Since its inception in 1947, Pakistan has seized every opportunity to project itself as a trusted U.S. ally, and successive American Administrations have continued to buy it. The fruits of this policy have been enormous for Pakistan: It has received billions of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars in various accounts of aids and grants as well as sophisticated military hardware every year. Pakistan’s efforts to project itself as a friend of the U.S. received a major boost following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, when the Pakistan army, in particular its powerful military intelligence agency ISI, played a key role in organizing Mujahideen against the Soviet forces. This was possible thanks to generous military and financial support from the U.S. and a few oil-rich Arab countries.
Incited by religious clerics, tens of thousands of young Muslims from all over the world flocked to Afghanistan via Pakistan to fight the Soviets. After the collapse of the U.S.S.R., the majority of these fighters decided to make Pakistan and Afghanistan their new homelands — their own countries were reluctant to welcome them back due to the extremist religious views they had been indoctrinated with in Jihadi camps. The Pakistani Military Establishment, however, was more than hospitable to accommodate these Jihadists on Pakistani soil as it saw in them a great potential to be used as “proxies” of the Pakistani Military Establishment in Kashmir, India and Afghanistan. Since then, Pakistan has turned out to be a great safe haven for religious extremist outfits and their masterminds, including Osama bin Laden, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and Taliban chief Mullah Omar, who all received excellent hospitality from Pakistan’s “deep state.”
This whole idea of turning Pakistan into a safe haven for Jihadists has created a global perception that Pakistan is homeland to an undivided, highly devout Muslim nation that is willing to welcome every Muslim on its soil with open arms. Many also believe Pakistan is a homogenous country with no ethnic, political or religious differences. As truth to be told, such perceptions are as far from the truth as they could get.
In reality, ethnically, religiously, politically and economically, Pakistan is far more polarized and fragmented than most countries in the world. Pakistan’s powerful military, which controls Pakistan’s security and foreign policy, hails mostly from one province only: Punjab. Barring a small number of low-level officers and personnel from the frontier KP Province, no other ethnic group except Punjabis is welcome in the Pakistan Army.
This highly disproportionate representation of people from Punjab in Pakistan’s powerful military, which has ruled the country for nearly half of its life, has made ethnic Punjabis a dominant ethnic group in Pakistan, something that people from other provinces have long resented. It was this hegemony of Punjab over other ethnic groups that prompted Pakistan’s majority ethnic group, the Bengalis, to revolt against Islamabad and demand freedom in the late 1960s. The Pakistan Army’s response to this demand was a brutal military action in the former East Pakistan against fellow Muslim Bengalis: Tens of thousands of Bengali men and women were massacred, thousands disappeared, and over a quarter-of-a-million Bengali women were raped by Pakistan Army personnel from Punjab. Both perpetrators and victims were Muslims. Despite the use of these vicious tactics, the Pakistan Army failed to stop the Bengalis seceding from Pakistan, and in 1971, the country’s eastern part became a sovereign independent state, Bangladesh.
Ethnic Balochs and Pashtuns, the native residents of Pakistan’s Baluchistan and KP Provinces, have also continued to face major military operations under one pretext or another. Fearing that the Pashtuns would soon follow the Bengalis’ example and demand their own homeland, the ISI decided to use religion as a weapon to counter growing Pashtun nationalism. Soon after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, religious clerics hired by the Pakistani Military Establishment set up thousands of religious seminaries (Madrassahs) throughout the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province (formerly known as North-West Frontier Province, or NWFP), where young Pashtuns were indoctrinated to become radical Muslims and patriotic Pakistanis. This tactic paid the dividend as the province saw a steady decline of nationalist forces and the rise of religious radicals since the mid-1980s. Most Taliban fighters were eventually recruited from KP, and the notorious Haqqani Network also has its most sanctuaries located in this province. According to media reports, the former spokesman of Taliban, Ahsan-ullah Ahsan, also lives in an army-protected safe house in KP capital city Peshawar.
Balochistan Province, which had refused to join Pakistan at the time of the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan, was forcibly annexed with Pakistan and has since seen numerous military operations. This province is strategically sensitive: It borders with Iran and Afghanistan and has a huge coastal belt. It also has vast reserves of minerals, precious gems and other natural resources. A few years ago, Pakistan’s Military Establishment agreed to allow Chinese to develop and operate Balochistan’s strategically important Gawadar seaport. Since then, Chinese influence in this province has grown rapidly. Recently, Pakistan and China agreed to build a controversial China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) starting from Balochistan’s Gawadar Seaport. All these steps have tremendously increased Pakistan’s Punjabi-dominated military’s presence and control in Balochistan, something that indigenous Balochs bitterly resent. To suppress growing Baloch nationalism and anti-Pakistan sentiments, the military has started yet another ruthless security operation in the province, which has led to widespread human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances.
The latest victims of Pakistan’s Punjabi-dominated Army are ethnic Mohajirs, descendants of those millions who had migrated to Pakistan from India following the partition of Indian sub-continent in 1947. The forefathers of these immigrants made huge sacrifices for Pakistan’s creation: They lived in Hindu-majority provinces of pre-partition India and feared a perpetual subjugation under a Hindu-majority following the departure of British from India. Pakistan’s founding fathers capitalized on those fears to advance demand for Pakistan, but closed its borders soon after the creation of Pakistan to stop the influx of Muslim immigrants from India. This left millions of Muslims with no option but to continue to remain in India. As a result, millions of families were divided forever between two hostile countries, and India was left with a bigger Muslim population than Pakistan.
These immigrants once assumed that their religion of Islam would transcend all ethnic and regional differences and they’d be able to easily assimilate in Pakistan. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen, and since the early years of Pakistan’s creation, Mohajirs have been facing extreme prejudice and persecution in a country they had lost everything for.
A majority of these Mohajirs (immigrants) had settled in Karachi, Pakistan’s first capital and major port city. Armed with education and entrepreneurial skills, Mohajirs soon turned Karachi into a prosperous and buzzing commercial and industrial city. Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah had chosen Karachi as the capital of the nation, but Pakistan’s first military dictator Ayub Khan moved the capital from Karachi to Punjab, leaving thousands of Mohajir civil servants jobless. Mohajirs were soon permanently barred from higher civil service jobs and the military, and their industries and financial institutions were nationalized without any compensation under the garb of socialism. They are the majority in Sindh Province and their taxes effectively run Pakistan’s economy, yet they have no representation in jobs, military, police and civil services. There has never been a Mohajir chief minister of Sindh Province.
Karachi, the city with a majority Mohajir population, has been suffering from great injustices in census figures and electoral constituencies. Wikipedia ranks Karachi as the second most populated city in the world, but the last census figures unashamedly showed Karachi’s population at less than half of its real strength. All security forces personnel in Karachi are non-local as the city’s youth are never accepted in the security forces.
Pakistan’s Jihad-obsessed Military Establishment is also busy victimizing Karachi’s secular and pro-U.S. political leadership. While secular Mohajir leadership is facing extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and physical torture, anti-Western radical religious terrorist outfits are thriving in Karachi under official patronage. There are areas in Karachi where religious extremists have set up their own parallel justice system, Sharia Courts, and sentences such as beheading and amputations are common. Media, however, cannot cover this due to intimidation. It is not difficult to find videos on social media that show venom-spewing, religious hardliners collecting donations for “Jihad against America” in Karachi in the presence of paramilitary Rangers.
As recently as Sunday morning, Pakistani security forces are suspected of abducting and killing Harvard-educated Professor Dr. Hasan Zafar Arif in Karachi. The dead body of Prof. Arif, 73, was found January 14, 2018, on the outskirts of Karachi. His body bore marks of brutal torture, according to confidential sources. He was the main leader of Mohajir’s mainstream political party, the secular Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) in Pakistan, and had recently been released from prison where he had been kept without charge for months.
While the Pakistani Military Establishment’s obsession with religious extremism is a matter of grave concern for all peace-loving people worldwide, particularly given the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state, it is heartening to see there are strong ethnic groups within the country, such as Mohajirs and Balochs, who stand opposed to religious fanatics and are more than willing to support every global effort for lasting peace in Pakistan as well as in the region.
The current U.S. Administration has recently shown great courage by directly pointing out as to how Pakistan has been hoodwinking the U.S. by receiving massive financial assistance on one hand and providing support and safe havens to the killers of the U.S. soldiers on its soil on the other. But this realization must not remain confined to social media posts only; it must be accompanied by concrete actions. Supporting ethnic Mohajirs and Balochs on humanitarian grounds will be a great starting point. It could be followed by efforts to ensure that all ethnic groups, in particular pro-U.S. ones, are given equal share in the military and governance of Pakistan. This diversity will herald lasting peace in the region. Until Pakistan’s “deep state” comes to term, all U.S. and European military and financial aid to Pakistan must be suspended.
• Author Nadeem Nusrat, a U.S. citizen, is the former head of Pakistan’s third largest political party. He is now the spokesperson for #FreeKarachi Campaign.
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