Manzoor Pashteen of Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM)

Twice within a week, Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa spoke about “engineered protests” and a “hybrid war” while referring to the agitation by the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), triggered by the killing of a young Pashtun, Naqeebullah Mehsud, in Karachi by a rogue police official now under trial. General Bajwa stated that “some internal and external elements are hell-bent upon harming Pakistan’s national security and that “our enemies…have subjected us to a cruel, evil and protracted hybrid war.” He added that these protests have been instigated to undo the gains made by the armed forces in the fight against terrorism. Irrespective of the genuine grievances being expressed by the PTM, there can be no doubt that inimical external forces and their touts within the country are determined to use these grievances to undermine Pakistan’s security and territorial integrity as well as reverse the gains made against externally supported terrorism. We should be clear that yet again Pakistan is being subjected to engineered subversion — this time by misleading and manipulating Pakistani Pashtuns, just as is being done with the Baloch.

A glaring indicator of this subversion is the massive coverage being given to PTM protests in the Indian and Afghan media apart from American sources such as the officially-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. Even the mainstream American press such as The New York Times of April 19th has joined this chorus.

But more important than this hostile media coverage is the fact that Indian officials like National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and former defence minister Manohar Parrikar are on record boasting of promoting terrorism and separatism in Pakistan. It is also well known now, especially after disclosures by Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, that the Indian intelligence agency, RAW, has an active programme to destabilise Pakistan by funding and arming the TTP in cooperation with the Kabul government which has provided sanctuaries to the TTP on Afghan soil. Similar support is being given to Baloch separatists as well. Extending such a programme to include Pashtuns is only a small step for RAW.

Moreover, we know from eye-witnesses that Afghans like former president Hamid Karzai and the then head of NDS, the Afghan spy agency, Amrullah Saleh, have been and still are hand in gloves with the Indians to promote dissensions within Pakistan, including by enlisting discontented Pashtun and Baloch groups.

A further motive for Delhi and Kabul has been the failure of their efforts to use the TTP terrorism to de-stabilise Pakistan following the successful Pakistani counter terrorism campaign that has significantly reduced incidents of terrorism in the country.

For their part, the Americans are, at the very least, turning a blind eye to the machinations of their Indian and Afghan allies, as a means of exerting pressure on Pakistan to do their bidding. As such Washington is happy to encourage its media to castigate Pakistan.

A collateral outcome of this destabilisation campaign has been to sow dissensions between the Pakistani people, especially the Pashtuns and Baloch, against the army. Unfortunately, some of our political and intellectual elites have fallen prey to this canard. As a nation we should recognise the critical need for all of us to be on the same page, at least when issues of our national security and territorial integrity are involved.

At the same time, there needs to be a whole of government response to address and resolve the genuine grievances of our people, including, in this case, of the Pashtuns. There is no doubt that the people of K-P and especially Fata have suffered immensely due to terrorism and extremism. Their lives and families have been torn apart, their homes and villages destroyed, hundreds if not thousands are missing. Many more, especially the youth, are unemployed and dispossessed. These are ideal conditions for our enemies to exploit.

It is still not too late to reverse this situation. For starters, the counter terrorism National Action Plan needs to be implemented in full immediately. Similarly, the commitment to mainstream FATA and integrate it with K-P should not be delayed any further. Promises for economic development and employment generation should also be enforced on a fast track.

Equally important is not to ever question the loyalty and patriotism of the Pashtuns who have always since independence been in the forefront of defending Pakistan. Even now they continue to pay the greatest price for the security of the country. Just a few weeks ago several tribesmen rushed to the support of army personnel who came under fire from the Afghan side while installing the border fence.

A positive spin-off from the PTM movement, if its positive aspects are properly galvanised and channelled, could be to promote a more liberal and democratic order to counter terrorism and extremism, especially in FATA. This, in itself, would be a major rebuff to India’s malicious designs against Pakistan.

At the same time, we need to be vigilant against both internal and external agents of subversion. A clear distinction needs to be made between those whose agenda is to harm Pakistan and those that are peacefully protesting for their legitimate rights as citizens of this country.

We also need to remind the Indians and their Afghan clients that they are playing with fire. Quite apart from the Kashmir freedom movement, India confronts several insurgences in its entire north-east and among the Sikhs, apart from the Maoist/Naxalite movement stretching across West Bengal, Bihar and UP. In Afghanistan, there remain dissensions along ethnic (Pashtun-Tajik-Uzbek) and sectarian (Sunni-Shia) lines. Therefore, Pakistan is also in a position to pay them back in the same coin. Engineered subversion can move in all directions.