The PTM – politics on fast-forwards

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Politics everywhere by its very nature is constantly evolving. Stars rise and fall. Power ebbs and flows. Governments come and go – and from time to time there are new kids on the block. One such is the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) led by Manzoor Pashteen who comes from a humble background, an impoverished part of Waziristan, and it is making waves rather than ripples, with indicators that this is not a mere flash-in-the-pan but has the potential to become a feature of the broader political landscape.

Like all youngsters it can be unruly, lacks polish and finesse and has the capacity to irritate its elders but not necessarily its betters. This the PTM has done and in short order raised the ire of the establishment to the point at which the DG ISPR accused the PTM of anti-state activities, an unusual open intervention in the political fray indicative of the PTM having touched any number of raw nerves for the ISPR.

The sitting government of the PTI has been caught wrongfooted by this latest political infant, and the PM Imran Khan admonished it not for what its stood for in terms of human rights, but for the way it was going about delivering its message. That message is one that needs hearing because it concerns the safety and security of the people that the PTM represents, their exposure to landmines on their ancestral lands, the thousands of people who mysteriously disappear many never to be seen again alive and the unfulfilled promises of investment and development that spans successive governments.

What sets the PTM apart is that it has sparked support and interest from non-Pashtoon people as evidenced by large rallies across the country. These rallies have received scant mainstream media attention, it is surmised because the media houses fear an Establishment backlash if they are seen to support this noisy upstart. These fears are not entirely unfounded, and there are numerous well-documented disappearances of men and women who have voiced criticism of the Establishment.

Perhaps emboldened by the PTM stance if not entirely happy with its methodologies, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has spoken up and said that the DG ISPR ‘should not be giving political statements’ – with which we agree. He went on to say that if the government has something to say about any matter then it ought to be the appropriate minister at the microphone.

He further pushed the envelope saying that it is not for the sitting government to make a military spokesman give a political statement – with the unspoken implication that the government had little choice in the matter. He stopped short of giving PPP support for the PTM but left the door ajar by saying that ‘if other political groups stand for democracy and human rights then we back those ideas.’

The PTM has struck a chord that resonates far beyond the tribal areas and Waziristan, and the people of Pakistan have responded in a way that has seemingly disturbed the establishment paradigm, brought uncertainty to the front gate and possibly sparked a wider debate as to the role of the military in the life of the nation.

This is no bad thing, indeed it may be that the nation is going to advance the democracy project by a small step – or two. For the PTM it would be wise to listen to and heed the advice of some older hands, and moderate its delivery without diluting the vitally important message that it is delivering. If the political pearl is ever to grow then the grain of sand in the macro oyster shell must be retained, protected, and not flushed out. The PTM may just have arrived at the right time and the right place – and not only for Pashtoons.