the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar. Tahir’s killing spurred great anger, prompting PTM activists to ask why Islamabad failed to protect an officer of the law. The movement’s leaders highlighted it as yet another instance of the atrocities against their people.
When Tahir was buried the following day, his son Amjad Tahir Dawar demanded an international probe. “My father endured a great atrocity. We want an international commission to probe what happened to him because it involves two countries,” he told mourners after a late-night funeral flanked by PTM leaders Pashteen and Mohsin.
Earlier on November 15, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had ordered an investigation into the murder. Ghafoor, the military spokesman, suggested Kabul’s involvement. Dawar’s “abduction, move to [Afghanistan], murder and follow up behavior of [Afghan] authorities raise questions which indicate involvement or resources more than a terrorist organization in Afghanistan,” he wrote on Twitter. Pakistani authorities have shared few details of the investigation.
One Pakistani journalist has painted a different picture of events. According to Azaz Sayed, Tahir’s brothers told him he had captured a major cache of arms before his disappearance. But his bosses eventually forced Tahir to release the weapons and the suspects he had detained along with their trucks carrying the weapons. Sayed argues that an investigation into the episode might offer clues as to what happened to Dawar.
Tahir’s younger brother Ahmaduddin Dawar says the government’s probe has yet to begin. “We had demanded an international investigation, but now we have agreed on a Joint Investigation Team [of Pakistani security institutions]; we are soon going to announce this formally,” he told Pakistan Hum News TV on November 22.
But the PTM was not optimistic. Pashteen said Islamabad has consistently tried to bury the case. “If these investigations are carried out by the Pakistani authorities then it is unlikely that a government-appointed commission will hold any [individuals or] institutions accountable [for the disappearance and murder], even if they were involved,” he told a journalist. “They cannot even point in that direction.”
Three months later, his family was bitterly disappointed in the lack of progress in the government probe. “We no longer have any trust in the government,” Amjad Tahir Dawar told Pakistan’s DawnNewsTV in late February. “We want an independent body to probe and unmask the faces behind the incident. We will not give up.”
Such a lack of confidence, experts on the region say, can only be bridged by swift government action. Ghulam Qadir Daur, a retired Pakistani bureaucrat and author, has a finger on the pulse of Waziristan and the rest of FATA. He says that while the constitutional changes in the status of FATA has changed on paper, little has changed on the ground. He says the relief the residents of FATA witnessed after the emergence of the PTM at the beginning of this year has faded.
“This is the poorest area in Pakistan; its social indicators reflect 70 years of neglect. Militancy wrecked its infrastructure and traumatized its population,” he wrote in October, adding that the once-displaced Pashtuns are returning to destroyed homes and ruined livelihoods. The government’s promised support for rehabilitation is taking too long. “Projects funded by multi-donor trusts are not taking off, so there is no chance of more funds being allocated for existing projects, or of new projects being undertaken.”
Daur’s book Cheegha: The Call captures the despair in his long-suffering homeland. His advice to the government now is to bring reforms and development to Waziristan and the rest of FATA on war footing. “It’s hard to understand why these areas should be left behind, hurt and exposed,” he wrote.
During a visit to North Waziristan on November 26, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan indicated that his administration is willing to address the region’s challenges. “First, we have to remember that we should not let this peace be destroyed that we have achieved in the tribal areas,” he told tribal leaders. “The entire rest of Pakistan is going to stand with you in that. We want to bring the tribal areas on par with the rest of Pakistan, and we are determined to take any steps that will benefit the people of Pakistan.”
Khan, a former cricketer, says the region fascinated him. He wrote a book after touring FATA following his Cricket World Cup victory in 1992. He promised a sizable share for the tribal areas in national resource distributions and announced various schemes for improving health care, education, employment, and reforms.
“We have sacrificed a lot for bringing peace into the tribal areas,” he noted. “We are also trying our best to restore peace to Afghanistan. If there is peace in Afghanistan, it will make a lot of difference in our tribal areas,” he said. Khan has viewed the global war on terrorism as an imposed war. “We shall not fight any such war again inside Pakistan,” he added.
A few days later, however, the military spokesman Ghafoor warned the PTM not to cross undefined lines—an implicit threat to refrain from criticizing the military. “We realize their grief, their hardships,” he told journalists while explaining that the military has so far refrained from using force against the PTM. “But [they] should not cross those lines, where the state has to use its force to control the situation.”
PTM leaders criticized this statement and asked whether demanding security, accountability, and the fundamental human rights guaranteed in the Pakistani Constitution could arbitrarily provoke the military to use force. “If Pakistan is our country, it should address our demands,” Pashteen told the BBC. “But if it is a case of masters and slaves, then they can continue committing atrocities and we will carry on facing them.”
In January the military had an apparent change of heart. Ghafoor offered to join hands with the PTM to bring development and prosperity to former FATA. “The PTM is a non-violent movement, which is campaigning for its demands. We wish that the PTM leaders and other people [supporting them] will join the state in the [rehabilitation] phase, which is aimed at bringing relief and services to them,” he told Pakistan’s private ARY television.
The same month, however, the movement faced an intensified crackdown as its members geared toward marking the PTM’s first year. Scores of members were arrested after holding a large protest in Karachi on January 21. These included Alamzeb Khan Mehsud, a university graduate who had dedicated himself to documenting enforced disappearances and highlighting the plight of victims of landmines. More activists were arrested as they attempted to protest the death of an activist. The PTM alleged that Arman Luni, 35, a college lecturer, was killed by a police officer on February 2. He was protesting a terrorist attack against police in Loralai, a small city in Balochistan. On March 5, the human rights committee in the Pakistani Senate ordered the police to launch a probe into his death.
Meanwhile, PTM activists in Waziristan are not ready to buy Islamabad’s promises or to cave in to its threats. In Wana, Anwar is determined to soldier on.
“Movements originating from Waziristan have always been successful,” he noted. Millions of Pakistani Pashtuns must hope that he is right.
Abubakar Siddique, editor of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Gandhara website, is author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key to the Future of Pakistan and Afghanistan.