Thousands came out in support of Pashtun brothers in Lahore defying ban

Thousands of people came out to attended a rally in Pakistan’s city of Lahore demanding basic rights for ethnic Pashtun citizens and others.

Manzoor Pashteen, the leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), addressed protesters on Sunday, calling for an end to kidnapping by Pakistan Army, mysterious disappearancesextrajudicial killings and rights abuses committed by Pakistan’s military in its war against the Taliban.

Pashteen said, “Pakistan’s constitution says that if anyone has committed a crime, arrest them and bring them before the courts within 24 hours. But thousands of Pashtuns have been killed extrajudicially.”

Pashteen, is a native of the South Waziristan, a tribal district. It was once the birthplace of the Pakistan Taliban, he led a movement that has expanded across the country in recent weeks to hold the military and government accountable for alleged excesses committed by security personnel in tribal districts. The Pashtun rally on Sunday was held in defiance of a government ban.

Manzoor Pashteen at a rally in Lahore for rights of Pashtun people

Military might and propaganda vs Pakistani Constitutional Rights

The provincial government allegedly denied permission for the Pashtun rally “due to specific threats to the security of organisers of PTM”, according to a statement. On the orders of the government, Police detained at least five PTM leaders, including vocal military critic Ali Wazir, on the evening of 21 April; PTM leader Mohsin Dawar told our freelance journalist.

Meanwhile, the PTM, despite drawing thousands of supporters to its rallies, has received little coverage from Pakistan’s news television and print media. Opinion articles on the group have been removed from several newspapers’ websites in recent days. Military censorship has practically imposed pulled all its strings to stop coverage of the event by the media houses.

On 22 April, Pashteen appeared to blame Pakistan’s all-powerful Military propaganda machinery for the media blackout. Pashteen asked, “Right now, why are there restrictions on the media, on their lips to be sealed? They want to be able to continue to disappear people, to kill them extrajudicially, to establish their own rule rather than that of the constitution.”

Pakistan army has ruled the country with an iron fist for roughly half of its 70-year history; since its independence from Britain and breakup from India. Its decade-long war against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has centered mainly on ethnic Pashtun areas. While public criticism of the Pakistan army is rare, the PTM’s rallies have been marked by the openness of its leaders to call out the security forces.

For its part, the army has been critical of the movement. During his speech in a passing out parade in Pakistan Military Academy, army chief General Qamar Bajwa said the protests were “engineered” by foreign forces, and said his concern was they could reverse the military’s gains against armed groups.

Pashteen denied the claim on 22 April, saying the PTM was “not anti-Pakistan” and was only demanding basic constitutional rights for the people of Pashtun tribe. Pashtuns make up 15 percent of Pakistan’s 207 million people.

#PashtunLongMarch2Lahore- A civil rights rally

Those attending the Pashtun rally said it had been a rare event for Lahore, the political heartland of the ruling PML-N political party. Protesters managed to circumvent the apparent media blackout by posting live video streams on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. On Twitter, the hashtag #PashtunLongMarch2Lahore topped Pakistan’s countrywide trends on Sunday.

Others who addressed the gathering included leaders from the leftist Awami Workers Party (AWP), prominent rights activist and lawyer Hina Jilani and rights activist Amna Janjua. “Just being at the Pashtun rally was the most electrifying experience – this was not a political rally, it’s a rally for demanding civil rights. I have never seen this in Lahore ever before, this mix of students and teachers and just people who wanted to be a part of this movement for equal rights. It was truly electrifying,” said Mubashir Zaidi, a television anchor, and journalist.

Global implications of anti army sentiments

This is the first time that in Pakistan, the general public came out opposing the only force binding Pakistan together. If such opposition for Pakistan Army intensifies, it may lead to fractions in Pakistani landscape. With the break-up of Pakistan, ISI activities like the export of fake Indian currency and infiltration of terrorists through Nepal will cease. Sustenance of anti-India rabble-rousing by ISI inspired elements in Bangladesh against India will no longer be possible. Thus both Bangladesh and India will gain as they will concentrate on good governance with the absence of ISI in the region as per a study. If Pakistan indeed splits the biggest loser will be the biggest stakeholder in Pakistan i.e. China.

But the case in point being that Pakistan is losing in either case. Pakistan and its military needs to start respecting, protecting and enforcing its constitution again to the correct tune of law in its true spirit.

23 Apr 2018/Monday                                                               Written by : Md Tahir Shafi