Pashtun Long March took place on April 8 and it has been anecdotally called one of the largest peaceful protests that Pakistan has ever seen. But what exactly was this protest, that spanned the length and breadth of the country, all about?
It started with the murder of Naqeebullah Mehsud in Karachi which created an uproar in the country, among the Pashtun community
Naqeebullah was an ordinary citizen aspiring to be a model. However the Chief of Police of the Malir District in Karachi, Rao Anwar, ended up killing him in what is being called a “terrorist encounter”.
This murder of an allegedly innocent young man under the garb of terrorism was noticed by human rights activists
There was an outcry against the murder on social media, where people rightfully questioned why an innocent citizen was killed in a fake encounter.
#RaoAnwar will be easily freed now because Sindh Police and Govt will try to save him by any means.
We request CJP Saqib Nisar to establish JIT consisted members of Kp and Balochistan, otherwise Naqeebullah would never get justice under the inquiry of Sindh Police.
— Sehar Shinwari (@SeharShinwari) March 22, 2018
Naqeebullah belonged to the “Mehsud” tribe. These are Pashtuns, originally from the tribal belt of Pakistan and they felt it was an act of violence targeting Naqeebullah for his ethnicity
We demand CJP to impart justice to the bereaved family of Naqeebullah Mehsud by hanging Rao Anwar in public. He brutally murdered 440 innocent people in fake encounters. His facilitators and supporters must also be given punishments.@PakhtunR @PashtunTahafuz @manzoorpashteen pic.twitter.com/2s87cQQJuW
— Jawwad Sayyed (@Jawwad110) March 22, 2018
After the 9/11 attacks, the Pashtun tribe has been particularly targeted because of the way they “look”. The term “missing person” has become a part of the common vocabulary and over 1400 cases of enforced disappearances are lying pending before the Commission on the enquiry of these disappearances.
The tribal belt, particularly the area of Waziristan, came under fire for the influence of terrorists in the region. Pashtuns were persecuted in the process because of their looks and even those who fled the area could not have a decent life. A case in point is definitely that of Naqeebullah Mehsud.
This snowballed into what became the Pashtun Long March
This extrajudicial killing prompted this tribe to join forces and call out people to protest these brutalities resulting in the loss of life of several innocent people. And all because of lack of research and a particular profiling of a certain tribe to fit the extremist outlook.
The Pashtuns called for a country wide protest to register their protest against these killings and disappearances. According to them, there is a general negative behavior toward them from the state apparatus and they are generalized into being affiliated with “terror” outfits.
— #PashtunLongMarch (@gul_marjan) April 1, 2018
Pashtuns are the second largest ethnic community in Pakistan
They make up about 15 percent of the country’s population and they said that the treatment toward them has prompted them toward this movement to demand their rights, called the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement.
President Pashtoon Students Federation (PSF) Peshawar University announcing his financial, Physical, and in every tough situation support to #PTM.#PashtunTahafuzMovement#PashtunLongMarch2Peshawar pic.twitter.com/TWwSJoq7Tt
— Aimal Khan Achakzai (@Aimal74) April 2, 2018
Here we are requesting people arround the globe specifically those who believe in humanity to support #PashtunTahafuzMovement. Make one minute video insupport of #PTM. And open invitation to all Pakistanies specifically Pakhtoons to #PTM Peshawar Jalsa on 8th April,2018. #PTM pic.twitter.com/XAcAqA6T1A
— Sanna Ejaz(سیاله) (@sanaejaz2) March 27, 2018
While many young people from the Pashtun community are at the center of this movement, one man, Manzoor Pashteen, has become its face
Manzoor hails from South Waziristan and hails from a family of eight siblings with a father who is a school teacher. He allegedly became involved in political activities around 2014 and he came to prominence when led protests to demonstrate the killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud at the hands of Rao Anwar. Soon he became the founder of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement when more Pashtun tribes began joining his demonstrations.
While Manzoor Pashteen has said Pakistan Army isn’t protecting the Pashtun community, Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa recently ensured Pashteen’s father that he, and the army, supported his fight for justice.
However, Pashteen has continued to criticize the role of the military, security agencies and the government. This has led to a criminal case being registered against him for his continual criticism despite assurance from the Army chief.
For the march that happened on April 8, Pashtuns said that their movement was inclusive of others who felt like them
— Nadia Khan (@nadiapashtana1) March 29, 2018
— Ali Wazir (@Aliwazirna41) March 31, 2018
Independent Sources confirmed that after the formation of #PashtunTahafuzMovement many Talibans lef the militancy and returned back to their homes as they realised that the ongoing war is imposed on Pashtuns ..
Our struggle shall be continued for the oppressed Pashtun Nation!
— Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (@PashtunTahafuz) March 31, 2018
Their main demand was for the authorities to listen to their concerns and not repeat history by ignoring and snubbing the voices of those aggrieved by the system in place.
A way of showing solidarity was wearing the Pashteen Cap
— Nargis Afsheen khattak (@Nargisafsheen99) April 1, 2018
Here is what the protestors and supporters of the March is said to have achieved so far
- Despite the lack of mainstream media coverage, the youth have been able to mobilize people via social media and going from people to people to convince them of joining the movement;
- The movement has largely been very peaceful;
- The March has been very inclusive. They invited people from all walks of life to join the movement;
- They have managed to secure easy entry into FATA whereby residents of FATA areas recently cleared by the military only require their national identification document, and not the Watan Cards issued to them, to enter their homeland.
Mainstream media coverage was largely absent for the March and participants and observers were critical of that
While many thought that the government was imposing this “blackout”, Malik Achakzai, a journalist who covers conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan regions tweeted that there were technical difficulties in broadcasting about the March.
After the Pakistani media blackout the @bbcpashto reporter confirms that there are technical issues that disrupt live coverage of the #PashtunLongMarch2Quetta as he was going to broad cast the gathering live through @bbcworldservice web-page https://t.co/KFv8VpU0d0
— Malik Achakzai (@MalikAchkJourno) March 11, 2018
Regardless, there were a large number of people (many of them journalists associated with mainstream media companies) who remained critical of the mainstream media for its “blackout” over coverage given to the Pashtun Long March
The media blackout of the PTM is exactly how not to deal with disaffection. If Pakistan's citizens can't make their voices heard after years of war, what else is there?#PashtunLongMarch2Peshawar #PashtunTahafuzMovement
— Asad Rahim Khan (@AsadRahim) April 8, 2018
Have never been at a rally demanding basic human rights, such as an end to encounter killings and enforced disappearances, that has been as big as this. #PashtunTahafuzMovement #PashtunLongMarch2Peshawar pic.twitter.com/e5xT4bKUtC
— Asad Hashim (@AsadHashim) April 8, 2018
At the rally on April 8, men and women participated in large numbers in the gathering
— ھاشم پشتین (@HashiMandokhail) April 8, 2018
— Fazel Fazly (@FFazly) April 8, 2018
If such a huge number of people gathered to make their voices heard, this is not something to be ignored
An organic grassroots movement stemming from decades of systematic oppression. Inspiring to watch as pashtoons come together to say enough is enough. Stop with the targeted abductions, harassment and killings. #PashtunTahafuzMovement pic.twitter.com/qktkavZeTF
— Dr. PAhad ? (@DrPAhad) April 8, 2018
Whatever grievances that the Pashtun community has deserve to be heard and given proper notice by the relevant authorities. Addressing genuine problems that various communities of our country raise will enable us to band together and fight against external forces that may want to cause problems. Ignoring such a large community will only result in further animosity and aggravate problems.
Here’s hoping that the Pashtun community can find answers to their problems because they’re an integral part of Pakistan with longstanding contributions to the development, security and improvement of this country.
Cover image via: @Stouryani1 / Twitter