It is official now. The Punjab police has issued written instructions to its personnel to keep an eye on people with Pashtun/Afghan dresses and food habits as terror suspects. Police officials of Mandi Bahaudin were not shy of widely circulating written instructions for profiling of Pashtuns/Afghans with interesting details in this regard. According to credible press reports Punjab police is keeping thousands of FATA Pashtuns under surveillance and is considering the issuance of special NIC equipped with security chip in Rawalpindi, Attock, Chakwal and Jehlum. Not that it’s new. This has been a policy implemented by the Punjab government during the last so many years. Deputy Commissioners of Attock, Bhakkar, Chakwal and some other districts of Punjab adjacent to Pakhtunkhwa had been issuing directions to the local population for not renting out or selling properties to Pashtuns hailing from FATA or Pakhtunkhwa.
Every wave of Punjab police action against “terrorists” would practically mean incarceration of large numbers of Pashtuns/Afghans. Initially the Afghan refugees bore the brunt of this policy of racial discrimination. But the IDPs from Malakand division and FATA also faced similar treatment when they were forced to leave their homes during military operations in their areas. Even their Pakistani Identity Cards wouldn’t help them as Punjab police and Federal Investigation Agency would block these cards after their arrests. Pashtun political leaders and parliamentarians have raised these issues on every level but the arrogant Punjabi bureaucracy has refused to budge. Ironically, the Punjabi political elite and their so called mainstream media that clamours a lot about the unjustness and unfairness of Muslim profiling in US fails to see the brazen racial discrimination against Pashtuns under their nose. The irony is further deepened by the fact that Afghan Taliban along with several other proscribed organisations feel quite safe.
The flow of Pashtun/Afghan population to the south and the east towards Indian subcontinent has been a constant phenomenon for a long time in the history of South Asia. From seasonal migration to military invasions and to empire building, these population movements have taken different forms. But by and large people migrating from the northwestern highlands were able to integrate with local populations and become part of their social and cultural milieu by enriching it. However the massive dislocation of Pashtuns over the last four decades has been caused by the devastating military conflict in Afghanistan and in the Pashtun belt of Pakistan. This is the biggest dislocation in Pashtun/Afghan history and also caused by the biggest catastrophe ever faced by them.
So far no scientific research has been conducted to ascertain the quantity and quality of the dangerous modern weapons used against Afghan/Pashtun people and the horrific devastation caused by them. But if such a research is conducted some day I am sure it will bring out the fact that both the arsenal used and the destruction caused by it are unprecedented in the history of warfare.
There have been a number of players from big powers like the former Soviet Union and the US as well as regional states who have shaped the conflict in and around Afghanistan by their political and military intervention. All of them are responsible for creating this large scale and long-term humanitarian crisis of refugees and displaced populations. But one player that has remained at the core of this conflict almost all the time is the Punjabi dominated security establishment of Pakistan and its policy of the so-called strategic depth. Taliban project is its favorite instrument for implementation of the policy of strategic depth. In recent years it has become the sole reason for prolonging the conflict. Victims of the humanitarian crisis will obviously feel greater pain when the policy of racial discrimination is devised and executed by the very player that bears the main responsibility for causing the crisis in the first place. Imagine the dilemma of the Pashtun IDPs from FATA who are still facing F-16 bombardments and heavy artillery firing in their own areas and extreme harassment, persecution and racial profiling when they enter Punjab to seek shelter for physical security.
The ripples created by the issue of racial profiling of Pashtuns also raises questions about the state-building and nation-building project in Pakistan. During the so-called Afghan Jihad which was supported by western powers and Pakistan Army in 1980s, Pashtun bureaucrats and religious parties were given prominence in Pakistan for supporting Zia-ul-Haq’s Afghan policy. That development had prompted some analysts to talk about the “cooption” of Pashtun elites as a “junior partner” in Pakistani power structure. But as soon as the Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan the aforementioned illusion was dispelled as Pashtuns lost prominence in the state system. In fact growing militarisation has deepened the Punjabisation of the state in the same proportion because security apparatuses of the country are totally dominated by Punjab. Even the devolution of powers to the provinces under the 18th Constitutional Amendment (which has yet to be fully implemented) is apparently of little help as the army dominated Apex Committees are ruling the entire country with military operations going on everywhere. There is no cut off date to this process and it seems to be taking deeper roots with the passage of time. The growing alienation is not limited to Pashtuns. Baloch are facing a military operation for long years and there is no visible effort to find a political solution to the problem.
The Pakistan Peoples Party functions as a bridge for Sindhis to connect them to the mainstream but at times even they are forced to shout out against the high handedness of the big brother. Urdu speaking population in urban areas of Sindh have their own grievances caused by oppressive state policies. The situation is further aggravated by the decline of the left in country’s politics because it was instrumental in connecting national question of the smaller ethnic groups with the class question, leading to a stronger democratic movement. Currently democratic movement is quite fragmented. This certainly doesn’t auger well for the future of the federation.
Formalization of the policy of racial profiling of Pashtuns in Punjab is yet another challenge for federal democracy and rule of law in Pakistan. Much of the future will depend on response to such challenges.
Afrasiab Khattak is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs
This article first appeared in The Nation, a leading daily newspaper of Pakistan. Click here to go to the original.