Lahore: “We are asking state institutions to act in accordance the country’s constitution. Is that an anti-state demand?” Manzoor Pashteen, a leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, asked a gathering of students from various colleges and universities of the city on Tuesday.
“If that is so, then are the constitution and the laws drafted under it also anti-state?” he followed up with another rhetorical question to highlight the absurdity of objections raised against the recent sit-in of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement in the federal capital.
The sit-in had sought justice for Naqeebullah Mehsud and countless other Pashtun citizens who have been suffering for decades due to the country’s regional policy of supporting Islamist proxies, and using the FATA region as a buffer between settled territories and the western neighbour.
Besides students, the gathering at the Progressive Students Collective office included college lecturers, journalists, and trade union and rights activists.
Pashteen said that according to official figures Rao Anwar was responsible for extrajudicially killing more than 400 people. “This went on for several years. Were the law enforcement and security agencies of the country not aware of these extrajudicial killings? Why did nobody act against him until we stood up against this injustice,” he asked.
Pashteen highlighted that peaceful civilians of tribal areas had suffered at the hands of the Taliban as well as security personnel.
“Ordinary people of the region wanted peace, but whenever they spoke of peace, they suffered humiliation at the hands of Taliban and the army,” he said. He added that civilians would have been least bothered about the war if the security personnel and the Taliban had just fought among themselves, leaving them at peace to go about their lives. “But this war has affected us. It has devastated our lives, we wouldn’t be making all this effort if that had not been the case.”
Further, Pashteen criticised the mainstream media for its partial reporting of military operations in tribal areas.
He said the media had not done justice to its profession by reporting statements issued by the ISPR as facts.
He gave the example of the killing of nine people, including five children, in a South Waziristan village on October 19 [the year was not mentioned] in aerial bombardment by a PAF jet.
Recalling the aftermath of the attack, he said he was a witness to the plight of the man whose family members got killed.
“When we reached the site, we saw pieces of flesh of women and children and cattle spread all over the place,” he said, adding that the incident was reported in the media as an attack on a terrorist hideout where 13 terrorists were killed. “The children who hadn’t even started speaking yet were made to look like terrorists in the media,” he said, and the students in the gathering responded by shouting, ‘shame, shame’.
“God forbid if a child dies in Lahore. We will condemn his loss of life as vehemently as we condemn and protest the loss of lives in tribal region. We will extend solidarity on the grounds of our common humanity, not on ethno-lingual grounds.”
“Many Pakistanis raise voice and speak against the suffering of Muslims in Burma. The people of Burma are humans. We [Pashtuns], on the other hand, have to prove our humanity to the rest of the country elicit similar empathy for our suffering.”
He also discussed the humiliation suffered by tribal area residents at army check posts and the racial profiling of Pashtuns across the country.
He said whenever ISPR produced a documentary or a movie on terrorism, it depicted Pashtuns as terrorists.
Pashteen invited the students to visit the tribal areas to witness the devastation caused by military operations.
“Come with me to the tribal areas and I will show you ruins and debris where we once had settlements with flourishing markets. Visit Fata and see the difference between your life here and your condition over there.”
“Waziristan is full of natural beauty. Its no less than Murree and Abbottabad. People ask why don’t the IDPs return to Waziristan then. It is because of the humiliation they have to face everyday at the hands of security officials. They would rather work as wage labourers away from Waziristan then go back to a life of constant surveillance and humiliation.” (First published in DailyTimes)