Are India, Afghanistan Using Pashtuns Against Pakistan? Expert Analysis

The presence of prominent Pakistani Pashtuns leaders at Ashraf Ghani’s swearing-in ceremony as the Afghan President has angered many in Islamabad. Islamabad has been utterly suspicious of Pashtuns activists who have been labelling Pakistan Army as terrorists.

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There were more than a dozen Pakistani politicians in the audience and almost all of them were ethnic Pashtuns, who form the biggest ethnic group in Afghanistan and one of the largest minority groups in Pakistan. However, two lawmakers, Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir have been at the receiving end.

Initially, both Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir were not permitted to travel to Kabul but another ethnic Pashtun – PM Imran Khan intervened timely. When they did arrive in Kabul, Ghani delayed his speech and dispatched a chopper to bring the PTM members to the venue.

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Dawar and Wazir are members of the Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement (PTM).  The PTM was launched by human rights activist Manzoor Pashteen to address the grievances of Pashtuns, who live in the north-western part of the country, close to the Afghan border.

The Pashtuns have been bearing the brunt of the so-called “war on terror” for nearly two decades. When the US attacked Afghanistan post the 9/11 attacks, terror organizations operating in Afghanistan moved to neighbouring Pakistan and took refuge in the areas where Pashtuns lived. In response, the Pakistani army started carrying out military actions to “clear the area from terrorists”.

However, rather than destroying terror infrastructure and eliminating terrorists, Pakistan army frequently victimised innocent civilians. Pashtuns across Pakistan were labelled as terrorists even though they themselves were victims of terrorism.

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Pakistan-Afghanistan Connection

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,400-kilometre-long border called the Durand Line, which cuts right through the Pashtuns heartland. Kabul doesn’t recognise the border.

It’s not uncommon for Pashtuns who live in Pakistani tribal areas to have family members in Afghanistan. But Pakistan has been growing suspicious of expanding Afghan backing of the PTM who in turn are supported by New Delhi.

Moreover, pictures circulated showing Dawar and Wazir with Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghanistan’s intelligence, who is accused by Islamabad of sheltering & sponsoring terrorists who have carried out deadly attacks in Pakistan.

Dawar and Wazir are members of Pakistan’s national assembly. They have both won seats from the tribal areas of North and South Waziristan. A lawyer by profession, Dawar has been the PTM’s voice in the assembly.

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But Pakistan’s powerful army continues to view the PTM as a threat and covertly blames them for being Afghan and Indian puppets. However, experts talking to EurAsian Times says that Islamabad has nothing to fear from the PTM as they are a non-violent group and only seek justice for their people. It is better that the Pakistan government tries to address their concerns instead of labelling them as terrorists.