Manzoor Pashteen, a young, charismatic and influential Pashtoon leader
Manzoor Pashteen is the voice of all Pashtoons and Afghans who have been affected by the long-lasting war, mainly in Pashtoon areas at both sides of the imposed Durand line. Manzoor is a simple, but young, charismatic and influential Pashtoon leader. He is a role model for many youths and many people compare him with Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Bacha Khan for his human activism and non-violent protests against injustice and discrimination.
The 26-year-old Manzoor Pashteen was born and raised in South Waziristan. Waziristan, a mountainous tribal area, initially in Afghanistan, is now located in Pakistan’s northwest. In 1893, the British colonials which had control over India, imposed a 2,643 km border line between India (including Pakistan as then part of India) and Afghanistan to strengthen their control over the northern parts of India. This imposed line which divided the Pashtoon territory in two parts is called the Durand line, named after Mortimer Durand, a British colonial diplomat and Indian Foreign Secretary at that time. After the independence of India and the establishment of Pakistan in 1947, this large part of Afghan land was given to Pakistan.
The peaceful situation of Waziristan changed after the 9/11 attacks, when Pakistan, a US ally, joined the US-led War on Terror. In 2004, to support its ally, Pakistan’s army started military operations against Al-Qaida and other armed militant groups which were supposed to be hiding and operating in the mountains of Waziristan. While this might be true, many people ask themselves why the Taliban and Al-Qaida members were fought in the mountains of Waziristan, while their leaders lived freely in the cities of Pakistan. They traveled with Pakistani passports and attended meetings with high government and army officials. What has been going on behind the scene? While many may have the answers, they cannot reveal their hidden stories.
The military operations in the villages of Waziristan deeply affected the normal life of tribal people. During the operations, Manzoor’s family just like thousands of other people from Waziristan have been forced to leave their homes and villages and seek refuge in other parts of the country to save their lives. According to Manzoor, he and his family have been displaced four times before ending up in an Internally Displaced People camp in Dera Ismail Khan. After the end of the military operations in Waziristan, when people returned to their villages, they found only the ruins of their destroyed homes with nothing left inside!
Since 2004, Waziristan has turned into a battle field between the Pakistani army, Al-Qaida and Taliban fighters. The government established many security check posts and deployed hundreds of security forces to closely observe and monitor the security situation. However, the residents of Waziristan soon started to complain about the improper behavior of the security forces which suspected and harassed everyone, including children and women when passing through a check post.
Forced abduction and disappearing people, especially youths, was also a gift from the security forces to the residents of Waziristan! In the past twelve years, thousands of people with different backgrounds, from students to labor workers and professionals, have disappeared without any information about their whereabouts. Many people have been killed by the army without any prior criminal record or court order. An exact number of people who have disappeared and been killed is not available, and their families know nothing about the status of their missing loved ones.
Only some families received the dead bodies of their loved ones. However, thousands of others still await the return of their missing relatives, and are scared those may have faced a similar destiny!
Many people think that with these extra-judicial abductions and killings of Pashtoons, the Pakistani government plays a double game. They want to show and prove to the USA and the rest of the world that Pakistan is honest in its war against terror and makes a lot of efforts to arrest and kill Al-Qaida and Taliban members. However, in reality, Al-Qaida and Taliban leaders and members live freely in the cities in Pakistan, even in the neighborhood of government and army officials. Instead, innocent and voiceless tribal Pashtoons are arrested, put in prisons, tortured, killed and labelled as dangerous terrorists!
Manzoor and his supporters accuse the Pakistani government and army of the ongoing disaster in Waziristan and Khyber-Pukhwoonkhwa, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Manzoor claims that the government and army are discriminating against Pashtoons and other minorities in Pakistan. In an interview he said that the Pashtoons of Waziristan and all Khyber-Pukhtoonkhwa have been misused for the Proxy War in Afghanistan against Russia during the 1980s-1990s. The same happened again with the Taliban project and it continues till now in the current war against terror.
Manzoor Pashteen emphasizes that Pashtoons themselves have been victims of terrorism and have scarified a lot in past decades. During all these years, they have been kept away from education and civilization. They have been used as free fighters, abducted, killed and labelled as terrorists in different operations. Their houses and business have been destroyed and they have been forgotten and neglected by the government during all social and economic development activities.
Being fed up with the ongoing injustice, discrimination, harassments at security check posts, extra-judicial abduction and killings of people and especially after the killing of a young Pashtoon model, Naqeebullah Mehsud, by Pakistani police, Manzoor Pashteen felt the urge to break the silence and raise his voice for justice; fighting and protecting the basic rights of Pashtoons.
Since February 2018, Manzoor Pashteen and his supporters staged protests in several cities of Pakistan. During these huge protests in Waziristan, Quetta, Islamabad, Peshawar and recently in Lahore, the Pakistani media avoided covering these peaceful demonstrations, even the 10-day demonstration in the capital city Islamabad. However, despite of the media blackout, the Pashtoon Tahafuz (Protection) Movement has successfully reached the rest of the world by social media, especially Facebook and YouTube, their only broadcasting channels during the demonstrations.
The message which Manzoor Pashteen and his supporters want to convey to the world is that Pashtoons at both sides of the Durand line are not terrorists; they are labelled as terrorists. However, this nation is not terrorist, they are peace seekers, and as other nations in the world, Pashtoons are eager to live in peace and dignity. But, they are kept being involved in a proxy war which is not theirs nor do they benefit at all.
Manzoor is a simple, young but charismatic, influential Pashtoon born leader. In no time, he found millions of supporters and followers who have joined his non-violent and legitimate protests. His red hat has turned into a symbol of peace seeking, justice and non-violent protests. Many people copy his dressing style and wear his red hat to express their support. Some people compare him with Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Bacha Khan for his human activism and non-violent protests against injustice and discrimination.
Manzoor is a people’s leader and representative, he is not a politician ‘nor is he interested in politics’ he says. Unlike other Pashtoon leaders in Pakistan, Manzoor is not a safe player, he has taken the risk and raised his voice against the army: others never dare to mention their names and object against wrong doings even between the four walls of their homes, fearing for the safety of their lives. However, Manzoor is courageous and crystal clear, he accuses the army for the ongoing injustice, social and political instability in Pashtoon areas.
Manzoor, his movement and the Pashtoon uprising in Pakistan, have been warmly received and supported by Pashtoons in Afghanistan. To support and strengthen their voices, thousands of Afghans, including youths, elderly, women and children across the country in Kabul, Helmand, Ningarhar, Herat, Kandahar and several other provinces, came together and erected tents and extended their support to Manzoor Pashteen and his legitimate demands. Also, in many countries in Europe, the USA and Canada, Afghans and Pashtoons assembled to demonstrate in front of Pakistan’s embassies, accusing the Pakistani army and government of the ongoing proxy war in Afghanistan and deliberately creating unrest in Pashtoon areas at both sides of the imposed Durand line.
Many Afghans blame Pakistan for its double role in the war against terror. They argue that Pakistan is not an honest neighbor and US partner in the war against terror. They are convinced that Pakistan uses the US aid money for promoting rather than fighting terrorism in the region!
By Wahida A. Wardak, Netherlands.