Manzoor Pashteen: The young tribesman rattling Pakistan's army


Manzoor Pashteen has accused the Pakistani military of promoting militancy (Photo Credit: Alamy)

Tens of thousands of Pashtuns are demanding an end to extrajudicial killings and abductions they blame on the Pakistani state - and a charismatic young man has become their spokesman.

A compelling, bearded tribesman in his late 20s, Manzoor Pashteen is the unlikely figurehead for protests that have now mushroomed into a wider movement that threatens to upset a precarious balance ahead of general elections.

He represents people who say they were brutalised during decades of war in the border areas Pakistan shares with Afghanistan. NGOs say thousands of people have been reported missing in regions such as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Balochistan.

Over the weekend thousands of people attended a rally in Lahore, defying calls from the authorities to boycott the event, and despite officials briefly detaining some leaders of the movement in raids.

Thousands turned out at the rally in Lahore, despite official warnings (Image copyright AFP)

The Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM, Pashtun Protection Movement) is expressly peaceful, and its demands are within the limits of Pakistani law. But the pressure it has placed on the country's leaders is telling.

Even army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa has become involved, calling the protests "engineered", implying they are following a hostile foreign agenda, although they appear spontaneous.

 

'Terrorists in uniform'

Secunder Kermani, BBC News, Lahore

"What kind of freedom is this?" the crowd chant. It's the chorus of the anthem of this protest movement, and one that encapsulates the myriad grievances from Pakistan's "war on terror".

A common thread is a feeling that Pashtuns have been caught between the militants and the military for years. One man from the Swat Valley tells me how on a single road there would be checkpoints by both the Taliban and the army. If you were clean-shaven the Taliban would accuse you of being pro-government, if you had a beard soldiers accused you of being an extremist.

At a stall on the side of the protest, activists are writing the names of young men allegedly in the custody of the intelligence services, but never produced in court. It's one of the most sensitive issues in the country - I'm surrounded by people wanting to tell me what happened to their relatives.

Resentment towards the powerful military establishment is expressed most boldly by the slogan, "The ones responsible for terrorism are the ones in uniform". This kind of open challenge is more or less unprecedented in recent times, and seems to be growing.

So far there has also been an almost total media blackout of PTM rallies, which attract substantial support.

It is a notable contrast to the air time given on Pakistan's increasingly controlled media to small bands of anti-PTM protesters. Those didn't get much traction with the public and are suspected of links with the military.

Mr Pashteen comes from Pakistan's mountainous South Waziristan region (Image copyright Getty Images)

Manzoor Pashteen speaks Pashto in his native Mehsud dialect. But unlike other young tribesmen he is educated, and can speak Urdu and English with the same ease.

He says he never realised he would get such support but he's clear about what needs to change.

"People were oppressed. Their life had become intolerable. Curfews and insults by the army soldiers had stripped them of their pride," he told BBC Pashto's Khudai Noor Nasar in March.

Since February, he and his supporters have travelled across the Pashtun heartlands, from Quetta to Peshawar, attracting huge crowds and exposing never-ending stories of misery, death and destruction.