Read, Debate: Engage.

Nonviolence: the most effective counter-terrorism tool

May 12, 2023
topic:Peace and Reconciliation
tags:#Pakistan, #terrorism, #Taliban, #minority rights, #nonviolence
located:Pakistan, Afghanistan
by:Osama Ahmad
In Pakistan, a grassroots civil rights movement is emerging as the strongest line of defense against state brutalities and Taliban terrorism targeting a minority group that is caught in the cross-fire.

The ongoing militancy in areas of Pakistan populated by Pashtuns - an ethnic minority group - is causing significant harm to the region and its inhabitants who are subjected to both terrorist attacks and government repression.

Since 1979, Pashtuns living in the mountainous terrain of the semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan have been victimised by a slew of terrorist groups based out of these highlands. Among such groups are the Haqqani Network, Al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariati-e- Mohammadi and, most notably, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

The continued violence has left the Pashtuns in a perpetual state of anxiety and despair, and stoked deep divisions within their communities. "This unending terrorism in the Pashtun land is the child of British colonial policies that led to the creation of FATA, to which Pakistan later introduced religion - leading to violent extremism and terrorism," Hayat Roghani, a novelist and socio-cultural critic, told FairPlanet. 

FATA was created by the British empire as a buffer zone between their Indian dominion and Afghanistan, which existed until the 25th amendment to the Pakistani constitution was adopted in 2018 and incorporated these areas into Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

Roghani added that the Pakistani state benefits financially from this ongoing terrorism as it runs a war economy which thrives on the revenue coming from the establishment of militant groups and subsequent declaration of war against them at the request of the US and its allies.

The 2004-2017 insurgency in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, in which the Pashtun homeland was nearly destroyed, was led by the TTP. This militant group, which was chased out of Pakistan after its military conducted more than a dozen operations against it, returned from Afghanistan in 2022 and has been carrying out terrorist attacks ever since - plunging the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province into chaos once again. 

The deadliest attack in this most recent spate of terrorism took place at the Peshawar Police Lines Mosque, in which a hundred individuals were killed and many more were injured. 

Pakistan fails to quash Taliban terrorism

Although Pakistan boasts the seventh most powerful army in the world, it has failed to root out terrorism from its territory, with several administrations being unsuccessful in their attempts to crack down on or forge a peace deal with the TTP. Several failed peace talks had been held between the warring parties, with the TTP escalating its attacks after each of these fruitless attempts.

All the while, the ongoing military operations launched against the terrorist group in different areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have inflicted more damage and harm on civilians than on the militants. 

As of 2020, there were roughly 500,000 people displaced in the North Waziristan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone, with their houses and properties destroyed, and around 83,000 people were killed as a result of these military operations, which cost the Pakistani government USD 126 billion. 

After returning from Afghanistan in 2022, the TTP fighters were once again offered peace talks by the Pakistani government. These talks led to a brief ceasefire between 29 May and 28 November 2022. Shortly after the ceasefire ended, the TTP leadership ordered its fighters to launch a country-wide terrorist campaign.

"I have lost all hope of prosperity and I fear for my life as the returned terrorist violence in the region has made me uncertain [...] whether I would be alive or dead the next moment, and everybody thinks the same - to be the next target of a terrorist attack," Ajmal Wazir, a vendor from South Waziristan, told FairPlanet. 

PTM: the voice of oppressed Pashtuns

As the state continues to neglect Pashtuns, the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) has emerged to advocate for their rights. A grassroot civil rights movement of Pashtuns from the ex-FATA region, PTM has come out against both the state army and Taliban for the atrocities they commit against members of the minority group, and has demanded lasting peace.

The counterterrorism strategy employed by PTM is characterised by nonviolent tactics such as organizing mass sit-ins and demonstrations, which stand in contrast to the state's violent approaches.

Gul Pasand, a member of PTM’s Central Committee, told FairPlanet that "the militants and Pakistani state are on the same page, and in Pakistan’s war against militancy the only casualty are the Pashtun people."

Through its powerful protests and sit-ins, PTM members compelled the state to locate missing persons and reduce the military checkpoints in Pashtun tribal areas. The movement has around 30 individuals at leadership positions and roughly a million followers. PTM’s founding member, Ali Wazir, continues to be subjected to Taliban terrorism, to which he had lost 16 family members thus far. 

Ibrahim kamil, member of PTM’s Provincial Core Committee, told FairPlanet that "as the Pashtuns underwent sufferings caused by militancy and state, such as forcefully disappearing a thousand of them and jailing as many, the PTM emerged as the most powerful civil rights movement to speak for them."

The movement’s rallies and sit-ins have been joined by thousands of Pashtuns. Its meeting held at Karachi on 14 May 2018, for instance, was attended by thousands of supporters despite a severe state crackdown. Novelist Hayat Roghani told FairPlanet that Pashtuns see the PTM as the most effective counter-movement against the TTP’s genocidal violence, and resonate with its message of peace. 

"The PTM is the Pashtuns’ hope against the TTP and other terrorist outfits," Aziz Khan, an elderly farmer from North Waziristan, told Fair Planet.

Effective counterterrorism tactics

PTM’s protests against the TTP have so far been successful in propelling the militants to retreat. In 2022, when TTP fighters returned from Afghanistan to their former stronghold, Swat, PTM organised multiple protests, also known as "olasi pasoons," across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The protests calling for justice for Pashtuns did not end following the departure of the terrorists from Swat, and continue to this day.

The impact of these protests has been significant, as evidenced by the TTP's departure from the area. According to Pasand of PTM’s Central Committee, the movement’s success in countering terrorism can be attributed to the support and trust of the public rather than the use of force.

Image by Basil Minhaj.

Article written by:
Osama Ahmad
Pakistan Afghanistan
Embed from Getty Images
Pashtuns living in Pakistan have endured decades of TTP terrorism.
Embed from Getty Images
"This unending terrorism in the Pashtun land is the child of British colonial policies."
Embed from Getty Images
Although Pakistan has the seventh powerful army in the world, it has failed to effectively counter terrorism.
Call to Action
Piler promote socio-economic equality in Pakistan
Support now