A new Pashtun movement has erupted in Pakistan, mobilizing hundreds-of-thousands of people across the country, with tens-of-thousands attending its public meetings. The state apparatus and the entire ruling class, including all establishment political parties, are trembling at the sight of this huge movement, which originated from the most backward areas of the country – where it was least expected.
Article originally published on 6 April 2018. We re-publish it today in light of the recent crackdown on supporters of the Pashtun movement, as a result of which, seven of our comrades were abducted.
The movement started with the killing of 28-year-old Naqeeb ullah Mehsud in Karachi by a notorious Police officer Rao Anwar on 13 January. Naqeeb ullah belonged to the Mehsud tribe of North Waziristan and was a shopkeeper in Karachi when he was killed under mysterious circumstances. According to his Facebook posts he seems like a fun-loving boy who liked tribal dance and songs. On the other hand, Rao Anwar is famous for land-grabbing, and the use of extortion and murder to settle personal disputes. According to reports he has killed at least 444 people between 2011 and 2018, but not a single inquiry has been made against him. Rao Anwar was also involved in the killing of Murtaza Bhutto in 1996. It is common knowledge that this brutal police officer works for the secret services of Pakistan and is their main instrument to get things done. According to reports he is also close to former president and leader of PPP, Zardari, and the richest man in Pakistan, real estate tycoon (meaning ‘land grabber’), Malik Riaz.
For Rao Anwar, this killing was business as usual, but contrary to his plans, his actions have sparked a huge movement among Pahstuns in Pakistan. After the murder, initial protests were held in Karachi in which Pashtuns, mainly from Mehsud tribe, came out to protest against this act of brutality. After that, a long march left D.I.Khan near Waziristan on 26 January and reached Islamabad on 1 February, demanding justice for Naqeeb ullah and capital punishment for his killers. The long march was led by a 24-year-old Manzoor Pashteen. The protesters called this long march the Mehsud Tahafuz (Protection) Movement, but soon Pashtuns from other tribes joined and in the next few days it was named the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). When these protesting tribesmen reached Islamabad they got a huge response and a sit-in was organized, which continued for 10 days. More than 15,000 people came to attend this sit-in and fiery speeches were made against the state and its atrocities towards tribal people and Pashtuns in general.
The protesters’ main demands included the arrest and execution of Rao Anwar and his accomplices; the end of state repression in all tribal areas of Pakistan and of Pashtuns generally; the removal of army checkpoints, where ordinary people are humiliated on a daily basis, waiting for hours in queues to go to their homes; the end of the discriminatory Watan Card and for clearing all landmines planted in tribal areas, which have amputated and killed many innocents, including children. Finally, one of the core demands was to produce 32,000 ‘missing’ persons, who have actually been abducted by the army on spurious charges of suspicious activity.
North Waziristan is one of the seven tribal agencies of Pakistan, which are called FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas). These areas on the border of Afghanistan were used by British Imperialism as a buffer zone against Afghanistan and Russia when they drew the Durand Line in 1893. After the so-called Independence since 1947, the status of these areas has not changed and they are one of the most backward parts of the country. The laws and constitution of Pakistan are not applicable and basic facilities are scarce, including schools, hospitals and even water. When the Americans started an imperialist Dollar Jihad against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, these areas were used as a launching pad to send Jihadis into Afghanistan with the support of Pakistani state. Later, in the so-called War on Terror since 2001, these areas were used as safe havens for Taliban and other Islamic fundamentalists, while US Imperialism used drones to attack their former friends.
Though US Imperialism and the Pakistani state were apparently waging a war against the Taliban and Islamic fundamentalism, in reality this was a war against the ordinary people of these areas in which Islamic fundamentalists were accomplices of Pakistani state and US Imperialism. All these crimes of the Pakistani state and US imperialism are now coming to the surface through this movement.
The leader of this movement is Manzoor Pashteen, who has become a mass figure among Pashtuns in just two months. In his speeches and video messages he simply describes the atrocities of the Pakistani state and army in so-called operations against the Islamic fundamentalism. According to him, in one incident children and women were killed in an aerial bombing by the Pakistan air force, to which he was an eyewitness. But when he reached a nearby city safely next day and read the newspapers it was reported that several terrorists have been killed by an air attack. He has also revealed that the homes of ordinary people were destroyed and/or looted by army personnel. In his speeches he has also related incidents in which army officers were seen holding meetings with Taliban leaders they were supposed to kill or arrest.
He has also described the incidents of humiliation at army checkpoints in North and South Waziristan and other areas in FATA, where ordinary people are punished severely if they even speak up. The plight of families of thousands of ‘missing persons’ is also appalling. They wait for their loved ones for years but can never find out what happened to them. No cases are registered on behalf of such people and no government official knows their whereabouts. Their families don't know whether they have been killed by the army on fake charges of terrorism or are still alive, rotting in some undeclared prison.
Manzoor Pashteen has raised serious questions about army ‘operations’ going on in these areas for more than decade now. He says that army officers are in complete collaboration with Taliban and other Islamic fundamentalists and he is an eyewitness to many meetings between them. He says this is common knowledge for people of these areas that many army officers and Taliban members are good friends. But ordinary people are suffering due to these operations and hundreds-of-thousands were displaced from their homes, becoming refugees in their own country.
All these discussions have encouraged thousands of other people to come out and raise their voices over these atrocities and share their own stories from the ‘War on Terror’. Inspired by this movement, huge protests have been organized in tribal areas of Bajaur and Landi Kotal, bordering Afghanistan. In Landi Kotal, 17 persons from a working-class family went ‘missing’ for many months following charges of terrorism. The women and children of this family were left in destitution and misery without anything to eat or drink. Locals protested with MPs and other officials demanding their return but it seemed hopeless. But inspired by this movement, a huge protest was held in this backward area on the border. The protest ended when all those ‘missing’ were returned.
A protest against army checkpoints was also held in Swat, in which around 200 people assembled on the main road. The first response from the state was sending death threats, alongside other measures, including registering a legal case against those who organized the protest. But this met with a fierce response in which a much larger protest was organized. In the end the state had to withdraw all its cases and the checkpoints were eased for the people of Swat.
Last month, the PTM organized along march from D.I.Khan to Quetta, with public meetings in Zhob, Qila Saifullah, Khano Zai and finally in Quetta, which is the capital of Balochistan. This got a marvelous response amongst Pashtun communities. Tens-of-thousands of people attended these public meetings, in which similar discussions attacking the brutal role of the army and Pakistani state were held. In a small city of Zhob, the army tried to sabotage the public meeting by arranging a football match between two local teams, as well as a cultural festival. But the football teams refused to play the match, and despite all measures taken against it, the public meeting was attended by thousands of people. In Qila Saifullah, a case was registered against the leadership of the PTM, but due to pressure from the movement, the state authorities were forced to quash the case on an order of the High Court.
In Quetta, the public meeting attracted more than 50,000 people from all over Balochistan. Ordinary people from other oppressed nationalities also attended this meeting, including Baloch and Hazaras. A huge military operation is also underway against Baloch Nationalists, in which hundreds of political workers have been killed and tortured and their mutilated bodies thrown in the rubbish by the Pakistani state. This operation is targeted more at ordinary people, including women and children, then those waging armed struggle. There is a seething resentment against the Pakistani state among Baloch masses and they are looking for ways to carry this struggle forward. Hazara in Quetta are also persecuted by Islamic fundamentalists with complete support from the Pakistani state. In a city where army checkpoints are present after every kilometer, these terrorists kill Hazaras on a regular basis without ever being confronted or arrested. A Hazara woman also addressed the public meeting in Quetta, which shows the huge potential for this movement to link with other oppressed groups in Pakistan. The presence and mobilization of women around this movement is a progressive development in this deeply conservative and backward society. The public meeting was followed by a mass sit-in by Hazaras in Quetta, following a recent killing of one of their number. It has now entered its fifth day.
The PTM is holding a meeting in Peshawar on 8 April, for which preparations are being made on a mass scale. Students of Peshawar University, alongside ordinary men and women from various tribal areas, are holding meetings to build for this important meeting. Furthermore, students from universities in Islamabad are arranging buses to attend this historic public meeting in Peshawar. Even in preparatory meetings, hundreds of people are attending, while large funds are being collected to make arrangements. This meeting will be a turning point for the PTM. The long march will later head to Karachi, which has undoubtedly the largest Pashtun population of all cities in Pakistan. It will doubtlessly be greeted with enthusiasm and fervor.
This movement has raised alarm bells in the halls of power and the ruling classes are trying their best to quell a rising tide of anger and disgust. This tide is directed towards the barbaric Pakistani state, which is a stooge of US, Chinese and other imperialist powers. Initially, the ruling class tried to stop the movement through its regular measures of filing cases of sedition and official threats, but when they saw that these threats had the effect of throwing oil on a raging fire, they changed their tactics. In a recent press conference, the spokesperson of the Pakistani army, General Asif Ghafoor, called Manzoor Pashteen a "wonderful boy" and said that the army has held meetings with him and he has explained all the PTM’s positions. He said that he is ready to have further meetings. But all these ‘soft’ words have not yet made any effect on the movement – it is still raging forward. Alongside these amiable press greetings, venomous propaganda is being unleashed against the movement. It is falsely alleged that the leadership of the movement is being funded by the Indian secret services, RAW, and other enemies of Pakistan. No proof has been produced for these allegations but the media is giving full coverage to these and to press conferences that spew hatred and poison against the leadership of the movement.
The treacherous role of the media as a stooge of the ruling class can be clearly seen here. At first, it ignored the movement and tried to kill it through silence. Most people think the media can make or break any movement. It is true for bourgeois politicians, who have no base among the masses and are raised in nurseries of the establishment and then propped up through the media. But for real movements of the masses the media is just another enemy to tackle. When the ruling class saw the movement growing despite being ignored they tried to give it coverage with their own misleading interpretations. Manzoor Pashteen was also interviewed on various TV channels in which anchorpersons tried to tie him in knots. It was amazing to see people from opposing political parties have same reactionary position on this mass movement; asking similar questions and throwing doubts on the leadership.
The most important aspect of this movement is that it has exposed the rottenness of all political parties in the country, which are united in their chorus of abuse and slander. The parties in parliament have never spoken a single word against atrocities affecting tribal peoples, rather they are accomplices in unleashing hell on ordinary people. From left to right, the whole political spectrum has lost all credibility in the eyes of the masses. They no longer trust any of these parties. Though there was seething hatred against these army operations, there was no platform where people could raise their voice and wage their struggle. In such circumstances, the PTM has become the voice of the oppressed, and this has annoyed all political parties with some base among the Pashtun masses.
From religious parties like JUI and JI, who support Islamic fundamentalism, to the Pashtun nationalists of ANP and PkMAP that enjoy warm relations with the Pakistani State, all parties see this movement as a threat to their political fiefdoms and are using every measure to stop it. The leadership of ANP has openly announced that it is against this movement and has ordered its members not to attend meetings of the PTM, otherwise strict action will be taken against them. These nationalists, who are mostly former Stalinists, have abandoned their secular and anti-regime traditions long ago and have become an integral part of ruthless Pakistani state. They also sit in governments at federal and provincial level and have indulged in plunder and corruption like all the others.
This has left genuine proletarians of these parties and ordinary people to look for an alternative avenue for expressing their feelings. In fact, there is no difference among these parties and Islamic parties on the right. The brutal murder of Mashal Khan, a student of Mardan University, last year on false allegations of blasphemy, was an example of their treachery. He was opposing the corruption of university management, which is controlled by the nationalists of ANP. These nationalists then planned his murder with the goons of IJT (an Islamic fundamentalist organization), who carried out the deed on 13 April last year. All this had the complete backing of the Pakistani state, which has helped to get almost all the accused released through the courts. Many other examples of such betrayals can be cited, including a shameful agreement between the Taliban and Islamic fundamentalists and the ANP when it was in power in Pushtoonkhwa. Similarly, PkMAP is in a coalition with the right-wing PML(N) party of Nawaz Sharif, an enemy of the working-class whom the PkMAP leaders hailed as as a national hero.
The betrayal of the PPP is the biggest crime of all. This party no longer represents the workers and peasants of Pakistan; rather it has become a tool in the hands of one faction of the state. The PPP has even organized protests against the PTM in some areas but could only attract around a dozen people. Other such efforts have also met with the hatred of masses. JUI(F) – an Islamic fundamentalist party and a staunch supporter of Pakistani state and US imperialism – has also announced its public meeting on 8 April in Peshawar to counter the public meeting of the PTM but this will not be able to sabotage the movement, which is spreading like wildfire. The ruling parties of Pushtoonkhwa, PTI and JI first announced a ban on public meetings in the city and a state of emergency to counter the PTM's public meeting, but later had to retreat from this decision. They will also use administrative measures like creating artificial traffic jams, road blockades and police checkpoints in the name of security to sabotage the public meeting on 8 April, but to little effect.
All these measure show that this movement is gaining popularity among the masses and has become a real expression of anger and disgust against not only fake army operations and killings but also poverty, hunger, unemployment, disease and illiteracy, which are a result of imperialist policies. Manzoor Pashteen in a recent online message has said that these brutal army operations have mostly affected the poor, while all those who had the means to escape to safety were less affected. He said the army and Taliban both target the poor and helpless; while wealthy and influential people were mostly unharmed. This shows that class plays a significant role even in suffering.
The huge response of the masses has given enormous strength to this movement on the one hand, but has posed important challenges on the other. The movement has so far spread to some of the most backward regions of the country, including FATA and Balochistan, and now it is heading toward urban proletarian centers like Pesahwar and Karachi. It has attracted political workers from nationalist parties, students from various universities and ordinary people affected by fake army operations and Islamic fundamentalism. Many of these are from backward layers of society, which were at one time the bastion of reaction and areas of support for Islamic fundamentalism. The Pakistani state has relied on some of these elements in the past to wage wars in Kashmir and for imperialist intervention in Afghanistan, but now the tide has turned.
This shows another important dialectical contradiction where the most backward layers have waged a war against the establishment with advanced slogans, exposing the real character of the brutal state. Meanwhile the so-called educated sections of society support reactionary, right-wing parties of the ruling class like PTI and PML(N). The comparison between recent sit-ins in Islamabad by the PTM and PTI (a right-wing opposition party) also reveals this situation. The PTI sit-ins mostly consisted of people paid to be there, while the speeches merely slandered rivals, lacking a political program. Participants of these sit-ins were mostly interested in the accompanying music and dance, while speeches were a boring interlude. These sit-ins received extensive media coverage, and enjoyed the full support of the state, police and Islamists, who never thought of sending a suicide bomber to interrupt ‘un-Islamic’ music and dance.
On the other hand, the sit-in by PTM, which continued in Islamabad from 1-10 February, was all about real issues and a political program to resolve them. No one paid the participants to attend; nor were they getting any cash handouts from a general for travel or daily meals, as had occurred at a staged sit-in of Islamic fundamentalists from TLY in Islamabad a few weeks ago. All participants of the PTM sit-in made sacrifices to stay there and were interested in the speeches made from the stage, as well as devising further strategies for their struggle. One of the most enthusiastic responses from the audience was to the speech delivered by Comrade Umer Riaz of the IMT, who not only supported the demands of the PTM but also exposed the class character of state. This speech was met with rousing applause and all the participants the sit-in (especially the youth) greeted the speech passionately. The media completely ignored this sit-in and there were threats of a police crackdown or a terrorist attack, both of which would have had state backing.
But later on, the sit-in was occupied by reactionary elements and leaders of reactionary political parties, who were allowed to speak from stage. These leaders were coming to calm down the movement and direct it towards legal, parliamentary or other such futile methods. But all these approaches have so far failed and the movement is advancing past them.
This has also posed important questions for the leadership, concerning how the movement should proceed. At the moment there are all kinds of currents in the movement (both left and right-wing) and it has no clear, ideological base. Due to presence of many political workers from nationalist parties the origins of movement from Pahstun areas, nationalist ideas are dominating. Some of the leaders are ex-Marxists, now representing the right-wing of the movement, who put forward a narrow, nationalist line that will isolate the movement and could lead to its downfall. The main leadership has so-far discouraged such tendencies but they are still present.
In the public meeting in Zhob, when one of the speakers said that we are waging a battle against Lahore, referring to the imperialist role of Punjab, Manzoor Pashteen said that our battle is not against Lahore but against GHQ, referring to the role of army generals. The presence of Baloch and Hazaras at the public meeting in Quetta also shows that this movement has the ability to unite all the oppressed nationalities of Pakistan. In the PTM protests and sit-ins in Karachi; Sindhis, Mohajirs and people of other oppressed nationalities have come to the stage and expressed their feelings against state oppression. This shows a way forward that can unite oppressed people from Karachi to Giglit-Balitsitan on the same platform and wage a united struggle against the imperialist state, dominated by a Punjabi ruling elite.
Another weak aspect of the movement is that it invites all political parties to attend their meetings, even though they are trying to sabotage it. These political parties do not represent the real aspirations of the masses and are rotten to the core. These parties are an important tool of the state to keep the masses oppressed and subjugated. Rather than seeking the friendship of these corrupt leaders and their parties, it is important to look towards movements of the workers and peasants spread around the country.
Even in Pushtoonkhwa and Balochistan, thousands of workers from the public and private sectors are raising demands almost every day. Recently, there have been huge movements of school teachers, young doctors, hospital workers, nurses, factory workers, PWD workers, BDA and many others in Pushtoonkhwa and Balochistan. There are similar movements in Punjab, Sindh and Gilgit-Baltistan. Huge movements of peasants and small farmers in Punjab have also risen to the surface recently. All these movements are natural allies of the PTM and will give it strength by supporting its demands. But for that, it is important to get rid of all reactionary political parties and ban their organized participation in the public meetings. It is also important to support these movements of workers and peasants in various sectors and extend our solidarity to them.
A huge movement against privatization of public sector departments is also going on in important departments like WAPDA, PIA, railways, steel mills and elsewhere. Solidarity with these movements will also strengthen the class character of the PTM and will make it a movement of the Pakistani proletariat. Only the working class can ensure the complete freedom of the oppressed nationalities from the imperialist state and has the potential to wage a decisive battle for freedom, not only from national oppression, but also class exploitation and wage slavery.
The next stage will inevitably open these ideological discussions inside the movement and the battle of ideas will begin. Marxists have intervened in this struggle from the very beginning and are explaining their positions to the masses everywhere. They were present in all PTM meetings thus far and are making preparations for the public meeting on 8 April. The Marxists in Peshawar University have organized several student bodies on one platform and are preparing a joint delegation of students to attend this public meeting. They have unconditionally supported the demands of PTM but have also asked to add their own demands. One of the main student demands is that checkpoints and the presence of the army, paramilitarists (Rangers) and police should end in all education institutes. They further demand that a ban on students unions should be immediately lifted and elections held in all universities and colleges. Managing the security of these institutes should be undertaken by elected representatives of students, because the army and other state institutions have failed to protect students from terrorists time and again. The incident at the Army Public School and many others are proof of this incompetence, and of collaboration between the state and terrorists. These students also demand that education should be free for everyone in the country and that private educational institutes should be nationalized.
Marxists representing worker organizations are also participating in these public meetings and have highlighted the importance of linking the movement with the working class. The next May Day is an important occasion when the PTM can extend solidarity to workers of the country and announce joint struggle against this rotten state.
At this point, it is important to understand the class structure of the state. So far, the leadership of the PTM has said that they want to wage their struggle through legal and constitutional means. But the demands raised by PTM are not feasible under the current state apparatus. The present state of Pakistan represents the interests of the Pakistani ruling class, along with those of the US and other imperialist powers. Within the confines of this state and its laws and constitution, it is impossible to bring peace and prosperity to the masses.
The crisis of the capitalist system at an international and local level is deepening the crisis in the economy and destabilizing the status quo. The war between various imperialist powers across the region is bringing more destruction and misery down upon ordinary people. The issues faced by the masses of FATA and other Pashtun areas of the country are the inevitable result of this crisis. This crisis has also provoked the Pakistani ruling class to start a spiteful and vicious campaign against Afghans living in Pakistan. The state not only ravaged their country through imperialist intervention but also used refugees as a tool to beg for financial aid from the rest of the world. While the coffers of the state were filled with ‘aid’ from international donors, the refugees were living a miserable life in destitution and poverty. Now a malicious campaign has started in which Afghans are being humiliated and arrested just for being Afghans.
The Durand Line drawn by British Imperialists, dividing the Pashtuns, is also being strengthened by the state, which is enacting more measures to divide families. The Pashtun nationalists have abandoned their rhetoric of ‘Pashtun unity’ across the divide and are enriching themselves across the border. Pashtun unity is not possible under capitalism.
The only way out of the current morass of drone attacks, fake army operations, nationalist oppression, poverty, misery and unemployment is to wage a struggle against all the forces of reaction on class lines. It is important to identify the enemies and friends of this movement and draw clear battle lines between them. All sections of the ruling class, Pakistani state and political parties are enemies of the movement in one way or another. Neither the judiciary, bureaucracy nor any other department of the state can offer any solution. Rao Anawar’s princely reception at the Supreme Court and treatment of his case show the real intentions and character of the state. He is an important tool of the state, which will try its utmost to protect him. Even if he is removed under the pressure of the movement, hundreds of similar police officers are waiting to fill his place. In this country, every police station has an officer like Rao Anwar, willing to protect the interests of the ruling class by terrorizing common people. To get rid of these elements it is necessary to get rid of the state and the capitalist system.
The imperialist powers from the US, to China, to Saudi Arabia, to Iran and India are also enemies of the Pakistani masses and there should be no illusions in any of them. Some people will say that we should not offend everybody at the same time and take one step after another. But this will harm the movement, as we have seen in many other cases in which nationalist movements have become proxies in the hands of Imperialist powers that use them for their own interests. It is important to condemn all kinds of imperialist intervention that support this brutal state and have propped it from the beginning for the imperialists’ strategic needs in the region. US imperialism in fact started and sponsored this menace of Islamic fundamentalism and later paid the Pakistani state to carry out its fake army operations. Now they are fighting over their own interests but can never be friends to the oppressed, nor can they ever bring peace or prosperity. The merest glance at Afghanistan reveals that US imperialism has miserably failed there, economically, strategically and militarily.
The real friend of this movement are the working classes of Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries of the region. If the leadership of this movement fails to acknowledge these ideological lines it will stumble into a quagmire of deceit and betrayal. Hopefully, this will ultimately pave way for more radical and advanced movements, and a leadership with a clearer approach towards these questions.
At the moment, many activists in the movement are trying to organize on city and district levels. But organization is always based on the goals and ideology of the movement. If the PTM’s objectives are not clarified, it will remain loose and confused. In the coming days there will be attacks on the movement from within and without, which is why it is important to get organized on clear ideological lines to defend the movement against these attacks.
Participation in upcoming general elections is also an important tactical question and should be addressed with care. Many opportunists would like to use this platform for their political careers and will emphasize participation for personal gain. Such careerists are dangerous for the movement and might try to sell it out. But to use parliament as a means to achieve the aims of movement is a different question. For that, a clear understanding of the state and parliament in class society is necessary. In this system, reforms are not possible through constitutional amendments or passing resolutions in parliament. It is important to overthrow this whole rotten system and class society, even to achieve the smallest reforms for the masses. Elections and parliament can be used to spread one’s voice to wider layers of society, but to create illusions in these methods would be criminal.
How the movement addresses these questions will determine its future. But whatever happens, it is certain the status quo has been shaken and revolutionary politics are reborn in the country. This is a huge step forward and will lead to the re-emergence of radical ideas on a much wider scale. The vacuum opened by the rotten political parties of the status quo will be filled by a new, ideological battle between the left and right. The Marxists will intervene in this battle with full force and will try to reach wider layers of the working class. Meanwhile, we will also strengthen our ranks on the basis of our revolutionary socialist ideas. We will highlight every strength of the movement against the state and use all our forces to defend it, but will also point out its weaknesses to avoid any mistakes. Furthermore, we will try to link with the other movements of the working class. In this way, we will build our forces to deliver a decisive war against this outdated capitalist system and blood-soaked state through a socialist revolution.
The capitalist system in Pakistan and across the world has reached a blind alley and is destroying the lives of millions of people. Only through revolution it can be laid in its grave the masses liberated from state brutality, terrorism, poverty, hunger, misery, illiteracy and disease. Only then can the people breathe a sigh of relief and live in peace and prosperity.