The attack by the PTM supporters on the army check-post in North Waziristan seems to have crossed the state’s redline. The incident unfortunately led to many losses not seen in recent past as peace was restored to FATA after two major successful operations.
The big picture
The state has been very soft on the PTM—a group labeled as a local rights’ movement by western media and their liberal followers—tolerating its narrative of blaming the Army for wild allegations (which include alleged false flag operation, ie, APS Attack in Peshwar, bringing in terrorism to FATA etc.) and looking the other way even on dreamers of irredentist claim of greater Afghanistan within the movement.
It allowed the PTM to informally participate in election without being registered as political group; the Army did not indulge in rigging in FATA contrary to the claims of opposition, letting the two MNAs from PTM to make it to Parliament in 2018 elections.
Unlike any other group, the state for long put up with the PTM who has brought out to life two dead Ideologies: the one which romanticises Afghanistan at the cost of Pakistani territory of KP and Balochistan’s Pashtun belt; and the other envisions Pashtun exclusionary/regressive political chauvinism.
Interestingly, no state worth its salt can absorb abuse (name calling) of its Army leadership, a systematic attempt to cause a wedge between forces and the people.
The attitude has remained causal at best towards the PTM’s strategy, e.g, to deepen ethnic fault-line (ie, eulogising “Centrifugal” mindset, metaphor, poetry & music) and to channelise the anger of victims of FATA into something big.
The official narrative, “PTM is our children” mantra provided a legitimacy to a platform paradoxically used as ruse by array of various actors: India, Kabul, ethnic, dissent politicos, left leaning civil society, anti-Pakistan Afghan diaspora, propaganda media like VOA, BBC, Dewa etc and their websites to whip security forces under organised agenda of “subversion”, as per the manuals of 5th generation warfare. For example, organised use of social media in cyber psycho-ops, have never seen before suggesting sophisticated capability, only intelligence agencies can have to put together.
After much blood-letting of our martyred soldiers on every kilometre of FATA, a new threat perception was ignored despite the region being a “cooling off area” after dismantling of HQ of international terrorists: the platform started serving as magnet for the likes of TTP to camouflage which negatively impinges on security; many PTM public meetings were attended by foot soldiers of the TTP who could easily mix with locals.
The platform also offered opportunity for hostile agencies to recruit moles, hook up with vested interest groups among NGOs and foreign embassies. Such interest was generated that many Pashtu speaking diplomats were deployed to interact and coordinate with the PTM.
The entire state and the political establishment particularly Imran Khan was very much in favour of dialogue and political solution: however, after many botched attempts, they realised the futility of the exercise. A local group was already taken over by ambitions of competing agendas. The leaders and aspiring leaders and their backers never agreed on what actually they want in these negotiations but continued with blatant attacks against security institutions particularly in the areas where “hardening phase” was underway—FATA-Balochistan. No other group enjoyed such a unrestrained freedom then the PTM to malign and bash security institutions.
State only showed some muscle by registering FIRs and police action if the PTM workers occupy roads/streets and interrupt normal life of people like the TLP. It discouraged abuse, attempted to amend anti-army narrative; occasionally checked the platform being used as vehicle by hostile agencies to corner forces and not to undermine morale of forces fighting terrorism. It made all attempts to prevents social and economic grievances turning into full blown rebellious sentiments of the minority youth presenting the PTM being used as a leverage by hostile intend.
The state successfully prevented organised manoeuvres of the PTM extrapolating merged districts of KP’s situation with that of Indian occupied Kashmir. For example, when the entire country was celebrating as a day of solidarity with IOKashmiris, the PTM turned it into Pashtun solidarity day.
The state tried its level best to help stop melting away benefits of various anti-terror operations including the goodwill capital.
In the meantime, Ironically, the PTM got support from strange quarters: the PPP facing corruption probe leveraged the platform against the Army; the PML-N’s top leadership facing trail used the forum to blackmail the establishment as it believed the PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif was removed not by the judiciary but by the Army.
Foreign sponsored NGOs including types of abortion and gay right advocacy groups joined the PTM, as they could not, otherwise, promote their agenda for various reasons.
With no love lost for Pashtun welfare, the left leaning and liberal bunch angry on state policies of the past, backed the group, instead of moderating the PTM’s extremist inclinations (methods, narrative, ideological tendencies, vested agenda of other forces & regional countries); Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was quick to send supporting tweets for the PTM—Kabul has leveraged PTM successfully against Islamabad (i.e., the PTM also calls itself Afghan first and promotes the narrative of Kabul government on claiming the geography of Pakistan); It is God send gift to India for playing with fault-lines of the state—a policy it has been perusing since long.
The platform is now completely hijacked and used it as pawn in greater geo-political battles against the state of Pakistan and its security institutions.
1. Apart from the North Waziristan’s latest incident, organised grievance-fed narrative can end up in massive discontent.
2. It can potentially transit from passive militancy into active militancy by unemployed brainwashed hardline young generation of Waziristan’s former warring tribesmen spreading from erstwhile FATA to Karachi.
3. The PTM inspired use of extreme language is pitching impressionable Pashtun youth against the state—way beyond the pale of freedom of speech: like the TLP which invited the wrath of security institutions when it called for mutiny within their rank.
4. All of the above or most of it is being done under the garb of projecting legitimate demands.
The bottom line
The PTM is a challenge to the state; it’s policy is gradually shifting from patronising to soft containment of the group and as it (the PTM) turns more militant (witnessed in attack on security check post in North Waziristan) will invoke hard containment posture.
The narrative of PTM as fighting for Pashtun cause is a myth: along with Afghan politicians, the PTM’s MNA Mohsin Dawar advocated for drone bombardment of North Waziristan, the US fired 500 missiles in which almost 4000 civilians were killed. Whereas, the NATO and the Afghan security forces kill hundreds of civilian everyday in Afghanistan but the PTM never condemns it.
Pashtuns are part and parcel of the Pakistani sate from Parliament, government, Army and to the bureaucracy. The real guardian of Pashtuns is not any ethnic group but the Pakistan Army.
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