There is no readable “terrorist profile”. The terrorist may be a Pathan or a Punjabi, a clean-shaved youth or a bearded septuagenarian, and “he” could even be a she.
Not only in Pakistan but almost everywhere in the world profiling a terrorist is based more on bias than evidence. Where someone comes from, how he looks like, what his name is and what he does to earn his living – that is what constitutes his profile in the mind of those who guard checkposts and entry points.
As they say, terrorists don’t fit a profile and cannot be plucked out of a crowd by computers. If the agencies concerned do succeed in profiling a terrorist, his handlers may recruit the next suicide-bomber from somewhere else. In the wake of the recent bomb blast opposite the Punjab Assembly, the provincial officials had acted rather foolishly by issuing a one-page advisory seeking public support in identifying “suspicious persons of Afghan or Pushtun origin”. Then, there were letters seeking action against “persons looking like Pathans” in and around markets, allegedly sent to the provincial authorities by leaders of traders’ unions – who have now denied this, saying it could be part of the enemy’s game plan.
The Nadra too joined this ethnic profiling exercise by suspending CNICs issued to Pathans, and hotels refused accommodating Pathans and Afghan refugees. As expected, stereotyping the Pathans and Afghans as terrorist quickly went viral on social media. Rightly, then, members of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly severely criticised the government of Punjab, whose officials are believed to have initiated this vicious campaign. Through a unanimously adopted resolution, the assembly asked the federal government “to stop the governments of Punjab, Sindh and Azad Kashmir from victimisation and unlawful detention of Pakhtuns.”
Then, is it the case that until recently Punjab was absolutely peaceful, and it is only now that outsiders are fanning extremism and exploding bombs? And is it that the Punjab government doesn’t go after criminals in fake encounters, or that scores of religious seminaries producing blue-blooded jihadists do not exist on its soil, and that it is not from Punjab that families left for Syria to join the Daesh?
The truth is that there are a number of training camps for militants in and around Lahore, and some other cities and towns in Punjab. And who hasn’t heard of the “heroics” of the Punjabi Taliban? History tells us that terrorists are extremists whose loyalty is not to any particular piece of land but to an ideology, and they come from all over the world. Accepted that there has been higher incidence of terrorism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi. But that is because of their locale, and not that people there have a soft corner for terrorists.
A move like this also tends to undermine federalism, which in our country has yet to strike deep roots. We should know that while condemning the Punjab government a member of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly was of the opinion that foreign powers were trying to engineer “a Yugoslavia-like situation” in Pakistan. Another warned that our rulers should not “repeat the history of East Pakistan”.
How ridiculous that the government of Pakistan’s most populous province ordered hotel managements not to provide accommodation to the Pathans. The rulers in Lahore must realise that something was really wrong with its move to stereotype Pathans and Afghans as potential terrorists. Immediate corrective steps are in order. As a first step, the mistake should be admitted at the chief minister’s level, and then reprimands should be issued to officials who issued the ethnic profiling advisory. At the same time, the government of Punjab should release persons taken into custody just because they looked like Pathans or Afghans. Otherwise, there would be a negative reaction: there are Punjabis in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa too.
An assembly member in this province has cautioned: “If the Punjab government does not stop victimisation of Pakhtuns, people in Peshawar, Mardan and Charsadda have the right to expel Punjabi-speaking people” in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.