Pakistan's powerful military, long accused by outsiders of backing Islamist militant groups, is facing an unexpected challenge -- a charismatic young Pashtun man who won't keep quiet.
Fellow Pashtuns have rallied behind Manzoor Pashteen in a dramatic outpouring of frustration over accusations of discrimination and extrajudicial killings at the hands of men in uniform.
Hundreds of thousands of them have had to leave their homes near the border with Afghanistan in the last decade, fleeing fighting that erupted when the army began what the Pashtun Protection Movement (PTM) says was a selective clampdown on the militants that took refuge there after the 2001 US-led ousting of the Taliban.
Echoing accusations by Washington and Kabul, PTM activists say the military continues to allow these extremists a safe haven from which to launch attacks in Afghanistan, while targeting insurgents that have turned their guns on Pakistan.
"This policy... it's very dangerous for us," Pashteen, the movement's 26-year-old leader, told AFP during a recent interview.
The strategy, he says, has upended traditional Pashtun tribal society, as civilians are harassed, killed or abducted by security forces and insurgents in the ensuing crossfire.
Pashteen's movement poses a unique challenge to the military's narrative about its war on militants, says analyst Michael Semple, because it has given a voice to previously marginal accounts.
"It remains one of the weak points of the double game approach -- real people live there and see what you're doing," said Semple, a professor at Queen's University Belfast. "This movement is spilling the beans."
At a rally on Sunday in Lahore, thousands came to chant the PTM slogan: "The uniforms are behind the terrorists".
It was a remarkable scene, with such accusations against the security establishment viewed as a dangerous red line that few have dared to cross.
Pashtuns hold a complicated place in Pakistan, where they number roughly 30 million, accounting for 15 percent of the population.Lauded for their martial abilities since Alexander the Great, both militants and the military have turned to them for decades to fight their wars. Both the Afghan and the Pakistani Taliban, two separate militant entities, are dominated by Pashtuns.
As a result, ordinary Pashtun civilians are often stereotyped as backward tribesmen in league with terrorists, harassed in cities, hassled by landlords and denied hotel rooms.
"We have fought for our own country. Then why has this been done to us?" asked PTM supporter Sher Bahadar Afridi.