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Ethnic profiling

HISTORY is witness to this nation’s failure in maintaining harmony between the various ethnic groups that inhabit its boundaries. The cataclysmic events of 1971 and the repeated insurgencies in Balochistan offer ample evidence of that. However, the last few weeks have illustrated how our leadership remains appallingly short-sighted on this score. In the aftermath of the recent bombings in Lahore and Sehwan, the Punjab government instructed law-enforcement agencies to focus on areas with a majority of Pakhtuns and Fata-origin people while carrying out raids to apprehend terrorists and their facilitators. Despite the resulting uproar from several political parties, they pressed blithely ahead. Informal orders from administrations in some districts told citizens to keep an eye on individuals belonging to the aforementioned areas. Rawalpindi police began conducting surveillance of people from the tribal areas living within the Pindi division. Even more disturbingly, a proposal to contain them within a certain place and issue them chip-based identity cards is reportedly under consideration. Legislators in the KP Assembly on Monday gave vent to their anger. Yesterday, in the face of gathering fury, Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said that Pakhtuns “had every right to live in Punjab” and that allegations of their victimisation were attempts to “spread hatred”.

The Punjab government’s move to counter the criticism is belated. Its attempt to twist the facts is execrable, for it alone is responsible for sowing division and hatred based on ethnicity. A number of accounts have begun to emerge of the hardship that such profiling is causing ordinary, innocent Pakhtuns in earning their livelihoods and going about their daily lives, already full of hardship for many due to internal migration and militancy in their native areas. Moreover, the smaller provinces have long chafed against what they see as Punjab’s sense of entitlement, and the ‘anti-Pakhtun’ rhetoric only reinforces such damaging perceptions. At the same time, reactions like that of ANP leader Asfandyar Wali Khan, who has threatened forcible eviction of Punjabis from KP, only serve to fuel the fire and are unbecoming of a leader of his stature. Pakistanis must keep in mind that fear and mistrust of each other based on ethnicity or faith can only result in discord and conflict. After all, they are quick to condemn such profiling when they are at the receiving end in other, particularly non-Muslim, countries. What holds good in that situation also holds true in the present one.

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2017

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