Since the onset of the rights-based Pashtun Protection Movement or PTM in February last year in Pakistan, its supporters have hopes from America to pressure the Pakistan military establishment to accept their demands. The PTM is a nonviolent movement that is demanding justice for war crimes committed against Pakistan’s largest ethnic minority— Pashtuns. The PTM supporters have protested in various cities of the U.S., including in front of the White House in the federal capital, Washington DC. The Trump administration has not issued a single condemnatory statement on the issue. From such a lack of interest, it is clear that the Americans are not interested in the Pashtun problem in Pakistan. There are a number of possible reasons. Some are general. Others are specific to PTM and Pakistan.
Generally, America has a negative historical track record of supporting regressive forces over democratic forces in numerous parts of the world. In the Spanish–American War in 1898, America supported the “independence” of Cuba and the Philippines against Spanish imperialism, but soon after the Spanish withdrawal it dominated the governments and peoples in these countries. When the local people resisted, America went to war against them. The Philippines did not become independent until 1946, almost half a century after dethroning the Spanish Empire with America’s help in 1898. America’s imperial project goes all the way back to the subjugation of the Natives in first few decades of the 19th century, the occupation of Hawaii in 1898 and subsequent exploits in Latin America and in the Middle East in the 20th century.
More recently, in 1986, the United States drew up sanctions on the white-dominated apartheid regime of South Africa, ending constraints from international sanctions on state repression of the anti-apartheid movement. Around the same time, the Reagan administration and Pentagon supported President Marcos of Philippines despite his government’s indiscriminate repression of the democratic opposition. It was because Marcos was America’s ally against Communism in the Philippines. However, Reagan withdrew his support of Marcos when the military-backed civilian uprising against Marcos transpired. There was also a growing wedge between the State Department and Congress and the Reagan administration and Pentagon. For details on the two cases, you can read chapter two of Kurt Schock’s book, Unarmed Insurrection: People Power Movements in Nondemocracies.
There are other cases of America’s support to dictators against democrats, but the question is will America support the PTM in Pakistan. The answer I am afraid is in negative. I may be wrong, but here is why I think so. First, America has more to gain from cooperation with the Pakistan army, especially for the endgame in Afghanistan, than hapless Pashtuns. This is despite the fact that America and the Pashtuns of Pakistan seem to have a common objective: The end of terrorist proxies allegedly backed by Pakistan army and used in Afghanistan. America is also preoccupied at the moment with the peace process with the Taliban in Afghanistan. A senior American expert on the region also confirmed this in a private conversation.
Second, America has supported generals over civilian leaders in Pakistan in the past. That realpolitik equation has not changed yet. With the Trump administration it has become more robust than ever, although he put pressure on Pakistan at the begging. My fear is that just like America and other powerful Western countries left East Timorese to the butchery by the Indonesian military, they will leave Pashtuns to their fate in Pakistan. It behooves these countries to avoid antagonizing Pakistan’s dominant military while it is blatantly denying rights to the Pashtun victims of war.
Third, one of the PTM demands is the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate possible crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity by the Pakistan army. America will not get itself involved in this, because its own leaders and armed forces are guilty of committing war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year, the International Criminal Court (ICC) received 1.7 million cases of war crimes allegedly committed by the NATO and U.S. forces, Afghan secret service and security forces and the Taliban, combined. Since America is not a party to the ICC, the Trump administration cautioned the ICC Prosecutor not get involved. The Prosecutor responded that Afghanistan is a party to the ICC and crimes committed on its soil will have to be investigated. The point is that America will not support PTM in this regard.
Noam Chomsky says America has supported democracy where it has served its interests and opposed it when democracy would threaten American interests. This is true in the light of history. The PTM may stand a chance with the European Union subtracting the United Kingdom, which is the main historical culprit behind the past and current woes of the Pashtuns. Having said that, PTM should knock on all doors for justice, including that of the Americans. It is those who strive for justice, get it someday. The Polish Jew and lawyer Raphael Lemkin got the international community to adopt the Genocide Convention of 1948 after years of campaigning. Don’t forget that Jews were not the favorite of the West at the time and endured conscience-shocking atrocities at Hitler’s hands.
PTM should plead its case and keep telling its story to the world. As my favorite Native American proverb puts, “Those who tell the stories rule the world.”