Pashtun Tahafuz Movement Rising Across Pakistan

Rehmah Sufi

Summary: The increasingly popular non-violent Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement (PTM), with young leaders from the northwest, is sweeping the country to demand justice in the face of state and military violence in the FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan regions, including ‘War on Terror” operations, extrajudicial killings, and disappearances. Image is of Veteran Women’s Action Forum activists at the PTM rally in Lahore. Photo credit: Tabinda M. Khan — Editors

The oppression of the Pashtun, Baloch, and other politically dispossessed people in Pakistan under cover of the “War on Terror” is well documented. There have been a few new developments on this front, both promising and terrifying. The military continues to direct “security” strategy and “development” projects in partnership with China and the Gulf states, all the while continuing heavy-handed repression of civil and human rights. Instead of recognizing the claims of indigenous people on their lands, or affording basic civil and human rights to all its citizens, the state and the military continue to criminalize them with all the might of military operations and military courts.

A new, promising movement is emerging in non-violent resistance: the Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement, led by young people. Chief among its leaders is a young man named Manzoor Pashteen. Its demands are centered on the idea of justice through the civil courts and democratic institutions of the country, and a pushback against forced disappearances, killings, and the demonization of the Pashtun people, especially through the “war on terror.” Their rallies have grown immensely and their long marches have been very well attended. They are rallying people across tribal lines to a nonviolent struggle against oppression and building solidarity with the Balochi people as well. This solidarity between the various targets of its excesses is acting as a catalyst for more heavy-handed state oppression. The state and military spokespeople are continuing to spew the tired rhetoric of foreign agents causing unrest, blaming “the west,” Israel, and India, and desperately trying to maintain public goodwill towards the military, which acts as a curtain for them to hide their anti-democratic and repressive operations against the very same public.

PTM had announced a long march to Lahore to have a large public rally on the 22nd of April. In collaboration with the Awami (People’s) Workers Party (AWP), which is the largest and most active leftist political party in Pakistan, they organized to hold the rally at the historic site of huge public rallies in Lahore, one of the 13 gates of the old city, Mochi Darwaza (Cobbler Gate). At least a dozen of PTM and AWP leaders and supporters were arrested in raids on the eve of the rally and the rally site was flooded with sewage water. Undeterred, PTM and AWP volunteers cleaned up the area and thousands of people showed up to listen, share, and support. Prominent among them were the families of missing people, uplifting the names and images of their loved ones and demanding their return. The most popular chants were: “Yeh jo Dehshatgardi hai…. Is kay peechay wardi hai” in Urdu (The uniform [military] is behind the terrorism) and “Da sanga azaadi da?” in Pushto (What kind of freedom is this?), a refrain from an anthem of the PTM. Notably, women were prominent at the rally as attendees and speakers.

Encouraging people to rise up against oppression in non-violent ways, the PTM continues to tap into the deep dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement of people across Pakistan through its long marches, rallies, and social media activism; building bridges across ethnic, linguistic, and regional divides. It was announced at the rally that the next big gathering will be in Karachi on May 12, highlighting the immense violence the city has seen with various operations of the state and the military industrial complex.

See below for some recent coverage for context, but there has largely been a media blackout on their mobilization. Unsurprisingly, Pakistani media have been playing it safe and not antagonizing the generals by closing their eyes to the strongest popular opposition the military has faced in recent times, since the latest flare of the Okara Peasants uprising in 2016. See below for a statement by journalists and editors protesting repression. You can follow #PashtunTahafuzMovement and #PashtunLongMarch2Lahore on Twitter to read more and see video coverage.

Here is one way that you can support those organizing on campuses to discuss and build solidarity with PTM:

Below is a petition being circulated by faculty members on Pakistani universities, where events to discuss the PTM have been stopped by the direct intervention of the state agencies, aided by the academic institutions’ administration. At least one teacher, Ammar Ali Jan, was also fired for organizing an event. The state has been targeting any teachers/activists/journalists with extrajudicial killings and abductions.

Here is the link to the petition:

If you are an educator at a university, please sign and share widely.

For more context and coverage, see the following:

A BBC article on the movement and Manzoor Pashteen:

Interview with the leader, Manzoor Pashteen:

An article by Shahab Saqib:

Another article with some background:

On the April 22 rally in Lahore:

On the statement by hundreds of journalists and editors protesting curbs on freedom of expression:

Account of the Lahore rally and its suppression by Awami Workers Party leader Farooq Tariq:

Introductory remarks by Ayyaz Mallick, a student, for the event on the PTM, which was cancelled by the university (Habib University):

“Below is the Preamble I prepared as moderator for the (cancelled) discussion at Habib University yesterday on Pashtun Tahafuz Movement and New Social Movements in Pakistan. My apologies as it is a bit academic, but I thought friends might find it interesting/useful. It was supposed to be an academic event, but of course “unavoidable circumstances” got in the way:

For most of upper and middle class Pakistan, FATA, Balochistan, and Gilgit-Baltistan figure more as the backdrop of our pretty Facebook and Instagram photo shares, than as places with actual people, in all their contradictory histories, and complex lived reality. As such, when popular movements emerge from these spaces, these are treated at best with surprise and incredulity, and, at worst, with the indifference and hostility which our polity and state reserve for their ever-increasing list of “enemies” and “fifth columns”. It is of course, in exactly such a time of flux, a time marked by serious crises of representation for the myriad pains and contradictions of this society, that a movement has emerged which claims and aims to embody all the grievances, and painful histories which we have visited upon our peripheries in the name of “national security”, “patriotism” and a host of other self-styled fetishes.

I am talking of course about the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, which has emerged with a popular intensity, a popular imaginary, and a popular language, which most of mainstream Pakistan has, in true colonial fashion, deemed the Pashtuns incapable of beyond the tired tropes of “foreign peddling” and “anti-state agendas”. That the PTM, in its demands with regards to FATA and security operations, is re-shaping the federation in some form is without doubt. It can be seen at the same time as a movement for civil rights, as an anti-war movement, and as the foremost thrust towards a new social contract within this country.

The PTM is also however an articulation of the changing nature of core-periphery relations in Pakistan. Because the core-periphery question or, in more traditional Marxist language, the “national question” in Pakistan is no longer, in 2018, a question of just our federating units, provinces and the relations between them. But, as the great Marxist geographer Henri Lefebvre, taking his cue from anti-colonial revolutionary-theorists like Frantz Fanon and Mulk Raj Anand, reminds us, the colonial question is now very much an urban question too, in fact it is a question of the “core” itself. In that the periphery explodes within our “core” now, giving rise to new responses, resistances, and movements. In our so-called katchi abadis, in the classed and ethnicised land grabs on the peripheries of Karachi, in the half-fry and full-fry of the Rao Anwars of this world, in the misleadingly named “gang wars” of this city, the “ethnic” question is being posed in new, more intense and arguably, more intimate forms for us today.

The PTM of course is giving form and content to this reshaped and, in all the many senses of the word, a respatialised, “ethnic” and national question in Pakistan. Its deployment of social media, its use of public squares, its claims over mines and checkpoints, all point to how the ethnic and national question is being reformulated and respatialised in today’s Pakistan. As such, of course, the questions raised by the PTM are no longer just questions of “far away” and those “other spaces” which we fawn over through our Facebooks and Instagrams, but these are integral questions for reimagining the social and scalar coordinates of our intimate, everyday and urban lives.

It is exactly this re-imagining of the social, spatial and scalar coordinates of life in today’s Pakistan by the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, that is the subject of our discussion today….”




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1 Comment

  1. Abbas

    Dear Ms Sufi, thanks very much for an enriching closer look at the PTM bubble in Pakistan.

    It would also be very helpful to have a Marxist perspective on the likely outcome(s) from such spontaneous movements, drawing on similar upheavals globally. One of the headlines of Pakistan daily “Dawn” today is “Army-PTM talks stall after promising start”.

    Where do such movements or their splinter groups end up once they are disillusioned by the (false) promises made by state and ruling classes?

    How would a Marxist analyse class character of PTM?

    Why the left should or shouldn’t have high hopes from such spontaneous movements?

    Thanks again for your insightful article.