As a Pashtoon teenager, I grew up in Punjab with some of the most demeaning cliches of Pashtoons; smugglers, money-lenders at exorbitant rates of interest, child and car-lifters were some of the most disparaging stereotypes associated with Pashtoons. Now, little past mid-50s, officials in Punjab stunned me by telling me that terrorism flows only from the lands that are inhabited by Pashtoons in the northwest of Pakistan next to Afghanistan.
Ironically, Punjab tops all other Pakistani territories in terms of religious/extremist/outlawed groups density; as many as 107 of the 240 or so socio-politically lethal groups are headquartered in the province, with 71 in Lahore and around alone, including the one that is an eye-sore for Indians. Only about 21 religious parties/groups subscribe to the present political system, though most of them are primarily one-man parties.
Out of this, 148 are sectarian outfits while 24 are jihadi organisations, while 12 outfits claim to work for revival of Islamic Khilafat as their objective. General Zia laid the foundations of this elaborate network of politico-religious and sectarian groups in order to promote the jihadist narratives in support of the movements in Kashmir and Afghanistan. He, on the other hand, also saw them as the essential tool for self-preservation in the face of a liberal Pakistan People’s Party and the Pashtoon nationalist Awami National Party (ANP).
With state sponsorship Jhang emerged as the hub of sectarian extremism, where Haq Nawaz Jhangvi founded the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, followed by many others.
Those branding Pashtoons must remember; Osama bin Laden or Dr Al-Zawahiri or Abu Bakr Baghdadi are not Pashtoons. Nor are their Pakistani followers such as Hafiz Saeed, Mulana Aziz, Abdur Rasheed Ghazi, Malik Ishaq , Maulana Masood Azhar, Farooq Kashmiri, Maulana Fazlurrehman Khalil inter alia. Nor did General Hameed Gul, the globally known political mentor of these believers in the global jihad, had anything to do with Pashtoons. Groups such as ETIM, IMU, Daesh, Chechen Rebels — all of them currently hiding in Afghanistan or the Pak-Afghan border regions — are also not Pashtoons either.
Yes, of course these jihadists inspired, persuaded and baited many Pashtoons into the jihadi networks, particularly those 20 or so outfits operating in Afghanistan in collusion with the Afghan Taliban. And over the years, they have all assumed the same fatigue and appearance. So, why did some police officials equate a certain appearance with Pashtoons and thus linked it to terrorism? This situation requires top political leaders to unequivocally condemn “stereotyping” of an entire ethnic group. The HRCP has rightly emphasised the need for corrective measures to be introduced for officials at the training and execution stages in order to prevent recurrence of ‘racial profiling’. It also demanded
“safeguards to protect individuals from harassment or being treated as suspects because of the their appearance or facial features. Police and intelligence officials in particular must be taken to task if they imply that terrorism and extremism only flows from K-P and Fata. The most rabid sectarian terrorist organisations are indeed headquartered in a number of areas of the country. Externalising sources of terrorism by dumping it on a particular ethnic group is scandalous as well as detrimental to the slogan of Pakistanhood. It also seriously jeopardises the constitutional guarantees for equality of citizens and preservation of their dignity.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2017.