Pakistan’s Support for Taliban Boomerangs on Islamabad, as Refugees Pour Out of Afghanistan
An investigation into human rights abuses is urgently needed.
Pakistan’s support of the Taliban is boomeranging, as a growing Pashtun population demands rights that Islamabad has long denied them. Tensions are rising as the Pashtuns, fleeing Taliban tyranny in Afghanistan, have been crossing into their eastern neighbor, where they historically constitute a beleaguered minority in contrast with the majority Punjabis.
This spillover from Afghanistan, aside from prompting concerns about political instability in Pakistan, is sparking a growing outcry over alleged human rights violations directed toward the minority Pashtuns. The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, a prominent human rights movement in Pakistan, has faced a crackdown on its leadership by the Pakistani army.
This crackdown underscores a debate across Pakistan over the balance between national security and fundamental freedoms. The PTM, which emerged in 2018, has been a vocal advocate for the rights of the Pashtun, Balochs, and other minorities in Pakistan. The group has been highlighting abuses such as extrajudicial killings, discrimination, economic exploitation, and political repression faced by these minority communities.
Their demands for justice, accountability, and an end to military operations in Pashtun-majority areas of the country have resonated with a population that has long felt marginalized and unheard. The group’s demands have been met with a mix of acknowledgment and repression from the Pakistani government. Some steps have been taken to address certain grievances, but the PTM leadership is facing increasing pressure and intimidation.
The situation escalated to a point where several PTM leaders have been arrested on charges of sedition and terrorism. Domestic and international human rights organizations criticized the arrests, amid other reports of torture and disappearances of PTM activists. Non-governmental organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have expressed concerns over the treatment of PTM leaders and activists.
This has erupted after the arrest of two activists, Eid-U-Rahman and Gilaman Wazir. A prominent PTM leader, Ali Wazir, was previously imprisoned for nearly two years advocating for the rights of Pashtuns and demanding accountability for alleged war crimes allegedly perpetrated over the past 20 years by Pakistan’s army and intelligence agency in Waziristan.
Ali Wazir, who is also a member of Pakistan’s National Assembly, has lost around 19 family members. A prominent PTM activist, Arif Wazir, who was Ali Wazir’s first cousin, was slain in 2020 by what the Pakistani establishment calls unknown gunmen. Many view Ali Wazir’s detention as an attempt to quash dissent and stifle the movement’s demands for justice and accountability.
Supporters of the PTM argue that the arrests and heavy-handed tactics only serve to exacerbate the very grievances that the movement seeks to address, and risk further alienating the Pashtun population.
This situation highlights a dilemma for Pakistan. On one hand, there are what the Pakistani establishment calls genuine security concerns that need to be addressed in certain regions of the country. On the other hand, the government’s response to the PTM’s demands and the subsequent crackdown raise concerns about the erosion of democratic values and human rights.
Since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021, these tensions have been exacerbated, in part because the Pakistani government has played an active role in promoting the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan. Yet the Taliban’s oppression of Afghanis, especially women and girls is prompting an exodus of Pashtuns.
While some Afghans flee west to Iran, Tehran considers them illegal refugees, making it difficult to get asylum, and they’re often forcibly deported to Afghanistan. They risk torture and punishment from the Iranian authorities if they resist repatriation.
The failure to deal fairly with Afghans looking to escape Taliban rule reflects the fact that both Iran and Pakistan view a democratic, stable and prosperous Afghanistan as a threat to their geopolitical interests in the region. A transparent and impartial investigation into allegations of human rights abuses is necessary to restore trust and credibility.