LAHORE / PESHAWAR: A controversial ad and subsequent crackdown on the Pakhtuns and Afghan nationals has earned the Punjab government scathing criticism on social media with some calling it ‘racial profiling’ and ‘stereotyping’ of one ethnic group.
After the controversy went viral on social media, politicians and lawmakers from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa jumped into the fray, heaping scorn on the Punjab government for ‘demonising’ the Pakhtuns and hurting the sentiments of people in K-P.
Lawmakers in the provincial assembly unanimously passed a resolution on Monday against what they called ‘racial profiling’ of Pakhtuns. The resolution – moved by PPP’s Sahibzada Sanaullah – also called upon the federal government to immediately release the Pakhtuns arrested in Punjab and other parts of the country.
Earlier, lawmakers gave fiery speeches condemning the profiling and harassment of the Pakhtuns in Punjab, Sindh, and Kashmir in the name of a clampdown on terror.
ANP’s Sardar Hussain Babak noted in his adjournment motion that the government advertisements amounted to ‘racial profiling’ in different districts of Punjab.
“What sort of message is the Punjab government trying to send with these advertisements?” asked Babak in a speech which went on to compare the conduct of the Punjab government with that of West Pakistan in the months leading to the fall of East Pakistan.
He told the house that even young Pakhtuns who work as shoe-shine boys have been detained and put behind bars in the ongoing raids in Punjab.
“It seems like the war is not against terrorism but against the Pakhtuns,” he said, warning that it could provoke a tit-for-tat response in K-P.
He also criticised the Punjab government’s inaction with regard to militant dens in the province. He claimed there are 71 militant camps in and around Lahore and another 18 in Multan, while accusing the PML-N of supporting these camps.
K-P Minister for Public Health Engineering Shah Farman accused the PML-N of following the agenda of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “We don’t have issues with the Punjabis or the Sindhis. We have issues with the PML-N,” he said, adding that Modi wanted to destabilise Pakistan by injecting hatred among the provinces and that the PML-N government was doing this job for him.
Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) member and K-P Local Government Minister Inayatullah Khan told the house that hotels in Punjab have been instructed not to give rooms to Afghan refugees or the Pakhtuns. “I would like to speak about the mindset around the issue, which, if not eliminated, will be dangerous for the federation,” Khan said.
Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) lawmaker Bakht Baidar Khan called for a full strike in K-P to protest the injustices meted out to the Pakhtuns. “We have suffered the most in the war against terrorism. This house has lost four members to terrorist attacks,” he recalled.
NADRA allegedly began suspending the Computerised National Identity Cards issued to hundreds of Pathans living throughout Lahore in November 2016.
RK*, who was born in Lahore over 60 years back, has also suffered due to this move. His CNIC was also suspended in November 2016. It is the second time his CNIC has been suspended, he said. The last time was in 2005.
NADRA spokesperson Farukh Mushtaq did not reply to repeated approaches for a comment.
On February 24, a letter from the Panorama Centre traders union addressing the Punjab Home Minister, police and district administration also circulated on social media. The letter requested authorities to take action against roadside vendors selling fruit or sunglasses, as most of them were Pakhtun. Union president Shahzada Waqas Butt, however, said they never issued such a letter and called the document “a conspiracy against the union”.
Two days before that, a similar warning was issued by the Bilal Ganj Market traders union. Titled “Notice for Pathans”, the notice asked Pakhtuns working in the market to submit their documents to the police and the market union. An officer bearer of the union told The Express Tribune that intelligence officers had visited them a few days back and asked them to ‘cooperate’ in their profiling efforts.
A week ago, a one-page advisory, attributed to police spokesperson MB Din sought public support in identifying ‘suspicious persons of Afghan or Pakhtun origin’. Mandi Bahauddin police high-ups distanced themselves from the advisory, saying that the DPO office never issued it and vowed to hold an inquiry to pinpoint those responsible.
PTI letter to Nisar
The PTI has written an open letter to Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, demanding an immediate end to the ‘systematic racial profiling’ of the Pakhtuns across the country, especially in Punjab, in the wake of the recent wave of terrorist attacks.
The letter, written by PTI deputy secretary general and MNA from Swat Murad Saeed said the ongoing practice, if continued, would breed malignant trends such as hostility, hatred and intolerance in the country, while further destabilising and polarising Pakistani society.
“The PTI will not tolerate the PML-N government’s discriminatory measures towards the people of Pakistan and more specifically towards the Pakhtuns,” Saeed told The Express Tribune.
The letter also reiterates the PTI’s claim that some Punjab government ministers were harbouring the sponsors of terrorism in Pakistan.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has also condemned the “discriminatory and racial profiling” of Pakhtuns, saying it would negatively affect the war against terrorism. (With additional reporting by Danish Hussain in Islamabad)
*Name changed to protect identity
Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2017.