Caught Between The Military And Militants, Pakistan's Pashtuns Fight For Rights : Parallels A new rights movement is led by an activist from South Waziristan, a front line in the war on terrorism. Manzoor Pashteen has attracted thousands of followers in his nonviolent push for reform.
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Caught Between The Military And Militants, Pakistan's Pashtuns Fight For Rights

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Caught Between The Military And Militants, Pakistan's Pashtuns Fight For Rights

Caught Between The Military And Militants, Pakistan's Pashtuns Fight For Rights

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And next to Pakistan, where we have the story of a young man who's emerged as the leader of a movement protesting the state's violence against his people, the Pashtuns. They live in one of the most dangerous battlegrounds in the war on terror - the borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan. NPR's Diaa Hadid has our story.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Manzoor Pashteen rose to prominence after the police shooting of a Pashtun man in Karachi. The police initially said Naqeebullah Mehsud was a terrorist. But to many people, he was no more than an aspiring male model with a social media following. There were protests which soon snowballed into something bigger. They became about Pashtun discontent. And Pashteen? He emerged as the leader of that movement.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: Manzoor Pashtun, Manzoor Pashtun.

HADID: Pashteen lives in Peshawar. It's near the Afghan border. We drove there to meet him. He's 26, soft-spoken and a veterinarian.

You're a vet?

MANZOOR PASHTEEN: I am a vet.

HADID: (Laughter).

PASHTEEN: Very gentle profession.

HADID: Pashteen grew up in the shadow of the war on terror. He says when he was a kid, he and his family scrambled over mountains to flee clashes that were taking place between the Pakistani army and militants. He says during those years, thousands of Pashtuns died in clashes or disappeared. But he cheered on the Pakistani army - they were fighting the bad guys, the Taliban.

PASHTEEN: (Through interpreter) At that time, I loved the Pakistan army. I thought whatever was happening, at the end of the day, they'd fix it.

HADID: But he says elders who complained about the army's violence were killed by the Taliban, and that made people think they were colluding. He alleges most Taliban leaders were killed by CIA drone strikes, not Pakistani soldiers.

PASHTEEN: (Through interpreter) That's when the people realized that this is a game. But nobody will talk about it because...

HADID: Because they'd be killed, Pashteen says. After most of the fighting died down in 2016, Pashteen's family returned home alongside thousands of others. He says their home was looted. Their land was riddled with landmines. And Pashteen claims Pakistan is still sheltering militants there. All their suffering was for nothing.

PASHTEEN: (Through interpreter) This is a fake war on terror. On the one hand, they're feeding the Taliban. They let them reside in military cantonments. They train them. There is no war on terror. There is only terror.

HADID: The U.S. has also accused Pakistan of harboring militants. The Trump administration recently slashed most military aid to Pakistan over this. Pakistani officials wouldn't comment, so we met retired Air Vice Marshal Shahid Latif. He explains the army's thinking to reporters. Latif says, for years, the army was lenient on militants. They were once allies, but...

SHAHID LATIF: They have turned into terrorists who have taken up arms even against the state.

HADID: Pashteen says one of the reasons why a protest about a slain model became so much bigger is because so many others experienced what he experienced. Pashtuns, he says, were the real victims of the war on terror - the victims of aerial bombardments and clashes between the army and militants.

PASHTEEN: (Through interpreter) It occurs across the Pashtun belt. People say, our women were insulted or that my son was killed. Or my father - he was humiliated.

HADID: Pashteen says he finally decided to speak out last year after a man from his area was killed in an airstrike. Now other Pashtuns echo his call. A few dozen protested in Islamabad last month.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: (Chanting in foreign language).

HADID: Under a giant billboard, they chant, "Who is behind this terrorism? It's a uniform." So far, the state has met some of the movement's demands, but they seem intent on suppressing Pashteen. He says he's not deterred. Pashteen says he'll continue until the Pakistani army leaves the Pashtun heartland and until they get treated, he says, like citizens. Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Peshawar.

(SOUNDBITE OF DANIJEL ZAMBO'S "TIME")

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