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PTM: The myth and reality

Raashid Wali Janjua

PASHTUN Tahaffuz Movement originated as the Mehsud Tahauffuz Movement which was initiated by some young activists after murder of a Mehsud lad, Naqeebullah at Karachi at the hands of a PPP acolyte SSP Rao Anwaar. The foreign intelligence agencies like RAW and NDS egged on by their extra regional intelligence allies were quite upset over the loss of a valuable proxy i.e TTP by the end of 2017. They were upset because despite their best efforts to keep the pot boiling in Pakistan’s restive tribal agencies, especially North and South Waziristan, the scales had decisively tilted in favour of Pakistan Army. Something had to be done to reincarnate the TTP menace in some other shape. Naqeebullah’s murder provided one such opportunity. The murder was used as a stepping stone to mount a vicious anti-army campaign stoking fires of Pakhtun nationalism. This article would attempt to lay bare some myths and realities surrounding the PTM issue.
A myth of Pakhtun victimhood was sedulously cultivated with Goebellian persistence unleashing an epistemic Jihad in place of the violent Jihad of TTP. Pakistan Army was the bulwark that stood between the marauding hordes of TTP militants including sectarian, transnational, as well as criminal enterprises masquerading as Jihadis, and the civilian population in (erstwhile) FATA and KP. Pakistan Army and other security agencies had wrested back the control of FATA at the cost of 4500 lives while accounting for 30,000 terrorists’ lives. The saga of sacrifice was written through the doughty resilience of Pakistani soldiers and their intrepid leaders on every inch of the territory gained. The world’s highest officers-to-men casualty ratio after German Army in WWII (1:15) was achieved in FATA by Pakistan Army (1:9). As per eminent military historian Colonel Trevor N Dupuy, in WWII the German Army’s ability to inflict casualties was the best both during offence and defence.
The upshot of self-immolating spirit of Pakistan Army was sapping of insurgents’ will to fight resulting in their mental and physical dislocation. The areas that once were the preserve of TTP were sanitized through hard fought battles. Like all battles the armed engagements in FATA resulted in displacement of population to IDP camps that were also managed by Army. The centuries old social system in FATA was broken with the displacement of local Maliks by the violent Mullahs and Taliban. Interestingly the fathers and brothers of present PTM activist were rescued from the clutches of the militants by the Army and FC troops. The families including women and children were taken proper care of by provision of shelter, education and medical support while their male members either relocated elsewhere as economic migrants. Army stood between the families of the present day PTM activists and the TTP goons in the absence of their male members, a fact that is openly acknowledged by most unprejudiced denizens of FATA. Now what happened later that so inconvenienced the population to take up cudgels on behalf of Pashtun nationalism?
In order to answer the above question one has to understand the anatomy of the conflict and its post conflict rehabilitation philosophy. Since the traditional Political Agent system and the clout of its allies ie the local chieftains called Maliks, had been wiped away in a decade and a half long conflict, the vacuum was filled by the Army. Army that had suffered casualties every kilometre of its advance in TTP controlled territory now had several tasks at hand. It was responsible for holding the ground gained from TTP, fencing of the border to prevent further ingress, rebuilding of destroyed infrastructure, restoration of civic services, resettlement of IDPS, and maintaining public order in the area. Despite tall claims the civilian law enforcement and administrative apparatus failed to take over the areas cleared by the Army. Due to this administrative vacuum the people who were already suffering war weariness got disillusioned. In the twilight zone of administrative vacuum exacerbated by civilian abdication of the responsibility the Army troops came to be targeted as the oppressors who were neither removing check posts nor lowering the guard as per pre-conflict procedures. Army’s dilemma was very clear. If they removed the check posts and lowered the surveillance profile the TTP miscreants supported by RAW and NDS were ready to stage a comeback through the unfenced porous border. The shelter and support provided by such insurgents in Afghanistan was through active connivance of some erstwhile friends and some perennial foes. Even then by the end of 2017 in response to the demands of the locals the Army removed several check posts and relaxed scrutiny of the suspects.
Though the Army still persevered winning hearts and minds of the locals yet the same old extremist poison of TTP vintage was repackaged as an atavistic nationalism with secular front. The poster boys of this agitation were people like Manzur Pashteen who unwittingly became tools in the hands of RAW and NDS. The problem to an ingénue might appear a simple case of Pashtun rights as PTM speaks about missing persons, due process of law, removal of check posts and restoration of normalcy. The reality however is a lot complex in the tribal congeries of violence now hastily merged into KP. The challenges of establishing civil administration’s writ and law of the land would pose peculiar challenges due to centuries old “Pakhtunwali” customary practices like “NITAAQ” wherein a tribe has to be accorded importance as per its status in tribal hierarchy. Army needs to be supported through a matching civil administrative effort as the post conflict rehabilitation stage kicks in. Infrastructure restoration, settlement of IDPs, and restoration of normalcy are civilian functions which should be addressed at top priority by the provincial government. Army, meanwhile, needs a final push to fence the entire border and flush out the remaining pockets of militants’ resistance through an intelligence led operation. Concurrently despite the apparent obduracy and lack of sincerity of Indo-Afghan detractors, vigorous diplomatic effort should be launched to minimize the virulence of foreign intervention. Last but not the least a policy of reprisals and engagement should be launched to neutralize the PTM menace with Army leading the charge on battlefield and the government engaging on the political front.
— The writer, a Retired Brig, is a PhD scholar at NUST, Islamabad.