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Pashtun Leader Seeking Solutions Within Pakistan

FILE: Manzoor Pashteen addressing a Pashtun Tahafuz Movement protest gathering in westren Pakistani city of Zhob on March 3.
FILE: Manzoor Pashteen addressing a Pashtun Tahafuz Movement protest gathering in westren Pakistani city of Zhob on March 3.

Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen has emerged as the leader of a movement demanding security and rights for Pakistan’s Pashtuns -- the second-largest ethnic group in the country. Since February, his organization, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) or Movement for the Protection of Pashtuns, has organized protests to end extrajudicial killings, enforced disappears, racial profiling, and harassment of Pashtuns, who make up to 20 percent of Pakistan’s 207 million population. The PTM has also called for demining in the insurgency-wreaked regions of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Islamabad says it has addressed the “genuine” grievances of Pashtuns by relaxing strict security precautions and swift demining in some FATA regions. Pakistani officials, however, reject the PTM’s accusations of grave rights abuses.

In an interview with Radio Free Afghanistan, 26-year-old Pashteen said that while some of their demands have been accepted, overall progress on meeting them is slow. However, he emphasized that the campaign ultimately wants Islamabad to address their concerns within the laws and constitution of Pakistan.

RFE/RL: If the PTM is fighting for universal human rights for Pashtuns in Pakistan, why don’t you appeal to the United Nations for support?

Manzoor Pashteen: The UN typically mediates or intervenes in conflicts between states. So it would only be possible if we, the Pashtuns, had our own state [in Pakistan].

RFE/RL: So your movement remains limited to Pakistan?

Pashteen: Our struggle is to seek justice for the crimes committed during the war here [during the past 15 years]. We were victims of the conflict during this time when the state was culpable of creating and sustaining a war-like situation. We are seeking justice for the crimes and wrongs committed during this time.

RFE/RL: How far are you willing to go?

Pashteen: Until all our demands are met.

RFE/RL: But a Pakistani minister, Ghalib Khan, recently told the Voice Of America that most PTM demands have been met with demining and some prisoners being released. What else are you seeking?

Manzoor Pashteen: They are lying. They only arrested Rao Anwar [a police officer accused of killing aspiring model Naqeebuallah Mehsud] due to public pressure. Otherwise, they protect murderers.

They have begun clearing landmines in [FATA’s] South Waziristan tribal district. They first began with some enthusiasm but [after it was widely publicized] through photo sessions, their pace slowed down. Demining has not begun in other tribal districts.

Manzoor Pashteen, leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, addressing a protest gathering in Peshawar on April 8.
Manzoor Pashteen, leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, addressing a protest gathering in Peshawar on April 8.

Our other demand regarding the fate of prisoners and victims of enforced disappearances [has seen similar progress]. Only around 250 people have been released so far. Thousands are still missing. We are not seeking the release of convicts. We only want every prisoner to undergo a trial and want only those released who are not found guilty of committing any crimes.

We have also called for a commission to investigate extrajudicial killings by Pakistani state security forces including the secret services, army, police, and others who have tortured and killed Pashtun civilians. The Taliban militants and other [pro-government] militants did the same. We want this commission to investigate all such crimes. I am sure such a probe will ultimately separate the truth from falsehood.

RFE/RL: Are you a nationalist movement? Why are other ethno-nationalist movements not backing you?

Pashteen: This is a collective national movement of Pashtuns. We have people from all walks of life and all political parties supporting us. We have received overwhelming support from the masses.

RFE/RL: What do you have to say to the young men and women in Afghanistan that are inspired by your activism and have even adopted your cap as a symbol?

Pashteen: Afghans who are protesting are discussing problems that they are facing, and they need to organize better. The youth should rise up for peace and do whatever they can to achieve peace. I call on the youth to stand up and demand their rights and do their utmost to eliminate the war from Pashtunkhwa, meaning the land of all Pashtuns [in Afghanistan and Pakistan]. Their efforts will ultimately contribute to end the global war going on in their homeland.

RFE/RL: Aren’t you worried that some states or political parties might use your movement to implement their own agenda in the region?

Pashteen: We are a peaceful movement and are mobilized for peace. We have been killed for years, but I do not see anyone having the courage to attack or undermine our peaceful struggle. Those who have met us and witnessed our events know the passion of our youth and the sense of our aspirations. This is why I do not see anyone daring to damage our struggle.