The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (Pashto: پښتون ژغورنې غورځنګ, Urdu: پشتون تحفظ تحریک; abbreviated PTM), or the Pashtun Protection Movement, is a social movement for Pashtun human rights based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Formerly called the Mahsud Tahafuz (or Protection) Movement, it was founded in May 2014 by eight students at Gomal University, Dera Ismail Khan as an initiative for removing landmines from Waziristan and other parts of the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas, affected by the war in North-West Pakistan.
The movement rose to prominence in January 2018 when it began a justice movement for Naqeebullah Mehsud, who was extrajudicially killed in a fake encounter staged by the police officer Rao Anwar in Karachi. When the movement gained popularity among the Pashtuns in late January 2018, the word "Mahsud" in its name, which referred to the Mahsud tribe from Waziristan, was changed into "Pashtun" to refer to all Pashtuns. The movement presented several demands to the Pakistani government and military, including punishment to Rao Anwar, a truth and reconciliation commission on extrajudicial killings in the country, presenting missing persons before courts, and removal of landmines from the Pashtun tribal areas.
In November 2018, PTM launched a justice movement for Tahir Dawar, a police officer and Pashto poet who was abducted from the capital Islamabad and tortured to death, with his corpse found 18 days after disappearance in the Dur Baba District of Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. PTM, as well as Tahir's family, demanded that Tahir's murder must be investigated through an international commission rather than a Pakistani one because the case involved two countries. PTM again gained international press coverage in February 2019 when the Balochistan Police allegedly extrajudicially murdered one of the leaders of PTM, Arman Loni, in Loralai. Protests followed which led to the detention of more than 20 PTM activists, including Gulalai Ismail and Abdullah Nangyal. PTM is led by Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen, a human rights activist from South Waziristan. Other prominent leaders include Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar. PTM claims to be an unarmed and peaceful resistance movement working within lawful boundaries of the Constitution of Pakistan. However, the Pakistan Army and several journalists have claimed that the movement is trying to create discord in the country along ethnic lines, as well as following a foreign agenda. The movement has seen strong support from Afghanistan, which traditionally have uneasy relationship with Pakistan.
On 26 January 2018, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement organized a protest march starting from Dera Ismail Khan. Pashteen started the march along with 20 friends, but many people joined it along the way, as it passed through Lakki Marwat, Bannu, Domel, Karak, Kohat, and Darra Adam Khel, reaching Peshawar on 28 January. Then after passing through Charsadda, Mardan, Swabi, and Tarnol, the march reached Islamabad, where a sit-in called "All Pashtun National Jirga" was organized from 1 February outside the National Press Club. The jirga condemned the murder of the Pashtun labourer and aspiring model, Naqeebullah Mehsud, who was shot dead by police force in Karachi during an alleged encounter, and the alleged state oppression against the Pashtuns. It asked the government to set up a judicial inquiry for Naqeebullah Mehsud, as well as for all the other Pashtuns murdered extrajudicially in police encounters. The jirga demanded to stop racial profiling of the Pashtuns in Pakistan, and to bring the Pashtun missing persons before the court of law, so that those who are innocent but held could be freed. The jirga also demanded Pakistan Army to guarantee that they will not abduct or open fire on innocents in the tribal areas, or use violence or collective punishment against entire villages and tribes, and that they will not impose the frequent curfews on the movement of locals even after minor incidents. Another demand was to remove all landminess planted in the tribal areas, which have resulted in many civilian casualties. The protesters said that since 2009, more than 35 people including children had been killed due to landmines in South Waziristan alone.
The sit-in in Islamabad ended on 10 February, but the organizers of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement announced that they would reconvene the protest if their demands were not fulfilled by the government. Advisor to Prime Minister on political affairs, Engr. Amir Muqam appeared in front of the protesters with the hand-written agreement from the Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi that included three clauses, agreeing to apprehend Rao Anwar, speed-up the clearing of Mines in South Waziristan, an intermediate college establishment in name of Naqeebullah Mehsud, and promised to addressed "genuine gravencies" raised by Jirga members. Muqam also told the protestors, "the way you held the peaceful protest is really commendable and others should learn a lesson to record their protests this way. I’ll stand by you in trying times and you can come to discuss with me all of your legitimate issues anytime."
The main demands of PTM presented during the Pashtun Long March's gatherings in 2018 included, among others:
PTM held its first public gathering in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (now part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) on 20 February 2018 at Inayat Kalay in Khaar, Bajaur. Attended by thousands of people, the gathering was the first of its kind in Bajaur in more than a decade. The protesters condemned the killing of Ahmad Shah, a 22-year-old student who had immigrated from Bajaur to Karachi to seek education and employment but had been abducted from Karachi on 15 February. Allegedly, he had been tortured and then extrajudicially killed by the Karachi police in a similar way to the killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud the previous month. Ahmad Shah's bullet-riddled body had been found on 17 February and the body had been transported from Karachi to Bajaur for burial at his ancestral graveyard. Ahmad Shah's family and other protesters at the gathering warned the Pakistani government that if those involved in the murder were not punished, they would march to Islamabad and stage a protest sit-in. The three-day Bajaur protest continued on 21 and 22 February. During his address at the gathering, Manzoor Pashteen resolved that PTM "would not keep silence over the murder of Pashtuns."
On 2 March 2018, a public gathering of PTM was held at Mirali Degree College in Mirali, North Waziristan. Demanding to abolish the infamous Frontier Crimes Regulations from Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Manzoor Pashteen said during the gathering: "We need to remove the sense of fear prevailing in the tribal areas and encourage the people to break their long silence and stand up for their rights."
From 9 to 11 March 2018, PTM organized a protest march from Dera Ismail Khan to Quetta, passing through Drazinda, Zhob, Killa Saifullah, and Khanozai. After reaching Quetta, a grand public gathering was organized on 11 March at Sadiq Shaheed Stadium, Quetta. Representatives of various political parties addressed the gathering. The speakers said: "We demand constitutionally sanctioned rights in the country for Pashtuns." Manzoor Pashteen expressed his regret about the failure of Pakistan's law enforcement agencies despite the promise by the government to arrest Rao Anwar, who was involved in the alleged extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud. Pashteen said at the gathering: "We had set one month deadline to certain quarters to apprehend Rao Anwar which expired but no action has been taken by the government."
There was a grand gathering of PTM near Sarhad University in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, on 8 April 2018. About 60,000 people came to the gathering to participate in the protest. Many of the protesters held photographs of their missing relatives, containing captions with names and the dates they disappeared.
PTM held a public gathering in the Punjab province of Pakistan on 22 April at the historical Mochi Gate, Lahore. Attended by over 8,000 people, the gathering was hosted by Lahore Left Front (LLF). In May 2018, LLF was formed by 17 left wing parties whose objective was to revive Left-wing politics in country and counter prevailing religious fundamentalism. The objectives of this gathering was to inform Punjab people about Pushtuns ordeal in war-hit areas of country and uniting exploited masses of Punjab and Pushtuns - as well highlighting woes of ordinary Pushtun workers in Lahore. Just one day before gathering, Lahore district administration rejected permission to hold gathering and arrested its leading activists including Ali Wazir, Ismat Shahjahan, Bilawal Mandokhel, and Muzammil. This act of administration was sharply criticized by public as well as notable politicians of country like Maryam Nawaz, Pervaiz Rashid, and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
Despite of all hurdles, Lahore public gathering was held as per plan. In this rally, PTM leaders asserted their demands and announced future rallies in Karachi & Swat. Two days after this successful gathering, Corps Commander Peshawar Lt General Nazir Ahmed declared that PTM demands are genuine and military is ready for talks. According to media reports, military had formed a committee to talk to PTM leaders and discuss their demands.
There was a grand gathering of PTM in Swat District at Kabal ground near Mingora, on 29 April 2018, which was attended by more than 10,000 people. The attendees were mostly relatives of alleged missing persons in recent times. Speaking with gathering, Manzoor Pashteen said,
“We are demanding our legal rights within the domain of the Constitution but who will seek accountability from those who violated Article 6 of the Constitution of Pakistan.”
Pashteen criticized Pervez Musharraf for his alleged terrorism, and demanded for Musharraf and the spokesperson of the Taliban Ehsanullah Ehsan to be punished.
The Karachi gathering was held on 13 May 2018 at the ground near Al-Asif Square in Sohrab Goth, Karachi. Bagh-e-Jinnah was the initially planned venue but the authorities didn't permit it. Before the event, three separate criminal cases were registered against PTM at different police stations in Karachi for hate and anti-state speeches. PTM activists accused authorities of sabotaging their event by initiating a wave of mass arrests and detentions.
One day before the event, Manzoor Pashteen was barred from boarding his scheduled flight to Karachi from Islamabad International Airport. He was told that his ticket had been cancelled and was not allowed to board the plane. He and his friends then drove for five hours to Lahore, and bought another plane ticket to fly from Lahore Airport. However, their ticket was again cancelled and they were forced to take a road trip to reach Karachi. During the road trip, he was stopped and searched 23 times by the authorities, which made his journey over 40 hours. He reached the gathering venue in Karachi hours after his scheduled arrival time, and addressed the awaiting crowd. At the gathering, he denounced extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in Karachi and all across Pakistan, and also reiterated the main demands of PTM.
On 15 July 2018, a grand public gathering was organized by PTM at Haq Nawaz Park, Dera Ismail Khan in which thousands of people participated. During the gathering, PTM reiterated their main demands, and condemned the release of Rao Anwar, the prime suspect in the extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud. Fazal Khan Advocate, whose son was martyred in the 2014 Peshawar school massacre, also spoke at the gathering. He condemned the 13 July 2018 bombings in Mastung and Bannu, which killed a total of about 154 people and wounded 223 others.
On 12 August 2018, PTM organized a public gathering in Swabi, in which the Babrra massacre was commemorated on its 70th anniversary. Manzoor Pashteen told the gathering that PTM's struggle for the rights of the Pashtuns would continue under the Constitution of Pakistan. He alleged that 70 years after the Babrra massacure, the Pashtuns are still being killed. He said: "Our struggle is based on justice, peace, and brotherhood. We will not accept the victimization of the Pashtuns." He added that despite producing surplus electricity through Tarbela Dam and Ghazi-Barotha Hydropower Project, the people of Swabi District and the adjacent areas still suffer from long hours of power outages. Pashteen demanded that the district should be given an uninterrupted power supply. He also spoke about the problems faced by tobacco growers in the district, and said: "Tobacco is produced in Swabi, but the federal government reaps its benefits." He demanded that the incentives for the Gadoon Amazai Industrial Estate in Swabi should be restored, because it was established to provide an alternative livelihood source to the farmers cultivating opium poppy.
During the campaign to inform people about the gathering in Swabi, one day before the event, Manzoor Pashteen was denied entry into the mausoleum of Captain Karnal Sher Khan by Karnal Sher Khan's brother Anwar Sher Khan. Anwar said he denied Pashteen entry into the mausoleum out of respect for the Pakistan Army.
There was a grand gathering of PTM at Bannu Sports Complex in Bannu, southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, on 28 October 2018, which was attended by more than 60,000 people. It was one of the largest public gatherings in the history of Bannu. The attendees included relatives of alleged missing persons in recent times. PTM protested for the immediate recovery of Tahir Dawar, a police officer and Pashto poet who had been abducted from the capital Islamabad on 26 October and missing for two days. Noor Islam Dawar, a PTM activist, asked the protesters during his speech at the gathering: "Is this the reward for Tahir's honesty, bravery, and professionalism: to be kidnapped?" However, Tahir was never recovered alive and his dead body was later found by the locals in the Dur Baba District of Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, eighteen days after disappearance.
On 5 January 2019, more than a thousand supporters of PTM gathered in Cologne, the largest city of Germany 's most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia. People from various countries of Europe came to participate in the public gathering. They reiterated the first demand of PTM, justice for Naqeebullah Mehsud, who had been killed extrajudicially in Karachi, Pakistan by SSP Rao Anwar almost a year before. The protesters demanded the government of Pakistan to not ban PTM leaders from traveling to various parts of Pakistan or other countries. The participants also protested against forced disappearances and target killings in Pakistan.
On 13 January 2019, PTM held a public gathering in Tank, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to observe the first anniversary of the murder of Naqeebullah Mehsud. Many landmine victims and family members of missing persons also attended the gathering. Manzoor Pashteen said at the gathering that PTM had been protesting for a year to seek justice for Naqeebullah and will keep protesting even if a hundred years passed to demand strict punishment for Rao Anwar and other criminals. Pashteen blamed the Pakistani state for ruining the Pashtun homeland and looting their resources under the pretext of war on terror. He expressed his resolve that the Pashtuns will continue to seek justice for themselves through peaceful means "even if it takes hundred years".
On 20 January 2019, PTM organized a public gathering in Karachi to celebrate its first anniversary. Alamzaib Mahsud, a PTM activist instrumental in gathering data on missing persons and landmines victims in the Pashtun tribal districts, was detained by the police on 21 January for taking part in the demonstration in Karachi. The PTM chairman Manzoor Pashteen and another leader Mohsin Dawar, however, did not travel to Karachi for the anniversary due to a last minute change of plans and instead organized a public rally in the Khaisor village of North Waziristan on 20 January in protest against the Khaisor incident.
The Khaisor incident had surfaced two days earlier, when 13-year-old Hayat Khan from Khaisor claimed in a video on 18 January that Pakistani security forces had arrested his brother Adil and father Jalat Khan, and that his family had been facing harassment due to frequent visits by two security personnel to his home. Hayat Khan was allegedly persuaded by a Pashtun Tahafuz Movement activist, Noor Islam Dawar, to record the video. In the video, which went viral on social media, Hayat said that his father and brother might not be freed, but he requested the security forces to stop the unwanted visits when he was the only male along with the women at his house. Hayat's mother also spoke publicly about the incident, and said: "The soldiers once told me to make beds for them because they would spend the night inside our house. I am now publicly speaking because I am sick of the humiliation and dishonor." However, Hayat's mother was alleged to have signed an affidavit to deny her previous allegation which was verified by some tribal elders. On 26 January, a tribal council was held in Khaisor which declared that the claim made by Hayat and his mother was baseless. PTM, however, rejected the tribal council's declaration. Mohsin Dawar accused the Pakistani government of trying to force Hayat and his family to withdraw their claim against the security personnel. On 27 January, a five-member female delegation from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including the former lawmakers Bushra Gohar and Jamila Gilani, visited Khaisor to interview the women of the village about the incident. The visiting women were particularly struck by the story of Noorani Bibi, an illiterate old woman from Khaisor who had recorded each time the security forces raided her house while no men were at home by drawing 25 lines on a sheet of paper. "Many women told us that if their husbands or other male relatives are involved or suspected of any wrongdoing, the security forces can detain and investigate them, but they should not barge into our houses," Jamila said. "Women and children have been psychologically affected by the break-ins and harassment," Bushra added.
On the other hand, a tribal jirga held on 2 February in Miramshah claimed that Hayat's allegations against the security forces were baseless. Asif Ghafoor, the Pakistan Army spokesman, also rejected the harassment claim and said: "The allegations leveled here even violate the local culture, and it has been unnecessarily hyped up even when these are debunked locally." The operation by the security forces was claimed to be intelligence-based and conducted to recover an employee belonging to Mari Petroleum Company Limited (MPCL), who was suspected to have abducted by Shariatullah, son of Jalat Khan and brother of Hayat Khan. However, during the operation, Shariatullah was claimed to have evaded arrest by fleeing to nearby mountains. Jalat Khan and his brother Adil were arrested by the military as they were suspected of helping Shariatullah.
A maternal uncle of Hayat Khan, Malik Gulshamad Matorke, was killed in a targeted attack on 11 February 2019. An opponent of PTM, Matorke had previously claimed at a tribal council in Khaisor that no security personnel misbehaved with Hayat's mother. Matorke's brother, Perkhay Jan, alleged that PTM was behind the murder. Perkhay registered a case against six members of PTM, including Manzoor Pashteen and MNAs Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar. Perkhay said that PTM even tried to demolish the houses of himself and Matorke. Perkhay alleged that he survived an attack on him by two motorcyclists in Lakki Marwat’s Sari Naurang area a day before the attack on Matorke. On the other hand, Mohsin Dawar condemned the murder of Matorke, and said: "Another condemnable act which once again questions the large scale military presence in Waziristan. The timing of the killings make it more suspicious. The matter needs to be investigated."
On 14 February 2019, a gathering was held by PTM supporters in Bamyan, the cultural center of the Hazarajat region in central Afghanistan. They gathered in front of the Buddhas of Bamyan, which had been destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 and became a symbol of oppression. Carrying banners of PTM leaders, the protesters condemned the alleged extrajudicial murder of Arman Loni, one of the leaders of PTM. They protested against the Pakistani government and military for allegedly oppressing the Pashtuns and Baloch.
On 15 March 2019, PTM held a gathering in Wanna, the capital of South Waziristan. Ali Wazir, who represents South Waziristan in the National Assembly of Pakistan and is one of the leaders of PTM, said during the gathering: "The Pashtuns have suffered a lot from terrorism. We want peace for the future generations of the Pashtuns." The participants chanted slogans against terrorism and demanded punishment for the assistant superintendent of police (ASP) Attaur Rehman, who had allegedly extrajudicially killed the PTM leader Arman Loni in the previous month in Loralai.
On 16 March, the supporters of PTM organized a march from Wanna to Angur Ada, a town at the border between South Waziristan and the Barmal District of Afghanistan's Paktika Province. In Angur Ada, the participants condoled and protested for the eight Kabulkhel Wazir tribesmen who had been killed on the evening of 9 March in the Rakha village of Barmal District by an Afghan pro-government armed group supported by international military forces. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan took notice of the Barmal killings and found out that the search operation was originally against the Taliban but resulted in civilian casualties, including children. In response to the protest, the Afghan government announced to probe the killings through a commission.
PTM scheduled a large gathering on 31 March 2019 in Peshawar near Sarhad University, with the purpose to commemorate the martyrdom (shahādat) of the late PTM leader Arman Loni and demand justice for him. Arman's sister, Wrranga Loni, chose Peshawar as the site of the gathering because of the city's role as an important center of the Pashtuns.
On 14 April 2019, PTM supporters gathered in Miramshah, the capital of North Waziristan. The gathering included many women and children demanding the recovery of their missing relatives. Manzoor Pashteen said during his speech at the gathering that despite Operation Zarb-e-Azb by the Pakistani military, targeted killings have increased in North Waziristan for the last one year. Pashteen added: "We want peace on this peaceful soil. The resources of the Pashtuns have been stolen and captured by others, and now it is time for them to stand up and get equal rights from this state." The participants also demanded the government to stop the construction of Kurram Tangi Dam on the Kurram River in North Waziristan, citing that the dam would bring a large part of their area under water and displace a large number of people.
On 1 July 2019, PTM supporters from different cities of Europe protested in front of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Switzerland against human rights violations by the Pakistani military. The protestors demanded an international probe into the Kharqamar incident and the detentions of several PTM leaders including the parliamentarians Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar. A number of officials from the United Nations took notice of the protest and told the protestors that they would talk on PTM's demands during a United Nations global conference at the end of July.
PTM's second gathering of Bannu was held at Mandan Park on 12 January 2020. During the gathering, Manzoor Pashteen announced the formation of a jirga (assembly of leaders) to appeal for unity among Pashtun leaders belonging to various Pakistani political parties. In response, leaders of various parties, including Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F)'s Maulana Atta-ur-Rehman, Jamaat-e-Islami's Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, Awami National Party's Asfandyar Wali Khan, Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party's Mahmood Khan Achakzai, and Qaumi Watan Party's Sikandar Sherpao expressed their willingness to cooperate with PTM for protection of the rights of Pashtuns.
Mainstream media outlets in Pakistan have been largely ignoring the PTM, leaving social media as the primary channel for communicating with the rest of Pakistan and strengthening the narrative that the PTM is being ignored by the system.
On 23 March, the PTM meeting was scheduled to be held in Peshawar University, but Deputy Commissioner Peshawar Islam Zeb, issued an order under section 144 CrPC, imposing ban on political meetings in University and stated any violation against the order shall be preceded against u/s 188 PPC and order will be exercised "for 30 days unless modified or withdrawn." Later the meeting was held in Baghi-e-Naran, Hayatabad with 200 person attending the gathering.
The movement's anthem is "Da Sanga Azadi Da?", which means "What kind of freedom is this?". Many Pashtun's have discovered their voice with this anthem and it encloses the various grievances they have from being caught between the militants and the military.
On 26 April 2019, Mohsin Dawar tweeted that he and his fellow National Assembly member Ali Wazir were barred from holding a press conference at National Press Club (NPC) despite having prior bookings. Many prominent politicians including Pakistan Peoples Party's Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Farhatullah Babar and Bushra Gohar condemned NPC for their move. The next day, NPC issued statement claiming that the lawmakers had not made any prior bookings. The Pakistan Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor told the journalist Hamid Mir not to invite PTM members on media in response to a question by the journalist as to whether the media houses should invite PTM leaders on TV channels. On 29 April 2019, Asif Ghafoor said PTM would no longer be tolerated. "Their time is up," he said of PTM at the press conference.
The Pashteen hat (also known as the Mazari hat) has become the most iconic symbol of PTM, as Manzoor Pashteen regularly wears it at public rallies and events.
On 26 May 2019, PTM members including the Pakistani parliamentarians Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir were protesting in the Kharqamar area of Datta Khel Subdivision, North Waziristan. According to the PTM members, the military forces allegedly fired on the PTM protest gathering killing more than 13 protesters and injuring 25 others. However, the Pakistani military officials rejected PTM claims and stated that it was PTM members who attacked Pakistan military post first and military only fired back in retaliation. According to Pakistani military, five Pakistani soldier were injured as result of PTM members firing. Dr. Alam, a close aide of Mohsin Dawar and one of the leader of PTM, admitted that security guards accompanying Mohsin Dawar were heavily armed. Following the incident several PTM members, including the Pakistani parliamentarians Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar, were arrested by the security forces after the incident and curfew was imposed in the area. PTM claimed that the gathering had been organized by peaceful and unarmed activists to protest against the beating up of a woman by the military on May 25 and other human rights abuses in the area, but the military alleged that the PTM leaders instead wanted to “exert pressure for release of suspected terrorists’ facilitators”.
According to Pakistani rules, 'if an army check post is assaulted, the troops are legally allowed to respond to the attack. Those who are responsible for the attack will tired by the Pakistani courts.'
A day after this incident, the opposition walked out of the National Assembly of Pakistan to protest against this violent incident. The opposition parties, including the Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League (N), questioned the silence of Prime Minister Imran Khan and other concerned people on the incident and called for resolving the issue by the civilians through the parliament. On 23 June, a fact-finding team of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan was stopped by the military from reaching Kharqamar and prevented from investigating about the incident.
PTM openly criticizes the Pakistan Army and accuses the Pakistani state of violating the basic human rights of the Pashtuns, while the Pakistan Army has claimed that PTM is backed by foreign powers and their gatherings are "engineered". PTM claims that as a result, news organizations in Pakistan have been pressured to ignore PTM, and university professors have been forced to identify the students attending PTM's protest gatherings. Some Pakistani politicians and journalists also view PTM as working on a foreign or Pashtun nationalist agenda. However, PTM's leadership has openly declared that they are protesting through peaceful means within the Constitution of Pakistan.