Islamabad: The Pakistan Army has committed many grave human rights violations in order to target the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) with its draconian response.

This has not only failed to subdue the PTM but has strengthened its resolve and popular support and risked the inflammation of social divisions.

In an interview with Junaid Qureshi of the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS), Pakistani journalist and human rights activist, Sanna Ejaz has recently claimed that the Pakistan Army has transformed the country into a prison state - with public discourse and political participation being stifled and controlled by the security agencies, IFFRAS reported.

Ejaz described the pressure placed upon private actors by the military-State nexus and the ongoing attempts of the Pakistani elite to impose an Urdu-centric view of Pakistan, despite the incredible diversity in the country.

In 2018, Ejaz was fired from her job as a news anchor at the Peshawar station of Pakistan Television (PTV), due to her social activism and association with the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM).

Ejaz was later informed by her manager that her services had been terminated as a result of "orders from above". Soon afterwards, Ejaz lost her job at an NGO called Shirkat Gah due to similar pressures.

This sort of intimidation and coercion is normal for members of the PTM and other groups who criticize the actions or influence of Pakistan's military. All news channels in Pakistan are monitored by the military information department. All live programmes are broadcast on a delay of a few minutes and sensitive or controversial remarks are frequently subjected to cuts by censorship.

Organizations such as the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, of which Ejaz is part, are focused on demanding the fundamental rights the Pakistani constitution promises to all Pakistani citizens. The movement gained prominence when it began a justice movement for Naqeebullah Mehsud, who was the victim of extra-judicial killing by the Karachi police in a fake encounter.

As seen in Ejaz's case, the State's response to PTMs activism has been to double down on the sort of authoritarian behaviour that the PTM has been protesting, IFFRAS reported.

Many members of the PTM have been arrested on dubious charges of terrorism or strained interpretations of provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code on grounds of sedition, incitement of violence, defamation and similar charges. A number of leading PTM members have also been killed including Sardar Muhammad Arif Wazir in a drive-by shooting that is suspected to have been committed at the behest of the Pakistan Army and Arman Luni who was beaten to death by the police at a protest.

The response to the PTM protests demanding human rights is indicative of the overbearing and paranoid culture that is dominant in the Pakistan Army and security forces.

As seen in its response to protests, its censorship and surveillance of national television and even the comments of its Chief of Staff, Qamar Javed Bajwa demanding an apology from Ali Wazir for his criticism of the Army, the Pakistan Army is utterly unwilling to countenance public criticism from society and will resort to a range of aggressive tactics to chill any hint of such discourse.

The Pakistan Army views the PTM as an extension of the Tehreek-E-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and views it and similar groups as being funded and supported by foreign forces with a view to creating ethnic divisions in Pakistan. This cynical view not only ignores the many legitimate grievances of the PTM and similar groups but in its response provides more fuel for their grievances and the perception that the Army is ignoring or perverting the rule of law in order to target any hints of dissent, IFFRAS reported.

The central failing of the Pakistan Army here has been its refusal to recognize the genuine and growing grassroots support for the PTM evinced in its massive rallies and the determination of its leaders to stay the course even in the face of threats to their lives and those of their families.

The draconian response of the Pakistani army to PTM has not only failed to subdue it but has strengthened its resolve and popular support and risked the inflammation of social divisions.