As we are faced with a multitude of challenges, it is easy for politicians and policymakers to paint different causes with the same brush. This is a convenient trend. We see Donald Trump bashing Mexicans as rapists to stop them from entering the US. Similarly, to him all Muslims are terrorists and so he wants to stop them from entering the US too. Such generalisations end up creating bigger challenges than those they attempt to address. Extremism has many connotations, and ethnic or religious profiling is one such form of bigotry. Such labelling often aims at legitimising repression against a particular group or ethnicity. That is how women are categorised in patriarchal societies and individuals of African descent subjected to victimisation in many ‘civilised’ societies by being labelled inferior.
That is how Hitler labelled the Jews. That is how colonial powers labelled their subjects as ‘barbarians’ or ‘uncivilised’. That’s exactly what religious terrorists do. They label all those Muslims who don’t subscribe to their specific interpretation of religion as apostates and as legitimate targets of their terrorist attacks. For Trump, all Muslims are terrorists while for religious extremists, all Muslims are apostates. Both have evolved a grand narrative to justify particular labellings of Muslims.
On a more subtle level, I have come across Pakhtun nationalists who tend to have a bias against Punjab, which they see as the root of all ills faced by the country. I wish such ethno-nationalists could see the plight of southern Punjab so that they could understand how people there try to make ends meet. Blaming the whole of Punjab is tantamount to blaming every Muslim for terrorism or every Pakhtun for extremism. Resorting to such thinking doesn’t lead to solutions. There is no denying the fact that there are huge disparities in the distribution of resources across Pakistan. For example, Lahore district gets 58 per cent of the total district development budget of Punjab while Bhakkar district gets only 0.5 per cent. How is this any different from the centre’s negligence of the peripheries? Or the way Peshawar valley treats southern districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in terms of provision of development funds? Similarly, interior Sindh has suffered more at the hands of misrule by the PPP, which has predominantly Sindhi votes. Then we have Fata, which doesn’t have a meaningful democratic representation on any forum or any mechanism for the protection of basic human rights, and still we see IDPs from Fata being painted as threats by all and sundry.
The establishment is also not too different when it comes to painting regional nationalist parties with the same broad brush. It views Baloch, Pakhtun or Sindhi nationalists as either RAW agents or ghaddaars (traitors). Patriotic nationalism depends on enemies in order to thrive. The range of ‘enemies’ needed is so all-encompassing that almost every second person in Pakistan can be considered a foe.
Pakistan as a society needs to change its discourse of generalised hate to that of pluralism and tolerance. The state has to play a crucial role in evolving this culture. The grand discourse of nationalism and patriotism can’t be reduced to specifics such as the CPEC or conspiracies by RAW or by enmity with other states. It should be based on peaceful coexistence and mutually reinforced progress, putting citizens at the centre of the nationalist discourse. There must be an unfettered observation of human rights, the rule of law, equality of all citizens, constitutionalism and federalism. The state’s first responsibility is to protect the life and liberty of every citizen, and ensure equitable distribution of resources. Let’s fight against injustices, racism, terrorism and sectarianism. Let’s not fight against any race, ethnicity, faith or nationality.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2016.