The phenomenon that Baloch and Pashtuns of Pakistan have been treated as “second class citizens” for decades, is now widely accepted at a global level even as people belonging to these groups have been “picked up” by unidentified gunmen and have never seen again.
These state-backed atrocities, which have gained worldwide notoriety, have led to the birth of voices of resistance, who are speaking up against the Pakistan army, which has been accused of carrying out these murders. One of the most prominent of them has been
the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM).
Levsa Bayankhail, the Denmark-based secretary general of PTM, which came into existence in 2014 to protest the extra-judicial killings happening in Pakistan, spoke to The Sunday Guardian on the challenges that they are facing and what the world needs to do to save the
Pashtuns and the Baloch.

Edited excerpts:

Q: It has been five years since the PTM movement started, what has it achieved till now? Rao Anwar, the police officer, who killed so many Pashtuns, was never punished.
A: Before PTM nobody could ever dare to challenge the powerful Pakistani army and ISI in Pakistan or call them out for their wide spread abuses, crimes and terror activities in the Pashtun belt and in Afghanistan. Most importantly, the movement has developed a sense
of solidarity and courage to express their grievances through non-violent means, despite harsh government repression and terror for decades.
PTM has built a huge support from ordinary people around the world, on the ground and on social media, particularly the ethnic Pashtuns and Baloch people. Because they have experienced state atrocities first hand. PTM unveiled the true face of the Pakistani army
and the establishment to the people in our region and to the world, that Pakistan is a terror sponsored Panjabi apartheid state, and it is run by the Pakistani army generals, not the elected political leaders.
Before PTM mobilization internationally, the world knew the Pashtun people through the Pakistani diplomats’, army generals’ and political leaders’ fake created narratives, as religious extremists, terrorists and Taliban who love guns not education, developments
or to be part of the modern world. PTM defused these fake narratives and presented the real picture of the Pashtun people, who is a proud nation with a rich and beautiful culture.
Moreover, PTM has, through peaceful protests and sit-ins, sent a message to the world communities that we are victims of an ongoing imposed external war and terrorism. Manzoor Pashteen recreated the actual image of the Pashtuns for which we have been known for thousands of years, and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Frontier Gandhi is a
great example of our struggle for peace, harmony, education, equality and respect
for every human being, non-violence. We have al ways been against religious Levsa Bayankhail extremism or using our religion for political gains, for which Pakistan politics and army have been known for Pakistan uses terrorism as an important instrument for
its foreign policy, and they have killed thousands of Pashtuns and Baloch in the name of the US-led “war on terror” in the Pashtun belt on both sides of the imposed Durand Line. Pakistan is ruled and run by thousands of Rao Anwars, and they are very powerful, so I think it is answered itself to why he gets away with his crimes.

Q: How would you describe the status of human rights of Pashtuns in Pakistan? Are they
treated equally by Islamabad when it comes to economic development?
A: Pashtuns are treated as second class citizens in Pakistan when it comes to political rights, economic development. Furthermore, Pashtuns have no rights over their natural resources and Islamabad is looting the resources and grabbing their land in FATA. Pashtuns have been subjected to state terrorism, radicalizations and the worst kind of human rights abuses, in the form of enforced disappearances, abductions, torture
and killings by so-called “unknown gunmen” (which is well known to the establishment and the army, but the term is used by the deep state to cover their crimes).

Q: How has the PTM’s advocacy influenced public discourse and government policies regarding Pashtun rights and issues in Pakistan?
A: PTM’s strong commitment to nonviolent discipline has put huge public pressure on Pakistani army generals and Islamabad. Thousands of Pashtuns have been able to return
home, despite the challenges and difficulties the PTM leadership and supporters are facing from the army and ISI. Many of the security force check-posts have been dismantled, where Pashtuns were facing discrimination and violence on a daily basis. The enforced disappearances, abductions cases and extra judicial killings have significantly decreased
since 2018, but they are still facing state repression and we have lost young, talented
and educated activists.

Q: What challenges has the PTM faced in raising awareness about Pashtun grievances?
A: Media blackout in Pakistan, both locally and nationally. Nobody is allowed to cover anything about PTM and the Pashtun charismatic leader and founder of PTM, Manzoor Pashteen. The Pakistani army accuses PTM leaders and activists in Pakistan of being traitors, and there are blanket bans on the protests around the country through use of
laws and fake cases against them. PTM activists are facing arbitrary arrests and unlawful detentions by the Pakistani police and army and they have kept many of the activists behind bars for years now. Manzoor Pashteen has been unlawfully detained and recently ab
ducted after he got bail from the court. PTM has not got so much support and attention from the international media out lets and political leaders. The movement continues its struggle in spite of huge pressure and crackdown from Islamabad and the army, arbitrary arrests, fake terrorism cases and many threats from the non-state actors that PTM is facing. The establishment uses different means to damage and weaken the movement,
as PTM is a big threat to Pakistan state-sponsored terror activities in the region for which Pashtuns have paid the highest price.

Q: Why is the issue of “missing persons” not ending, despite international media too raising this?
A: The issue of missing people is very complicated and very important for the movement, because thousands of Pashtuns have been abducted and disappeared from Pakhtunkhwa,
FATA and other Pashtun and Baloch areas in various conspiracies. But Pakistan’s government, especially the army, has denied it all the time, and does not provide any evidence to the public or the court. A good example is the young Pashtun model, Naqeebullah Mahsud from Karachi, who was killed by Rao Anwar.

Q: The PTM has faced allegations from the Pakistani government and army of being influenced by foreign agendas. How do you respond to these allegations?
A: The government of Pakistan, the army along with their non state actors, have always been accusing PTM and political parties, particularly PTM from the day it was mobilized, that these parties are being strengthened with the help of foreigners. Their motive is to silence and hijack the movement of the marginalized nation, so they cannot ask for their rights and the demands from the government. The Pakistani Army is afraid of being exposed to the world community for what crimes they have done to the Pashtuns people
during the so called war on terror, that is why they have no other option, but to accuse peaceful human rights movement.
PTM leader, Manzoor Pashteen has always challenged the establishment to provide proof
इस शब्द का अर्थ जानिये
to the public for the accusations and propaganda they are spreading against PTM.
Our response from day one have been the same, and that is the message of peaceful protests, sit-in and we are demanding the Pakistani state and the international community to put pressure on Pakistan to take account ability for the war crimes and human rights atrocities they have done to the Pashtun people, and to stop using our areas for international terrorism activities.

Q: Pashtuns, along with the Baloch, constitute one of the largest ethnic groups in Pakistan. Mahrang Baloch recently ended her one-month-long pro test. PTM too had done a sit in
protest in 2018. The causes for both these developments were the same, police and army
atrocities. Clearly, these social and people movements are not having the desired impact on the officials. What now?
A: The reason why there has not been a positive development or outcome is, even though there have been many demonstrations and sit-ins in Pakistan by PTM and Baloch human
rights activists, there has not been much support and focus from around theworld and regional powers. Especially the western part of the world—especially the United States, which leads world politics/order, and has the power to bring about a change if it wants to. Ironically, Pakistan has been one of the main and most important allies of the US in war
on terror. Additionally, the world is preoccupied with what is going on in Ukraine and Gaza. Human rights have always been politicized by those who have the power to lead and change world politics. Had there been such huge protests and human rights movements like PTM in other countries, I believe the world would have paid attention to them and listened to their grievances. For the world, Pashtuns are lesser humans; their lives aren’t as
important as the Ukrainian people. Having said that, we will continue to fight for our rights and against extremism.

Q: Pakistan military has termed both PTM and the activities of Baloch groups as part of a “separatist” movement. Do you call for a separate Pashtun country?
A: As you are aware of the situation Pashtun people are facing for decades and most of the world leaders and big powers have shown zero solidarity and sympathy with the Pashtun people. So, for the time being, I am not going to comment on this. Right now, our focus
is to improve the basic human rights of our people, and not to put our people’s lives at risk as the Pashtun people have lost a lot to the wars that were not ours, but imposed by big powers and the neighbourhood. PTM is a unique and organic movement and the Pashtun
people will decide what they want for themselves in the future.

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