In a voicepk.net exclusive, Munizae Jahangir (journalist and host of Aaj TV’s “Spot Light”) sat down with member of the National Assembly and one of the leaders of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, Mohsin Dawar, in a one-on-one conversation. Dawar discusses the narratives revolving around the controversial political group, dismissing many misconceptions, as well as the State clampdown on rights movements. Dawar has been made a media pariah due to a State-imposed blanket ban on PTM leaders and workers from appearing on local television channels.
Jahangir: Mr. Dawar, there are some [PTM] supporters who have been sent to jail. How many are in jails, and what charges have been levied against them? Are you hopeful that they will be set free?
Dawar: There are 23 workers, some from the PTM and others from the Awami Workers Party, who were picked up during the Islamabad protests 2 days ago. Most of them have been charged with sedition. Arrests were also made during our rally in Bannu. Some of our workers are still “missing”. One was arrested after an FIR was lodged against him.
We’ve had supporters being arrested long before all this. Alamgir Wazir was arrested immediately after the Student Solidarity March. Arif Wazir is in jail, and recently there was Manzoor Pashteen, all under various charges. But we are hopeful that we will be able to maintain pressure. We are fulfilling all legal requirements because there is no content [in the prosecution’s argument]. The charges are entirely baseless, so God-willing, they will get bail soon.
Jahangir: But as a member of the National Assembly, have you received any support from your MNA colleagues? In particular from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), as its stance on the production orders [is in line with the PTM’s], and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had also recently tweeted about Manzoor Pashteen’s arrest. What kind of support have they lent PTM? And what kind of support, if any, have you received from the Pakistan Muslim League (N)?
Dawar: Bilawal Bhutto very publically denounced the Kharqamar Incident, even though at the time he was stakeholder in building a narrative. For a prominent political figure to speak in our favour was extremely supportive.
General Secretary of the PPP, Mr. Farhatullah Babar, has participated in all our rallies and conferences so far – we’ve received plentiful support from the PPP.
On the other hand, ever since the PTI formed government, Parliament has become entirely dysfunctional. They’ve turned it into a rubber-stamp parliament. It’s just a gathering of talking of heads now, perhaps at its worst in Pakistan’s parliamentary history. They cannot extend any votes.
Jahangir: But have you been in talks with any parliamentarian – as you mentioned Mr. Farhatullah Babar – aside from those in the PPP? Has any PML (N) leader reached out to you?
Dawar: There are some comrades of ours in the PML (N) who lean in our favour, who have supported our views. We appreciate any and all kinds of support [from my fellow parliamentarians]. It’s been a personal wish of mine that we don’t stand against each other in political struggles. It’s true everyone has their own ideology, however, to stand against us on the insistence of others, I don’t want that. From the tiniest modicum of support to the furthest extent of it, we appreciate it all.
Jahangir: [PTM]’s critics claim that [the party] receives support from foreign powers, namely Afghanistan. Then, when Manzoor Pashteen was arrested, President Ashraf Ghani [of Afghanistan] tweeted about it, which was then used as evidence of one of the weaknesses of [PTM]’s narrative. What is your opinion on this?
Dawar: Allegations of foreign support are entirely baseless, I’ve challenged them before on the floor of the house and I challenge them even now. They’re baseless because accusers have no concrete proof. As with regards to President Ghani’s tweet; human rights do not have any boundaries. We say that injustices are being carried out against Kashmiris… If President Ghani had tweeted about injustices [against Pashtuns] when there isn’t any, then it could be taken as valid criticism [of the PTM]. But the injustice is real, it’s happening.
Being a Pashtun, an Afghan, there is a national relationship with Afghanistan. In whichever corner of the world there is an Afghan, a human being… when one’s rights are being violated, I am pained by it and I will condemn that violation.
Our narrative is very strong, and [our critics] cannot punch any holes in it, so they resort to making allegations that [PTM] received foreign funding. This isn’t something new. Ever since the creation of Pakistan, such allegations were levied against anyone who ever challenged the status quo.
Jahangir: But it seems that [the PTM] is finding itself in a tighter spot by the day. Your Chief [Manzoor Pashteen] is in jail; there is always a concern that you and Ali Wazir will be arrested in one case or another. In such an environment, what hopes do you harbor in furthering your political struggle, as you put it?
Dawar: Firstly, as I’ve mentioned before, the cases levied against us don’t have any “content”, they’re baseless. For example, in one of the hearings on the Bannu rally, it was spelled out in the verdict that there was no basis for a case to be filed. It was a waste of everyone’s time, including the prosecution and judiciary.
However, it is true that some people are making themselves a bit notorious.
But by heaping false allegations on a nonviolent, peaceful struggle, they are being routinely presented in courts. However, the courts decisions are made on merit, and when there is no evidence that support the prosecution’s arguments, we secure bail fairly easily. We’ve managed to secure bail in every single case filed against us so far. This isn’t a concern for us. Ours is a peaceful struggle for human rights, we talk of this very nation’s Constitution – the Constitution which the judiciary conforms to. We demand [our rights as granted to us by] the Constitution.
What gives us strength is the knowledge that people are standing with us, the public is with us. There is no greater evidence than our rallies, where people join in out of volition, because they know that we give voice to what is in their hearts, we give voice to their ideologies.