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Karachi’s Pashtun “Problem”

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With the World becoming increasingly connected, political correctness in ideas and behavior is becoming essential for minimizing frictions, and for that reason it also is becoming the hallmark of the educated.

We Pakistanis often complain about the lack of “randomness” at airport security checks abroad and go livid at any generalization linking Pakistanis to terrorism, but then sadly, this indignation is reserved for foreign lands only, the same is definitely not displayed within Pakistan. Pick up any mobile phone here, and it is bound to have SMSed jokes with the racist stereotyping of Pathans. While such stereotyping for the sake of humor is at times tolerable, one is simply astonished to find the same to be believed for real. During the recent spate of violence in Karachi, I was shocked to come across a very high proportion of educated Urdu speaking Karachiites who believe the Pashtun ethnicity to be nothing short of a deformity, and the Pashtun influx as a curse for Karachi.

One of the main fears expressed, is that since Pashtuns are more likely to be associated with terrorism and theft, stopping their inflow would naturally result in a more peaceful Karachi. Besides being horrifyingly similar to the “all Pakistanis are terrorists” argument often used by anti immigration groups in the West, this one stoops even lower as it seeks to quarantine fellow Pakistanis on the basis of ethnicity.  This argument conveniently ignores the fact that if the profession of gate keeping and driving in Pakistan can be associated with one ethnicity, then it is the Pashtuns.  While I am no fan of generalizations, but if one is to be done, then considering typical Pashtun professions shouldn’t the generalization be one of trust, rather than distrust?

Pashtuns are also held responsible for bringing the drugs and Kalashnikov culture into Karachi. This argument completely ignores the well documented planning and financing of the so called “Afghan Jihad”, furthermore, people who say such things basically consider Karachi as an entity separate from Pakistan. The arms and drugs trade was crucial in financing the Jihad, and the inflow of drugs and guns was not something new just for Karachi, it was the same for Peshawar, FATA as well as the rest of Pakistan. Pashtuns as an ethnicity are facing the brunt of that blunder committed by our “strategists” in the 80s. But, to completely ignore that whole episode and blame it on the DNA of an ethnicity would be too ignorant a conclusion. It goes without saying that the response to an increase in violence and drugs is better policing and not racial discrimination.

There also is a ridiculous belief that Pashtuns are somehow incapable of “culturally assimilating” into Karachi, reasons usually given are the inability to speak Urdu and having more conservative norms. To begin with almost all Pakistani Pashtuns are bilingual; it is very rare to find someone in Peshawar who can’t speak Urdu let alone find a Pathan in Karachi who wouldn’t. Furthermore, the norms of the Pashtuns might be considered conservative, but that is if compared with those of the Brazilians. Karachi is no Rio de Janeiro, as testified by the fluttering black burqas on Sea View and Gidani, and also as the former stronghold of Jamaat I Islami, Karachi can never be too liberal for even the most conservative of Pakistanis. Those who consider the Westernized bubbles of Clifton and Defense as the real Karachi are sadly mistaken.

These generalizations mask a worry, which emanates from rising Pashtun numbers in Karachi. Frustrated by wars and lack of economic opportunity, these Pashtuns are heading towards Karachi for a better life. But then, Karachi is not unique in receiving such migrants, just across the border, Mumbai is going through the same. Interestingly, the Urdu/Hindi speaking migrants from Uttar Pradesh, form the bulk of migrations into Mumbai.

Those who are worried about this influx into Karachi, should consider the fact that Karachi used to have a Sindhi majority, a fact that changed after the Mohajir influx. If there was nothing illegitimate about that phenomenon, then assuming no bigotry, there should be no apprehensions about Karachi becoming a Pashtun majority city, because in essence the only difference between an Urdu speaking Mohajir and a Pashtu Speaking Mohajir is that of the date on their train tickets.

Sadly, the expression of this apprehension is not limited to verbal racism, statistics on the ethnicity of the victims show that they are overwhelmingly Pashtun. Mehr Bokhari’s show on the 7th of July, 2011, revealed that in the violence till that point, 80 Pashtuns  and 7 Mohajirs were killed.

The irony of the situation is that those who are bent upon declaring the Pashtun as a separate specie, also make a case for victim-hood based on post-partition hostilities doled out to Pakistan’s Mohajir community.  It should be obvious that the pre-requisite for claiming a higher moral ground based on those injustices, is not to rationalize the same (if not worse) that is being doled out to Karachi’s new Mohajirs.

Appeared in the Pakistan Today on the 20th of July, 2011.

Written by Imran Khan

July 20, 2011 at 4:54 am

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