Since its inception in 1947, Pakistan has seized every opportunity to project itself as a trusted US ally, and successive US administrations have continued to buy it. The fruits of this policy have been enormous for Pakistan: it received billions of US taxpayer dollars in various grants and aid accounts as well as sophisticated military hardware every year. Pakistan’s efforts to project itself as a friend of the United States received a major boost following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, when the Pakistani Army, in particular its powerful military intelligence agency ISI, played a key role in organizing the Mujahideen against the Soviet forces, thanks to generous military and financial support from the United States 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 against the Soviets. After the collapse of the USSR, the majority of these fighters decided to make Pakistan and Afghanistan their new homeland, for their own countries were reluctant to welcome them back because of extremist religious views with which they had been indoctrinated in jihadi camps. The Pakistani military establishment, however, welcomed these Jihadists on Pakistani soil, as it saw in them a great potential to use as “proxies” of the Pakistani military establishment in Kashmir, India, and Afghanistan. Since then Pakistan has turned out to be a safe haven for religious extremist outfits and their masterminds, including Osama bin Laden, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, and Taliban chief Mullah Omar, all of whom 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 a highly devout, undivided Muslim nation willing to welcome every Muslim on its soil with open arms. Many also believe that Pakistan is a homogenous country with no ethnic, political, or religious differences. However, 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. 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 ethnic group other than 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 its existence, has made ethnic Punjabis a dominant ethnic group in Pakistan, something that people from other provinces have long resented. It was because of this Punjab hegemony that Pakistan’s majority ethnic group, Bengalis, revolted against Islamabad and demanded 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 Pakistani Army personnel from Punjab. Both perpetrators and victims were Muslims. Despite the use of these vicious tactics, the Pakistan Army failed to stop Bengalis from 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 Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province (formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province, or NWFP) provinces, also continue to face major military operations under one pretext or another. Fearing that Pashtuns would soon follow 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 KP Province, where young Pashtuns were indoctrinated as radical Muslims and patriotic Pakistanis. This tactic paid a dividend, as the province has seen a steady decline of nationalist forces since the mid-1980s and an increase in radical religionism. Most Taliban fighters were eventually recruited from KP, and most of the notorious Haqqani Network’s sanctuaries are located in this province. According to media reports, former Taliban 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, was forcibly annexed by Pakistan and has since seen numerous military operations. This province is strategically sensitive: it borders Iran and Afghanistan and has a huge shoreline. It also has vast reserves of minerals, precious gems and other natural resources. A few years ago, Pakistan’s military establishment agreed to allow the 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 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 that has led to widespread human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances.
The latest victims of the Pakistan Army are ethnic Mohajirs, descendants of those millions who had migrated to Pakistan from India following the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. The forefathers of these immigrants had made huge sacrifices for Pakistan’s creation, as they had lived in Hindu majority provinces of pre-partition India where they feared a perpetual subjugation under a Hindu-majority following the departure of the 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 remain in India. As a result, millions of families were divided between two hostile countries, and India was left with a bigger Muslim population than Pakistan’s.
These immigrants had assumed that Islam would transcend all ethnic and regional differences and that they would be able to assimilate easily 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 for which they had lost everything.
The majority of these Mohajirs (immigrants) had settled in Karachi, Pakistan’s first capital and the 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 nation’s capital, 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. The industries, educational institutions, businesses and financial institutions owned by Mohajirs were also nationalized without any compensation under the guise of socialism. They are majority in Sindh Province, and their taxes effectively run Pakistan’s economy, yet they have no representation in jobs, the military, the police and the civil services. There has never been a Mohajir chief minister of Sindh Province.
Karachi, the city with majority Mohajir population, has been suffering from great injustices in census figures and electoral constituencies. Wikipedia ranks Karachi as the second-most populace city in the world, but the most recent census figures unashamedly showed Karachi’s population as less than half of its real strength. All security forces personnel in Karachi are nonlocal, 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-US political leadership. While the 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 where Shriahcourts and sentences such as beheading and amputations are common. The media, however, cannot cover this because of 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 January 13 of this year, Pakistani security forces abducted and killed Harvard-educated Professor Dr. Hasan Zafar Arif in Karachi. The dead body of Prof. Arif, seventy-three, was found bearing marks of brutal torture in the outskirts of Karachi. He was the main leader of secular 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 that strong ethnic groups within the country, such as Mohajirs and Balochs, oppose 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 US administration has recently shown great courage by directly pointing out how Pakistan has been hoodwinking the United States by receiving massive financial assistance on one hand and providing support and safe havens to the killers of the US soldiers on its soil on the other. But this realization must not remain confined to social media posts; 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 those that are pro-US, are given equal share in the military and in the governance of Pakistan. This diversity will herald lasting peace in the region. Until Pakistan’s “deep state” comes to term, all US and European military and financial aid to Pakistan must be suspended.
Nadeem Nusrat is the former head of Pakistan’s third largest political party, MQM. Based in the USA, he is now the chairman for The Voice of Karachi and South Asia Minority Alliance Foundation.