Mind the Trap: How Foreign Intelligence Hijacked PTM

Sidra Insar Chaudhary


Sidra Insar Chaudhary

America’s War for the Greater Middle East is a highly regarded book by the former US army colonel Andrew Bacevich. In this book, Bacevich has recounted American tactics and tools used to dominate the middle-eastern region. Among these tools, instigating and bolstering anti-state groups as human rights campaigners was perhaps the most used tool, second only to direct military intervention.  Bacevich provides many examples, but perhaps Arab spring of 2012 is the most notable and similar to what we are observing today in other parts of the world. The book illustrates how during the Arab spring the US used the human rights groups to pressurize or sometimes even toppled the governments in the region. The same maneuvers are being used now in Waziristan to bring Pakistani state to its heels and undermine its long-term strategic relationship with China.

The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) first turned up on the public realm as a peaceful rights movement demanding probe into the murder of a Pashtun named Naqibullah Mehsud. However, swiftly, with external assistance and invisible funds, it started holding rallies and got connected to prominent senators and academic circles across Pakistan. The western media started publishing articles on the movement. Interestingly, PTM only gives interviews to foreign media outlets and ignores the local Pakistani media altogether. Among foreign media, Indian media has been the most prominent proponent of PTM. One can find articles supporting PTM in Indian newspapers frequently. It also gets headline space among prime-time Indian news bulletins. For example, Indian Magazine The Quint published “What does Pashtun Tahafuz Movement in Pakistan want?” on June 28, 2018, when very little was known of PTM.

As the PTM gained more traction, its list of demands kept growing. Initially, Pakistani government agreed to all the demands. For instance, army check posts in the Waziristan region were reduced to a bare minimum. The tribal area was also merged with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the government also announced allocation of 100 billion Rs per year for next 10 years to develop the area. PTM also took part in dialogues, but because of pressure from its sponsors it backed out and refused to have any kind of dialogue despite countless offers from the Pakistani government.

Why did the CIA and RAW pick NDS to take the lead in dealing with the PTM? Answer lies in the fact that it was more pragmatic and effective for the NDS to use the Pashtun ethnic foundations, and so far it has done so effectively. Afghan national flag is what PTM mostly uses during its meetings abroad. For instance, a PTM event in Britain on June 23, 2018 hoisted the Afghan national flag. PTM, like Afghan government, doesn’t recognize the Durand Line – the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. PTM has even threatened to destroy the fence installed by the Pakistani army to stop the cross-border movement of terrorists. PTM also supports drone attacks by the US on its own Pashtun brethren. It has also never condemned the terrorist group Pakistan Tahreek e Taliban (TTP) for its atrocities. PTM law makers were also the only one from Pakistan invited to the recent oath taking ceremony of Ashraf Ghani. NDS sent a special military helicopter to take the both law-makers to Kabul. Another bizarre incident was PTM issuing statements against Tajiki politicians in Afghanistan when they pulled out of Ashraf Ghani’s government.

The strategy with PTM is unambiguous: use the group to seek a flash point and then exploit that moment to spread discord to undermine Pakistan’s army and consequently the whole state. Recently, a video of PTM lawmaker Mohsin Dawar emerged on social media in which we can see Dawar telling his supporters to defy government’s corona lockdown because its “nothing” more than a way for the army “to make money”. Another law maker from PTM, Ali Wazir, has termed the shifting of covid-19 patients to neighboring Dera Ismail Khan district as “a conspiracy against Pashtuns.” Wazir also termed covid-19 outbreak as a way for the army to “earn dollars.” When this attempt failed and people obeyed the instructions of government, NDS and PTM moved on to the next incident. At a time when Pakistan Army has been stretched to its limits in the fight against corona pandemic in the country, PTM blamed it for the murder of its activist De Sadiqullah Wazir. After the murder, PTM, with the help from its foreign friends, launched a social media campaign against Pakistan’s law enforcement institutions, accusing them of murder. Again, the people in tribal districts rejected PTM’s claims and followed the lockdown instructions issued by the government.

With each passing day, PTM’s narrative is growing weaker. Pashtuns are realizing that PTM is using them to serve their vested interests instead of fighting for the rights of Pashtuns. Incidents of people shouting at PTM leaders are becoming a routine fixture of their rallies. Some have even posted videos on social media sites where they can be seen burning their PTM caps and Afghan flags.

Just like Andrew Bacevich, former diplomat turned journalist, Ronan Farrow, who has also served in Pakistan, has described in his first book War on Peace the US strategy of using rights groups as a tool to achieve foreign policy goals. PTM’s failure has revealed the limitations of this strategy. The good sentiments for and the reputation of the movement has suffered immensely. However, things can still be turned around. PTM has to realize that it can achieve far more for Pashtun people by working with the Pakistani state instead of hostile agencies. It is imperative for PTM’s survival that it self-analyses its strategy and exposes its leadership that has hijacked the movement and turned it into an adversary foreign intelligence operation.