Last Thursday, while speaking at a virtual meeting of United Nations Economic and Social Council on “Reimagining Equality: Eliminating Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination for all,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister [FM] Shah Mahmood Qureshi was at his eloquent best, pitching strongly for the “forging a global alliance against the rise and spread of Islamophobic as well as other violent nationalist and racist groups.” He lamented that hateful political rhetoric and inciting violence against vulnerable ethnic and religious groups being practiced in ‘Pakistan’s neighbourhood’ had “resulted in discriminatory citizenship laws, attacks on places of worship and repeated state-sponsored pogroms against minorities.”
Even though Qureshi didn’t specify who was responsible for what he in his wisdom perceives to be a replay of the Holocaust, there are no prizes for guessing at whom this barb had been directed as this completely unsubstantiated and patently motivated refrain has become Islamabad’s staple fare. What’s most intriguing is that despite having failed to garner any meaningful support for its puerile and ineffectual Kashmir narrative, Islamabad still continues to reiterate it on every conceivable occasion. So, it’s not at all surprising that the exasperated international community has even abandoned the diplomatic nicety of at least acknowledging Pakistan’s concerns, even if they don’t necessarily agree with them.
Domestic compulsions driving Islamabad’s anti-India tirade are understandable. That’s why its insistence to continue harping on a narrative that’s been univocally rejected by both UN and the international community is indeed intriguing-unless of course, the persistent reprise is inspired by Hitler’s propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels’s dictum that “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” However, it seems that Islamabad isn’t aware of, or doesn’t believe in the adage that ‘whenever one points a finger at others, three fingers are pointing back at the accuser’.
Since Prime Minister Imran Khan had in 2018 announced with great flourish that “We will show the Modi government how to treat minorities,” Qureshi being anguished by “state-sponsored pogroms against minorities” in Pakistan’s neighbourhood is comprehensible. However, it appears that foreign affairs are keeping him so busy that he’s completely ignorant about pitiable conditions of minorities in his own country on which several international organisations have voiced serious concern. However, since both Khan and Qureshi would outrightly “reject” any such report prepared by an external agency no matter how impartial and credible it may be, let’s restrict ourselves to what the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan [HRCP] itself has revealed.
In its annual report [‘State of Human Rights in 2019’], HRCP has listed two damning observations. One, it notes that “Religious minorities remained unable to enjoy the freedom of religion or belief guaranteed to them under the constitution[Emphasis added]. For the Ahmadiyya community in Punjab, this included the desecration of several sites of worship.” Two, that “Both the Hindu and Christian communities in Sindh and Punjab continued to report cases of forced conversion. In Punjab, girls as young as 14 were forcibly converted and coerced into marriage. In Sindh, the case of two Hindu girls whose families claimed they had been kidnapped for marriage and converted forcibly, drew widespread attention when the Islamabad High Court ruled that the girls were not minors at the time of marriage and allowed them to return to their spouses.” [Emphasis added].
Enforced disappearance is another grave issue that ethnic minorities in Pakistan have to grapple with. The 2019 HRCP report makes the shocking revelation that “Pakistan has yet to criminalise enforced disappearances even after a commitment to this effect made by the incumbent government on several occasions” goes on to state that “The Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances falls short of being an effective agency to provide relief to the citizens, apportion responsibility and bring perpetrators to justice.” It also mentions that “Since the inception of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, KP [Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has topped the list in the numbers of missing persons. At end December 2019, the total number of cases registered in KP stood at 2,472.” [KP is home to Pakistan’s Pashtun minority].
Islamabad will most certainly deny any institutionalised persecution of the Pashtun minority. However, if this is true, then how does it explain Director General [DG] of Pakistan army’s media wing Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR] warning Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement [PTM], a social movement for Pashtun human rights based in KP and Balochistan, by saying that “their time is up”? Is the fact that within a month of the DGISPR issuing this not-so-cryptic threat,13 PTM supporters were killed and over 25 others injured near Kharqamar check post in North Waziristan when the army opened fire on peaceful demonstrators, just a mere coincidence?
If Rawalpindi’s contention that soldiers at Kharqamar check post resorted to firing as a last resort after they were attacked by violent PTM demonstrators and had exercised full restraint is really true, three questions still arise. One, if the Pakistan army had really exercised outmost restraint, then how come it ended up inflicting such heavy casualties? Two, if soldiers had acted purely in self-defence, then why was HRCP’s fact finding team stopped by the army from proceeding to the check post for an on-site-investigation? Lastly, as per Rawalpindi, one soldier was killed while five were seriously injured when PTM protesters attacked the Kharqamar check post. So, if PTM workers had indeed been instigated to attack the check post and had both killed and injured soldiers, then why did the government withdraw the cases against National Assembly members Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar who had been arrested by security forces for having incited protesters?
The people of Balochistan too have been bearing the brunt of a brutally violent campaign being carried out by Pakistan army in the garb of anti-terrorist operations and today, this region has become inextricably associated with enforced disappearances. In its ‘Public Statement’ of 12 November 2020, Amnesty International [AI] notes that “Enforced disappearances targeting students, activists, journalists and human rights defenders continue relentlessly in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan.” In its recommendation, AI has called upon Pakistani authorities to “Ensure that all measures are taken to immediately end the practice of enforced disappearance.” Though AI’s explicit statement and recommendation addressed to “Pakistani authorities” gives a clear indication of institutional complicity in the repulsive practice of disappearing people, the Government of Pakistan will obviously reject the same.
However, even if AI’s observation as well as recommendation is disregarded and Islamabad is given benefit of doubt, this issue doesn’t disappear. Readers may recall that during a media interaction session in 2019, when senior journalist Hamid Mir of Geo TV expressed concern about enforced disappearances in Balochistan and elsewhere, DGISPR replied, “You have a deep attachment with missing persons [but] so have we. We don’t wish that anyone should be missing. But when its war, you have to do a lot of things- as they say, all is fair in love and war; war is very ruthless.” [Emphasis added]. Now with Pakistan army’s media chief himself admitting that Rawalpindi considers military actions against its own citizens who are resisting exploitation of the region’s natural resources and excesses against their people as ‘war’ and follows the “all is fair in love and war” approach to justify enforced disappearances, is any further proof of institutionalised persecution of ethnic minorities in Pakistan necessary?
So, rather than levelling unproven accusations in an attempt to malign opponents, it would certainly do Islamabad a lot of good if it focuses more on setting its own house in order, because at the end of the day, the international community neither has time nor the inclination to suffer hypocrites peddling lies.