Generals’ Election: When Political Engineers, not People, Dominate’

For the second time in Pakistan’s seven decades, the National Assembly and all Provincial Assemblies have completed their five-year term even though as with the PPP government this time too a sitting democratically elected Prime Minister was removed by the Supreme Court.

While there are concerns about what lies ahead and what role the Pakistani establishment will play, according to former Senator Afrasiab Khattak there are four new factors that may “turn the tables” on any attempts at “political engineering.”

First, “Nawaz Sharif, the three time elected Prime Minister, with a large scale following in the country, particularly in the key province of Punjab, has decided to challenge the political role of the deep state. Spending long years in politics, both in the government and in the opposition, he is the most experienced politician in the country. Now when his party is not any more part of the system, he can speak more openly about and give details of the creeping coup against his elected government. Moreover, the deep state can’t cross certain limits against its opponents in the Punjab because most of the army also comes from the same province.”

Second, “contradiction between the deep state and the elected representatives in the government is an open secret by now and the common people know as to who calls the shots in making important decisions. As we know the popular movement recently launched by PTM didn’t raise a single slogan against the PML (N) because they knew that the state policy which hurt the Pashtuns wasn’t shaped by the ruling party. Nawaz Sharif has successfully projected his victimhood at the hands of the forces of dictatorship among the masses. Business classes in general and Punjabi bourgeoisie in particular has come to believe that the deep state has thrown Nawaz Sharif out because he was taking the country from the geo strategic of the Cold War to the geo economic of the 21st century. Hence their sympathies for him. Broad sections of society are prepared to forget Nawaz Sharif’s past mistakes and judge him on what he stands for today.”

Third, “the growing international isolation of the country on the question of extremist violence is a source of concern for most of Pakistanis and they know that Nawaz Sharif, like most of other political leaders is opposed to appeasement of extremism and terrorism.”

And finally, “the growing role of social media has changed the rules of engagement when it comes to control over media and public opinion. Welcome to election 2018 (that’s if they are held!).”

Deep State’s Denial of Pashtun Awakening Gets Worse

Pakistan’s deep state continues to place restrictions and attempts to clampdown on activists associated with the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM). In end April, there was an attempt to prevent a rally in Lahore and the provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah asserted that “hidden hands tried stopping the PTM from holding a procession in Lahore.”

Now in May, there is an attempt to prevent the May 13 PTM rally scheduled in Karachi. The Sindh government. The administration in Karachi has denied permission to PTM to hold a rally in Pakistan’s financial capital on Sunday May 13 on grounds that PTM “aimed to foment anti-state feelings in the country, and that too a mere few days before Ramazan.” According to a story in The Daily Times “The administration blamed the PTM for disseminating false propaganda against state institutions, and in response, launched an investigation against the leaders of the movement in the city.”

In a blatant attempt that demonstrates the hands of Pakistan’s security establishment PTM’s leader Manzoor Pashteen was not allowed to board a Serene Air flight from Islamabad to Karachi. According to a story in Dawn: “When Pashteen and his associates reached the Serene Air check-in counter, those accompanying him were issued boarding passes but Pashteen was denied the same on the grounds that his details were “not in the system” and that he wasn’t cleared to board the flight.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) released a strongly worded statement condemning this action. “That the authorities have, once again, escalated their efforts to suppress the PTM is cause for serious concern. There is no credible reason for having prevented Manzoor Pashteen from boarding his flight to Karachi to attend the 13 May rally.’ The Commission is also ‘disturbed to learn that Naghma Shaikh, a Democratic Student Federation leader planning to attend this rally, was detained and physically harassed on her way to the airport. Ms Shaikh alleges that the authorities took away her passport and money. HRCP condemns such excessive tactics and strongly urges the government to refrain from interfering in people’s right to peaceful assembly.”

The HRCP also expressed concern over the arrest and charges leveled against PTM supporters in Karachi. “The Commission is gravely concerned over reports that more than 150 PTM activists and sympathizers – including Karachi University professor Dr Riaz Ahmed – have gone missing or been arrested, many of them on charges of sedition and terrorism. The authorities’ disproportionate response is unwarranted, given that the PTM rallies held to date have remained peaceful.”

Will the Pasthun Tahhafuz Movement change Pakistani politics?

Will the Pashtun Tahhafuz Movement help transform not only Pashtun but Pakistani politics and provide space for all oppressed communities to finally have a say in their country of birth? Or will the establishment strike back and suppress this movement? Pakistan’s future will be shaped by the future of PTM and movements like this.

Newsweek Pakistan notes that “Pakistan risks tragedy if it does not heed demands of basic rights by Pashtun protesters.” Tracing the history, the article notes: “Decades ago, Pakistan made the decision to “preserve” the tribal society of the Pashtun by keeping them separate from the rest of the country, resulting in little development and enforcement of primitive laws. As the Pashtun population outgrew FATA, it spread to the rest of the country through internal migration, destroying the roots of Pashtun culture. Nobody paid attention to this until “internal” became “external” and residents of FATA migrated to the Middle East. Then the Afghan jihad spawned local warlords who destroyed the jirga system of the tribes, and mere savagery replaced Pakistan’s badly scuffed administration. After this, Pakistan had to suffer the consequences of the original decision to retain FATA as a kind of tribal museum, without schools and without economic development. Karachi in time became the most populous Pashtun city in the world. Because of lack of policy elsewhere, it too started to become lawless like FATA.”

Former Senator Afrasiab Khattak writes “It is for the first time that a nascent sociopolitical movement has successfully beaten back the monopoly of state controlled and corporate electronic and print media on access to information by the effective use of  social media for spreading its message. This achievement is remarkable for the youth of a marginalised people living in an ‘ excluded area’ under the yet to be reformed colonial structures. But it is also important to remember that a strong wave of solidarity across the ethnic and regional boundaries attracted by the movement made this achievement possible.

Refuting insinuations “about the “engineered” nature of PTM” Khattak states: “Those who have raised no objection over Afghan Taliban Amir accepting oath of allegiance of Pakistani Taliban are perturbed over popularity of Pashteen cap across the Durand Line as an act of solidarity for peace in both countries! PTM has repeatedly stated that it stands for the rights of oppressed people within the limits of Pakistani Constitution but the intelligence agencies are orchestrating artificial and so called demonstrations against PTM to give the impression as if the the youth movement is a threat for the country. It is particularly weird in a country where 139 UN designated terrorist entities don’t face the type of hounding and maligning that is faced by a grass roots non violent human rights movement.”


Ending on a note of caution Newsweek Pakistan points out: “The truth is that the Pashtun represent the failure of Pakistan to become a normal state. The country was divided into Bangladesh and Pakistan in 1971 because of the mistakes it made in its evolution. Now the Pashtun want a correction that Pakistan would do well to understand before it suffers yet another tragedy.

HRCP: “An even playing field for all”

During its 70-year history Pakistan has had few ‘free and fair’ elections. With the next elections due this year, there are fears that the powers that be will once again try to manipulate the results. With this in the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called for “the importance of ensuring an even playing field for all—without interference from any state agency.”


Demands for rolling back the 18th Amendment, enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, mainstreaming extremist groups, and exclusion of civil society from the affairs of the state were only some of the key issues that concerned the HRCP.


According to the statement released after the HRCP’s 32nd Annual Meeting: “There must be special efforts to ensure that both women and religious minorities are able to participate in, and contest, the elections freely and without fear, pressure or intimidation. In this context, mobile polling stations could be a way of ensuring that people who might otherwise be unable to vote, are able to exercise this fundamental right.”


Further “The shrinking space for progressive thought in Pakistan is especially disconcerting. The fact that NOCs are apparently in the control of the security agencies and that donor money is not going to the areas where it is most needed—such as ‘no-go’ areas in Balochistan and FATA—means that human rights are increasingly under strain.” “Pointing to the recent case of Geo TV having inexplicably been taken off air, the continual harassment of journalists, the closure of the Quetta Press Club and restrictions on circulations of newspapers in the city, HRCP has underscored the fact that freedom of expression in Pakistan remains under attack.”


HRCP lamented that: “The space that has opened up for religious and militant organizations to operate with impunity is reflected in the hero’s welcome that awaited the 26 people acquitted by the courts in the case of Mashal Khan’s mob lynching.”


HRCP also welcomed the Pashtun Tahafuz movement “in the spirit that all people have a right to express their grievances peacefully. The legitimate concerns underlying the movement reflect a breakdown in the relationship between the state and the people. We urge the government to listen to these concerns and to refrain from interfering in the Pashtuns’ right of association as well as that of others.”


HRCP was also appalled by the recent Islamabad High Court ruling that “proposes making a declaration of faith mandatory for government and semi-government job applicants, including for the armed forces, judiciary and the civil services. This ruling has serious repercussions for all religious minorities, not least the Ahmadiyya community. Such requirements will only enable and deepen institutional discrimination against minority communities.”


Finally the HRCP criticized the increasing trend of judicial activism, “Rather than relying on vague interpretations of morality, the superior judiciary should decide cases of public importance based on established constitutional and legal principles. The excessive number of suo moto cases in the last year have in no way served to strengthen democracy.”

The Pashtun Long March

The murder of a young Pashtun shopkeeper, Naqeebullah Mehsud, in a fake police encounter on January 13 in the financial heart of Pakistan, Karachi, has led to what is being referred to as the Pashtun Long March: Since February 4 thousands of Pashtun activists have gathered outside the press club in Islamabad chanting the slogan of Azadi (Freedom) and highlighting human rights violations against their community.


Pashtuns from Waziristan started the march on January 26 and were joined by 10,000 fellow Pashtuns from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan. According to a report in Gandhara RFERL “In a series of emotional speeches, speaker after speaker ran through their grievances and called on the government to act. “Naqeebullah Mehsud was not the first Pashtun killed unlawfully in this country. A lot of our blood has been spilled,” protest organizer Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen thundered from the top of a metal shipping container used as a makeshift stage. “However, our patience has now run out after this killing.” Pashteen, an activist who has spent years lobbying to draw attention to the plight of his Mehsud tribe, is among the campaigners determined not to leave Islamabad until their demands are met.”


According to former Senator Afrasiab Khattak “Pashtuns in FATA in general and Waziristan in particular have been devastated by the armed conflict, but their sufferings and agonies remain unnoticed,” he said. “Rapid urbanization, education, remittances, and the rise of professionals and the middle class have led to greater awareness, but the process of political empowerment lags far behind.” “Khattak says Islamabad’s failure in implementing reforms in FATA contributes to resentment as the region still languishes under a draconian colonial-era legal regime known as the Frontier Crimes Regulations. He says youth activism has taken seasoned politicians by surprise and the masses appear to be now mobilizing for their rights. This, he says, is also changing perceptions about Pashtuns as a collection of warlike tribes. “Such stereotypes are being shattered by the most peaceful and disciplined political agitation in Islamabad’s recent history,” he noted.”


The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called upon the Government of Pakistan to take notice of this protest and to listen to and address any legitimate demands. In a statement issued on Tuesday February 6, 2018, the Commission said:


“HRCP is dismayed at the apathy of the federal government towards the people of Waziristan, hundreds of whom have been protesting in Islamabad since 1st February 2018.” “The murder of Naqeebullah Mehsud in a fake encounter by the police in Karachi on 13th January 2018 has stirred up grievances of Pashtuns in general and of the people of FATA in particular. Thousands of activists from all over the country have come to Islamabad to participate in the protest that began on 1st February. The protesters have made five demands which include the immediate arrest and prosecution of Rao Anwar; the police official accused of murdering Naqeebullah Mehsud, investigations into extra-judicial killings in Karachi and elsewhere in the country, stopping of enforced disappearances and recovery of missing persons with the demand of producing them in courts and the release of individuals who are not guilty of any crimes, an end to the collective responsibility punishments meted out to entire villages, sub-tribes and tribes after any illegal, militant or criminal activities in Waziristan and FATA and the clearing of landmines in Waziristan and FATA.”


Further, “HRCP has always maintained that it is imperative that Pakistan ensures due process of law for all of its citizens as per its obligations under the Constitution and the international human rights treaties to which it is a signatory. Thorough and impartial probes must be conducted into illegal detentions, enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings and the law should be enforced against the perpetrators of such acts.” “It is the state’s responsibility to ensure that the areas that have been declared clear are truly safe for the internally displaced persons from FATA to return to. Reports of incidents of injuries and deaths because of landmines in South Waziristan and other parts of FATA are very alarming. Authorities must take immediate notice of this very serious issue and begin working on measures to clear all such areas from landmines to ensure the safety of the local residents.”


HRCP also demanded an end to the delays in implementation of FATA reforms that “have added significantly to the frustrations and miseries of the people of FATA as they continue to languish under the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR). The federal government must not delay the process of reforms in FATA any further.”


More from the Gandhara RFERL report

“It’s no surprise that clearing the deadly landmines is one of the protesters’ demands. An estimated half a million Mehsuds left their homes before the onset of a major Pakistani military offensive in 2008, and nearly 80 adults and children have reportedly been killed in landmine explosions since most Mehsuds returned to their homes by the end of last year. In a telling revelation about life in a conflict zone, the protesters are demanding an end to curfew and other coercive measures used after attacks against security forces. “Across FATA and Waziristan in particular, authorities should avoid imposing curfews and beating civilians,” the pamphlet said, referring to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas by its acronym.”