Ethnicity and identity politics are increasingly powerful and influential hallmarks of Pakistani politics and will continue to be as such in our coming times, for all the wrong reasons.The Pakhtun long march in Islamabad, which started on February 1, is seen by many as an ethnic expression of Pakhtun resentment.Hence, many liberal voices and groups were indifferent as they are unable to understand the spirit behind it.
To war-torn and oppressed Pakhtuns, the ongoing protest was not about identity politics and position of Pakhtuns in the Pakistani polity. It was a voice and expression against repression and militarization – a gathering of subaltern voices on a platform to discuss issues rendered taboo in the authoritarian contexts.
The Mehsud Tahaffuz Movement (MTM), a local rights group joined by the Pakhtuns from all over Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, led the march and protest. The most beautiful aspect of the sit-in was non-violence and tolerance, a message and philosophy of Pakhtun leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan against the oppressive colonial masters. It was a peaceful protest with no propensity towards violence,unlike many violent and intolerant protests and sit-ins in Islamabad by different other groups and parties.
The youth of Mehsuds united all Pakhtuns and brought them to Islamabad for several reasons.However, the main reason behind the march towards Islamabad was that in FATA they are not be allowed to protest due to repressive colonial FCR– they also wanted to record their miseries in the capital of Pakistan. The voices echoing in the march reflected the exclusion of tribes people from the mainstream power and economic activities and their legitimate grievances – such as failure to clean the area of militants and landmines, despite many military operations – were termed anti-state. These legitimate grievances turned into demands in response to the brutal killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in the port city of Karachi by police officer Rao Anwar in a fake encounter. The extra-judicial killing of young and full of life Mehsud transformed into a peaceful movement for the recovery of all missing persons. The protestors took the initiative, challenged the illicit harassing and killing of the tribesmen, and demanded to clear the deadly landmines from FATA. According to the peaceful protestors, the landmine explosions in FATA have killed hundreds of people. They questioned the state and its security apparatus, asked those responsible for their security that why after so many operations the state failed to protect the tribespeople from militants, landmines and bomb blasts. According to International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL)Pakistan has the second largest stockpile of mines with an estimated six million anti-personnel landmines.
All these demands are genuine and within the reach of government,but we can see how the state reacted to them. The government has given its written confirmation, which sounds vague and unclear. For the last 15 years, young people of FATA have experienced war,militarization, displacement from homes, racial profiling in the urban centre of Pakistan, extra-judicial killing and continuous surveillance. Above all,the proposed reforms and delay regarding FATA’s status has created unrest amongst the young and educated tribals. One of the slogans at the gathering was what is the Pakistani state’s relationship with us? Are we Pakistani or not?
It is ironic to mention that the local mainstream media ignored the rally and protest until the international media started covering it. Moreover, those who somehow felt like analysing it later declared the gathering as Pakistan’s issue and Pakistanis protesting.Some declared it meddling of the foreign powers –a typical expression of Pakistani liberal elite when they want to brush aside genuine repression and grievances. The religious elite tends to declare everything against the teachings of Islam and Islamic state of Pakistan if it fails to include their interest, as the JUI leadership did. One advice to our liberal elite and champions of Islam is that the principles of Islam and foundation of Pakistan would be weakened only by suppression and subjugation of the weak, just like it is happening at the periphery called FATA.