By: Faizan Afzal
As the plight of the Rohingya’s Muslim of Burma goes from bad to worse, opinions in Pakistan is same like the rest of the world. Everyone here want the atrocities of Rohingya’s to end and a permeant solution of the crisis, acceptable to all stakeholders including Rohingya’s and Myanmar state, on the table.
Our government’s stance seems quite clear on the issue. National cabinet has passed a resolution against the Rohingya’s genocide in Myanmar. Islamabad foreign office has urged the world to put pressure on Myanmar to end state patronized mass killing. These sentiments are not found in Pakistanis only, worldwide people are calling to settle the crisis and to stop human right violations.
Two days back I found a news that PEMRA has issued a notice to actor cum anchor Hamza Abbasi on controversial remarks about Pakistani Passport on his TV show regarding Rohingya’s Muslim. Without getting in the debate whether his remarks were objectionable or not, the surprising fact I found in that show was that we have over half a million population of Rohingya’s living in Karachi. I was aware of presence of large Bengali population in Karachi, but Rohingya’s who migrated in mid 80’s and late 90’s to Pakistan from Myanmar was surprising to me. Knowing that they are living undocumented and without an identity in the largest metropolitan city of Pakistan was rather alarming.
In a city severely affected by ethnic, sectarian and political instability and violence, a huge population of undocumented immigrants is a national threat, same like the Afghan refugees. The point here is not to make them leave the country, like Myanmar, but to manage and administer them. Census 2017 has shown 59 percent population rise in Karachi city in last 19 years. Bengali’s and Rohingya’s constitute a significant portion of Karachi population. Without acknowledging their existence and providing them an identity, we had seriously disturbed socio-cultural and demographic dynamics of Karachi. The political history and landscape of Myanmar and Pakistan have several things in common. Political parties of both the countries take pride in their heroic defiance of the military junta, though both sides have an unfinished agenda on democratic transition. Enormous powers are vested in the military. The consolidation of hard-won freedom will remain arduous task unless both the countries make efforts to mainstream the excluded and isolated minorities and communities from the political process.
The inflow of Bengalis and Burmese immigrants dates back to Zia’s liberal policy towards Muslim migrants and refugees. But the same mistake was repeated with these migrants as we did with Afghan refugees. We let them roam everywhere. We left them unmanaged, which resulted negatively for us and for them too. Now this community is vulnerable to harassment in hands of police and other law enforcement agencies. Without any identity they cannot have formal jobs. This situation compels the community youth to join ethno-political and religious parties, Jihadi groups and criminal gangs to seek shelter and security and in return, these groups use them for their political and violent activities.
Many argue that we are not ‘Thekaydaar’ of humanity, we have to pursue and secure our national interest. ‘Pakistan First’ should be our core policy. I agree! But this very issue of Rohingya’s in Karachi is our problem now. We need to do something about it at earliest. Rangers operation in Karachi will never bear fruit unless we take these administrative issues in hand seriously. Making a community live in grimy slums and filthy metropolitan neighborhoods makes us no different than pitiless Burmese regime. In current situation, we all are ‘Aung San Suu Kyi’ in disguise. I say people living in glass houses should not throw stones.
Faizan Afzal is a freelance journalist and a development professional. Tweet him at @Faizan_Afzal1