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Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement: A destabilising threat or a testament to its resilience?

IN the battle to vanquish militancy and terrorism from Pakistan’s midst, the armed forces have paid a high cost.

Yet Gen Qamar Bajwa’s recent comments — amongst them that this nation has a tendency of forgetting its heroes and its history — are open to question. Their heroism and sacrifices are irrefutable.

As army chief, he knows better than anyone how much we owe the return of relative stability to our soldiers’ bravery. But long-term stability both invites and demands the presence of equitable, democratic governance.

We all must remember how treating civilians as subordinates rather than stakeholders has worked out in the past. State and society alike might start, then, by viewing the emergence of young protesters advocating for justice under the banner of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement not as a destabilising threat to this country, but as a testament to its resilience.

While the manufacturing of dissent and, to add, the engineering of elections are real dangers to our democratic project, the fingerprints left by such hidden hands are either obvious or eventually exposed.

These youth are not TTP militants or anti-state agitators. While elements have tried to co-opt the movement, one need only examine the movement’s aspirations to find it authentically homegrown. Any mischaracterisation deflects from the necessity of acknowledging that aspects of our internal security operations — which utilises the military apparatus as a policing mechanism — are inherently problematic.

The complex fog of war makes it almost inevitable for human rights violations to occur. To reflexively dismiss criticism of this as an “engineered protest” is a misunderstanding of our citizens’ brave struggle to uphold civil liberties — the dividends of which we all stand to benefit from, as the Pakhtun are not alone among those demanding justice.

Opposition, irreverent as it may sometimes be, does not negate the sacrifices or victories of the armed forces.

Impassioned, open discourse on the fallout of military interventionism and a renegotiation of military doctrine accordingly are a necessary check and balance in any democratic state that upholds constitutionally mandated limits and protections.

This cannot happen, however, unless the political class demonstrates its commitment to the process of mainstreaming Fata backed by the army, which will lead to further political activity. This should not be feared by any quarter. On the contrary, that a space has been created for large-scale, grass-roots civil rights activism to emerge can, in fact, reinforce the state’s writ. It can help reframe the world’s jaundiced perception of our hinterlands.

Contrary to being the ‘epicentre of extremism’, it is home to a people who have suffered from militancy, instability and injustice, and who openly denounce it. Here is our counter-narrative in the making — forged in the crucible of the struggle for the soul of this nation — if only we would own it.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2018

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