By Aima Khosa
24 Aug 2018
On Sunday, August 12, the Pakhtun Tahaffuz
Movement (PTM) reappeared in public discourse through a large demonstration in
Swabi. This gathering was held after an interlude of several months during
which the PTM’s leadership grappled with some crystallizing debates faced by
any burgeoning political association in an election year: the decision to
contest elections or not.
It is public knowledge that prominent PTM
leaders Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar stepped down from the movement’s core
committee when they announced their intention to run as independent candidates
for the National Assembly. This announcement did not come as much of a surprise
to most commentators and followers of the movement: after all, both Wazir and
Dawar are popular organisers in their constituencies, NA-50 South Waziristan
and NA-48 North Waziristan respectively. Wazir has tried his luck in elections
before – in 2008 and 2013 but was unsuccessful. In his earlier statements as a
PTM representative, Wazir had asserted that he was not interesting in running
again. But as months went on, he appeared to change his mind and announced that
he had succumbed to pressure from his supporters and decided to run. Dawar
organised with the young cadre of the Awami National Party’s (ANP) National
Youth Organisation (NYO) before the PTM emerged. The ANP removed him from his
position after he became active with the PTM. But t was known that he had
electoral ambitions prior to his involvement with the newer movement.
The current disagreements within the movement
may reflect the positions of the political parties whose disenchanted cadre are
now part of the PTM. That effectively puts Pashteen in the position of the
figure that transcends partisan loyalties, and in doing so, keeps a tenuous
This brings us to the towering new figure
produced by the PTM: the immensely charismatic Manzoor Pashteen. He remains, in
the public imagination, the most visible and undisputed leader of the rights
movement. He has, over the past year or so, acquired the status of a moral
authority amongst Pashtun youth demanding greater civil liberties and political
rights in Pakistan.
Many people affiliated with the movement
have attempted to address rumours that Manzoor Pashteen was unhappy with the
core committee’s decision to support Dawar and Wazir with their electoral
campaigns. But when a BBC Urdu journalist asked Pashteen in a recent interview
about a substitute PTM leadership in the Parliament, he may have referred
indirectly to the source of the tension: “When we went to the people, we said
that we would not ask them for votes. We asked for their support as charity.
Dawar and Wazir made a personal decision to contest. They decided on their own.
We envisioned the movement and its commitments as more durable than the tenure
of an elected government, which ends every five years.”
And so, amidst talk of significant
disagreements within the PTM, Dawar and Wazir have taken up their seats in the
National Assembly. Those who have followed the PTM’s trajectory since the widespread
public outrage over the extrajudicial murder of Naqeebullah Mehsud in Karachi
earlier this year have mixed views about the post-election direction of the
Some senior journalists have hinted that
with Wazir and Dawar in the Parliament, it will be easier for powerful quarters
who wish to weaken the current PTM leadership to sideline Pashteen, whose name
and face is currently synonymous with the movement.
And then there is the view that despite
their personal ambitions, Wazir, Dawar and the PTM’s core committee continue to
recognize Manzoor Pashteen as the central figure for the movement – not least
because he is greatly loved by the confident new Pakhtun youth who currently
form the backbone of the movement.
Over the last few months, this energised
youth segment has organised the PTM’s door-to-door campaigns for public
meetings and has produced a powerful narrative on social media – all of which
has been instrumental in the group’s rise in the public domain. The current
disagreements within the movement may reflect the positions of the political
parties whose disenchanted cadre are now part of the PTM. That effectively puts
Pashteen in the position of the figure that transcends partisan loyalties, and
in doing so, keeps a tenuous coalition together.
It is amidst these discussions that the
Pashtun Long March to Swabi was announced. The demonstration seemed to have
three major goals: to present a united front from the leadership on the
original agenda of the movement, to test support for the cause beyond “comfort
zone” territories of Dera Ismail Khan and Tank, and to move towards more urban
territories such as Swabi. The leadership believes that powerful quarters in
the Pakistani state apparatus would prefer to contain the PTM’s activities and
discussions within a certain area. In order for the movement to grow, it is
imperative that it gain traction in the less friendly terrain of urban
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa – where the PTM feels it has still not made significant
As with most PTM public meetings, the
August 12 gathering in Swabi became controversial when a day earlier; Pashteen
was turned away from the shrine of decorated soldier Captain Karnal Sher Khan
by his brother Anwar Sher Khan, while he was campaigning for the upcoming
public demonstration. This incident was captured on video and shared widely on
social media, triggering resumption of the incessant debate around the PTM’s
loyalty to the state.
Pashteen had earlier come under attack when
some young supporters of the PTM attempted to dissuade a man from bringing in
the national flag to their public gathering. It is said that during a meeting
of the PTM’s core committee, it was suggested that they put up several national
flags on prominent spots at future public gatherings to neutralise this PR problem
– which some believe to be part of a systematic effort at provocation. At the
end of the day, as a PTM activist quipped sardonically, they could decorate an
entire field with the national flag and their patriotism would still be called
into question by vested interests.
Despite these controversies, several
thousand people attended the PTM gathering in Swabi. These included Mohsin
Dawar and Ali Wazir, who also campaigned for the event. Iqbal Lala, Mashal
Khan’s father, was also present and narrated a moving poem for the audience.
In his speech, Pashteen expressed his view
that Pakistan gained independence in 1947 but Pakhtuns remained in chains. “We
are striving to restore dignity and remove this palpable feeling of deprivation
among the Pakhtuns,” he said.
He also spoke of the PTM’s future plans and
said that the movement would hold public meetings in other parts of the country
to seek the support of the people.
For now, despite being surrounded by
political workers formerly associated with major regional parties, who would
undoubtedly be excited at the prospect of forming a party of their own, Manzoor
Pashteen does not seem to be thinking along these lines. One PTM insider told
this scribe: “Manzoor wants the movement to be some sort of a permanent thing –
but outside of the electoral sphere.”
PTM’s efforts have, overall, met with great
progress over the last few months. Their iconic red cap is now commonly sold in
Karachi and the city’s Pakhtuns feel somewhat more secure – or at least better
heard – after PTM’s campaign for justice for Naqeebullah Mehsud. However, it is
as yet unclear as to how Pashteen plans to ensure the longevity of his project
without moving towards a party organisation which brings with it an
infrastructure and a more widespread, rooted presence that the PTM desires.
Whatever the future brings, it would be
very difficult to deny the central role of the young man from South Waziristan.
Without Manzoor Pashteen’s moral clarity, personal courage and immense
charisma, it is difficult to imagine the Pakhtun rights’ movement gaining such
wide traction as it already has.