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Opinion | In Pakistan, a Pashtun Cry for Equality and Justice

Category: Politics,War & Conflict

The military unleashed thousands of trolls to run a disinformation campaign against the P.T.M., accusing us of starting a “hybrid war.” Almost every day they accuse us of conspiring with Indian, Afghan or American intelligence services. Most of our activists, especially women, face relentless online harassment. A social media post expressing support for our campaign leads to a knock from the intelligence services.

Scores of our supporters have been fired from their jobs. Many activists are held under terrorism laws. Alamzaib Khan Mehsud, an activist who was gathering data and advocating on behalf of victims of land mines and enforced disappearances, was arrested in January. Hayat Preghal, another activist, was imprisoned for months for expressing support from our movement on social media. He was released in October but barred from leaving the country and lost his pharmacist job in Dubai, his sole source of income.

Gulalai Ismail, a celebrated activist, has been barred from leaving Pakistan. On Feb. 5, while protesting against the death of Mr. Luni, the college teacher and P.T.M. leader, she was detained and held incommunicado in an unknown place for 30 hours before being released. Seventeen other activists are still being detained in Islamabad.

Imran Khan, who once boasted of his Pashtun origins, took office as the new prime minister of Pakistan in August, but his government has chosen to do little to change the state’s attitude toward our demands for justice and civil rights.

The military is keen to ensure absolute control. We are not seeking a violent revolution, but we are determined to push Pakistan back toward a constitutional order. We are drawing some consolation from the recent judgment by Pakistan’s Supreme Court telling the military and the intelligence agencies to stay out of politics and media.

To heal and reform our country, we seek a truth and reconciliation commission to evaluate, investigate and address our grievances. Since our movement emerged, public opinion in Pakistan has turned against extrajudicial killings. Most major political parties maintain that enforced disappearances have no place in the country.

The legal and structural changes will take time, but breaking the silence and reducing the fear sustained for decades by the security apparatus is a measure of our success, even if the P.T.M.’s leaders are imprisoned or eliminated.

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