After the tragic incident in Lahore DHA, the police not only arrested people who looked like Pakhtuns, but reportedly also didn’t stop the issuance of public notices by private entities asking people to cooperate and inform the nearby police station if they saw anyone who looked like a Pakhtun or was selling Peshawari green tea, dry fruit, toys and household utensils in that area.
As if that was not enough, more news came of police in Pindi starting surveillance of people belonging to Fata, and considering issuing them chip-based national identity cards equipped with security features.
Why did the police not take action against them earlier if they were involved or suspected to be involved in that heinous crime? These people did not come to Punjab overnight but have been living there for several years. Why did the police wait for some tragedy to happen before initiating action against them? This needs to be probed into thoroughly so that the facts are brought to the surface and all the apprehensions of the people concerned are removed.
And if the suspected involvement of the Pakhtuns is not true, then why harass them or allow them to be harassed? A terrorist is a terrorist, irrespective of his/her ethnicity. Let us not single out Pakhtuns: they are an important component of this country and reside in three different but strategically significant locations. Let us not antagonise them as that will have disastrous consequences.
The inability to stop terrorists from blowing themselves up could have been covered in a way better than just scapegoating a particular ethnic group. This is unacceptable and whosoever is responsible for that must tender an unconditional apology to the nation. Similarly, the derogatory statements issued against the Pakhtuns must be immediately withdrawn and action against those responsible for doing so taken.
How can a person’s ethnicity be an indicator of his/her being a terrorist or not? Can an ethnicity alone be taken as a sign to call people names and consider them inferior or of lesser intelligent? Can that be a yardstick for treating them as second class citizens or to arrest them on one pretext or another?
Let us not forget that Pakhtuns have a long history of rendering innumerable sacrifices for the sake of this country. History is replete with examples of their valour and bravery. Despite all that, they are suspected and treated with contempt. They are facing increased suicide attacks on the one hand, and are being targeted as culprits for those attacks by the very forces that are supposed to curb such atrocities on the other.
Let us not forget that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam or at least the word Islam was heavily used in its making. It was expected that all ethnicities would be treated alike and given their all their rights in this country. While this is what is expected of a government, the Punjab government seems to be on a path to hurt the sentiments of all Pakhtuns.
It appears that we have learnt nothing from the past. The East Pakistan debacle was enough to have taught us some lessons but we still do not refrain from ridiculing others. If any ethnicity has bore the brunt of the war on terror, it has been the Pakhtuns. They have suffered the most but instead of rewarding them for the sacrifices, they are going through surveillance tactics.
How can the police insinuate that the people of Fata, by default, are more likely to commit acts of terror? This belief and the subsequent action taken violates Article 15 of the constitution which grants “freedom of movement” to all citizens.
If people hailing from Fata are considered terrorists simply by virtue of belonging to that area, then we shouldn’t be screaming nay when President Trump proposes a registry for Muslims in order to keep tabs on them in the US. We won’t let him do that but plan to implement something similar in our own country?
It would have been far better had the government of Punjab ensured that security officials were fully alert to the nefarious designs of the militants. Rhetoric alone will not do: the nation wants action and that too across the board.
A country already suffering from sectarian violence cannot afford further division along ethnic lines. Instead of taking steps to forge unity between people, such steps seem hell-bent on weeding out whatever little cohesion we have as a nation of mixed ethnicities.
The writer is a former ambassador.