In times of revolution, safety often becomes an afterthought. When both the government and the protesters are charged with emotion, violence, sadly, becomes the norm. With Bahrain in the midst of a violent uprising, many Pakistanis are being targeted by protesters who see them as collaborators of the unpopular regime. Most of the Pakistanis targeted are labourers or other civilians in low-paying jobs. Although the Pakistan Embassy in Bahrain is providing shelter to about 40 Pakistani families, the vast majority are helpless and defenceless.
Much of the blame has to be directed at the Pakistan government. Even before the uprising broke out, many Pakistanis were serving in the Bahraini police force. Since the troubles began, Bahrain has been recruiting mercenaries from Pakistan to bolster its police and armed forces. We have allowed them to do so unhindered. Bahrainis are understandably enraged that foreigners are being employed to oppress them and so are lashing out at all Pakistanis. The government needs to immediately ban any more Pakistanis from being recruited in Bahrain’s security forces. Additionally, it is the job of the embassy and the government to make sure its citizens are safe in a foreign country. As soon as the situation turned ugly, all Pakistanis should have been evacuated from Bahrain, just as the US had done with its citizens in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries that are in the throes of revolution.
By allowing mercenaries to serve the Bahraini monarchy, Pakistan has dangerously taken sides in what may turn out to be a geopolitical, ethnic nightmare. The population of Bahrain is overwhelmingly Shia while the ruling family is Sunni. Iran is naturally supporting the protesters while Saudi Arabia is on the side of the king. Thanks to the mercenaries, the impression will now stick that Pakistan is on the anti-Iran side. This will only hurt relations with Iran, with whom we hope to reach a deal on a gas pipeline. It is time to put potential new alliances on par with existing ones. The government needs to cite its own law-and-order problems at home and a desire to remain neutral in a delicate part of the world. Above all, its foremost priority should be to safely bring home Pakistani citizens.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 24th, 2011.