Pakistan’s political parties have urged the government to exercise restraint in handling the grass-roots Pashtun Protection Movement (PTM), arguing that the military’s crackdown and potential collision with PTM could threaten the stability of the South Asian nation.
On Monday, the government arrested PTM activist Gulalai Ismail for what officials call an “anti-state speech” she made in Peshawar that allegedly “incited Pashtuns against the government and armed forces.”
Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar, two other prominent leaders of PTM, who are also members of the national assembly (MNAs), are in prison after the Anti-Terrorist Court ruled against them for allegedly inciting the deadly clash on May 26 at Kharqamar check post in North Waziristan.
Pakistan’s political parties have warned about the dangers of confrontation with PTM.
The president of Punjab-based Pakistan Muslim League (PML), Shahbaz Sharif, declared that internal discord would “benefit the enemies of Pakistan.”
“Political dialogue should be utilized if there’s disagreement, as guns can’t resolve issues,” Sharif tweeted following the incident in Kharqamar. “Internal discord will benefit the enemies of Pakistan.”
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Pakistan’s People’s Party (PPP) chairperson, also weighed in on the issue and warned against labeling citizens “traitors” when they talk about “rights, democracy and civil rule of law.”
Bilawal added to the voices of other opposition politicians who urge the country’s powerful army to remember the lessons of the 1971 crackdown on dissidents that led to the creation of Bangladesh.
The government, however, refuses to back down.
Iftikhar Chaudhry, the deputy secretary of information for Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) — the country’s ruling party — told VOA that “PTM constitutes terrorists who do not respect the constitution.” He accused the group of receiving “foreign funds.”
Chaudhry downplayed the PTM’s prominence and challenged the movement to prove their support in the upcoming polls for the tribal region.
The merger of Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province last year means more parliamentary seats will be contested in Bajaur, Mohmand, Kurram and Orakzai, as well as North and South Waziristan.
“Let them stand in the local parliamentary elections and see how they fare,” Chaudhry told VOA.
PTM’s leader, Manzoor Pashteen, rejected the allegations that his movement receives foreign support. He told VOA that it is “insulting to say we work for a foreign agenda.”
Pashteen said they simply want the army to defend the borders and hand over checkpoints to local police.
“Search operations, harassment and detention by security agencies at check posts have made locals welcome our movement with open arms,” he added.
An internal government document titled “Clash and Causalities in North Waziristan,” obtained by local Pakistani media outlets, blames the PTM MNAs, namely Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, for instigating months of anti-state violence in North Waziristan areas — Tochi Valley, Dattakhel, Alwara, Admi Kot, Doga Macha, Kharqamar, Degan and Boya.
As reported by Dawn, Pakistan’s prominent English-language newspaper, the document alleges that PTM supporters have attacked security forces at check posts in North Waziristan.
Brig Haris Nawaz — among the few defense analysts cleared by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) to speak to media — alleged that PTM’s demand that the army should leave the tribal region ties in with the “enemy agenda.”
“We have … evidence of who met with which intelligence agency,” Brig Haris told VOA, adding that the movement takes funding from Afghan, Indian and Israel’s intelligence agencies.
He said that the PTM’s demand that the army should leave FATA would hamper Pakistan’s army efforts to clear the border areas of the Taliban.
“We have worked hard to clear the Taliban from the border areas, while the PTM is trying to exploit the situation to its advantage. We do not want Pakistan to be constantly engaged in internal problems,” he added.
The PTM sees the ongoing crackdown against its members differently. It alleges that the Pashtun-based movement has disrupted the army’s long-term control and nurturing of militancy in the tribal region.
Gul Pashan, a PTM activist who was among those dispersed at the Iftar [Ramadan dinner] protest gathering in Peshawar earlier this month, told VOA that the army still differentiates between “good Taliban,” and “bad Taliban.”
Manzoor Pashteen spoke with more restraint.
“We seek to uphold the constitution and are so peaceful that we don’t even allow licensed guns at our rallies,” he told VOA.
Pashteen, who negotiated with the ruling PTI government after the Kharqamar clash, said giving money to victims was not enough. Instead, he called for a full-fledged investigation into the incident.
“The government needs to punish all those involved in killing PTM protesters so that such incidents do not happen again,” he stressed.