Washington, DC – Alliance for Persecuted People WorldWide (APPWW), a non-profit government organization, working with the oppressed groups around the world through education and outreach, organized an online panel discussion titled “Oppression of Pakistan’s Indigenous minorities during COVID-19 “, to contemplate on the challenges, discrimination and religious and cultural ignorance that the minorities in Pakistan have had to face during the coronavirus pandemic.
The discussion comprised renowned and senior analysts, academics and experts, who shared their insights about the topic under discussion.
Bharat Gopalaswamy, senior fellow at Observer Research Foundation (ORF) moderated the event and led the discussion with the panelists.
Tariq Fateh, a Pakistani-Canadian journalist and author, well-known for his outspoken views on Pakistan, stated that the people, including the minorities in Pakistan would continue to suffer until the country breaks into contiguous independent parts.
“Sooner or later, Pakistan has to collapse and break away. And until Pakistan breaks away into four or five of its contiguous parts, it’s not that the minorities will suffer, it’s the people who will suffer. Their destiny will suffer”, he added.
Fateh’s arguments was based on the point that inferiority complex due to difference of language and a forced imposition of Urdu language, which was derived from Persian language, has played pivotal role in the ongoing oppression, discrimination and identity crisis in the country.
Senge Hasnain Sering, Director of Institute of Gilgit-Baltistan Studies, who spoke after Fateh’s analysis, spoke about the challenges that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) have faced during the coronavirus outbreak.
Pinpointing the challenges, Sering said the basic issue that is a serious challenge for the people of GB is “lack of medical benefits and facilities”, which he said has come under pressure during the coronavirus outbreak.
“Lack of medical benefits and facilities is the first major issue for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. And it is there because of two reasons”, he said.
Sering said that the reason why Gilgit-Baltistan suffer to oppression from the Pakistani state is because:
No presence of strong economic or political foundation, that could enable Pakistan in the last 60 to 70 years to lay down a structure, to help local people cope with pandemics like these. GB being at the bottom of cash strapped Pakistan, which is struggling to cater to its own people with provision of equipment for coronavirus pandemic.
Pakistan military does not have minority and governed states like GB in its priority list for provision of resources to fight the pandemic.
Pakistan, making use of the coronavirus lockdown to make demographic changes through land grabbing from the locals and trying to bring in more Pakistanis there. Pakistan, abusing the situation of coronavirus by opening GB for tourism, ignoring the ethnic and religious minorities of the area and allowing international and national tourists to use their land resources, to earn money.
As GB is not a constitutional part of Pakistan, the area suffers from lack of mechanisms and structure with no uniformity or consistency in the government policies in the area.
Pakistan and China are bringing in more soldiers in GB under the gibe of helping and assisting locals. More units of the Pakistan military are installed along the border with Afghanistan and China.
The locals of GB call China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) the instrument of invasion, as they believe that it makes them more vulnerable because their land and resources are being handed over to China by Pakistan.
US Representative for Baloch National Movement (BNM) Nabi Baksh Baloch, spoke about the challenges of Baluchistan, stating that the prime challenge for the people is their identity, accusing Pakistan of harboring and arming Baloch nationals.
Speaking in reference to the coronavirus pandemic, Nabi said that mishandling of the pilgrims from Iran, who entered Baluchistan from the Taftan border, created serious problems for the people of Baluchistan.
“There is no quarantine shelter in Baluchistan. There is no medical facility in Balochistan. The cases are getting higher every day”, he said.
“The basic essential medical equipment required to treat the coronavirus patients is not present in hospitals or the lone quarantine center in Baluchistan”, he added.
Nabi said that Pakistan is the only country in the world that persecuted and arrested nurses and doctors of Baluchistan for demanding coronavirus testing kits and basic necessities.
Raising the issue of missing persons or enforced disappearances, Nabi said “thousands of people have been missing in Baluchistan for many years. Thousands have been killed by the Pakistani army”.
Nabi said that Pakistan has been keeping and treating the people of Baluchistan as slaves as they want to keep their occupation there.
Nabi cited his argument on the recent incident in which at least three armed men entered into a house in Baluchistan. A female in the house, Malik Naz resisted the alleged robbers, due to which, she was killed and her four year old daughter was injured.
Nabi claimed that it was later revealed that the three robbers were carrying cards, proving that they were from the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
Nabi’s perspective was followed by a brief talk by Zafar Sahito, US Representative for Jeay Sindh Mutahida Mahaz (JSMM), who spoke about the challenges people of Pakistan’s Sindh province face.
Sahito maintained that Pakistan has not recognized the identity of Sindh in its history, highlighting that Sindhi people are always told that they either belong to a history of Arabs, Iranians, Turks or Persians.
“Pakistani is trying to demolish our identity”, he asserted.
Sahito said there is no community ranging from the Baloch, Pashtuns Gilgit-Baltistan to Sindhis in Pakistan that are living in prosperity, adding that oppression of minorities is not only limited to the time of coronavirus.
“Sindh province contributes 65 percent of Pakistan’s revenue, yet it is among the provinces and areas that are under severe poverty and hunger”, he said.
“Out of the revenue Sindh province earns for Pakistan, it gets only 15 percent in return, which is also distributed among the thugs of the Pakistan People Party (PPP) and engineered bureaucrats of Pakistani establishment”, he added.
Sahito criticized the Imran Khan led government for increasing the defense budget by at least 11.9 percent at a time when the whole world is providing social and economic help to its people.
Sahito said that the Pakistan government has handed over at least 13 lac acres of land to China for the CPEC route while the Karachi port, he claimed, has also been handed over to the Chinese government.
“I think Pakistan has already sold the country and Sindh to China. It is time for the world to come forward and help us because its not only our war, but is the war for the whole world”, he asserted.
Rehan Ibadat, Central Organizer for Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) USA shared on the injustices he witnessed being committed deliberately against the muhajirs (migrants) along with the other minorities in the region during his college days of the early 90s. He said this was the reason why he joined the student wing of MQM.
“Lack of opportunity in education, availability of jobs, sports and in all other areas, muhajirs suffered severe discrimination and persecution”, he said.
Ibadat maintained that in Pakistan, Punjab province has been ruling the country’s progress while the Sindh province, whose population is much higher, has been victimized and oppressed.
“The number of cases in Punjab and Sindh of coronavirus are similar. However, hospitals in Sindh are at least 50 per cent less than that in Punjab”, he said,
Ibadat said other than the Punjab provinces; all other provinces are oppressed and can be considered as minorities.
The panelist discussion concluded with an observation that the Imran Khan led government of Pakistan is not capable to take steps towards curbing the coronavirus outbreak and that the powerful military establishment is dictating terms to Imran Khan.
The panelist also agreed that the oppression of minorities in Pakistan is directly dependent on the crisis of establishment of identity among the masses, who are vulnerable to the increasing presence of China in the region and the discrimination based on language, culture and what they called distorted historical ideologies.
It was agreed that the campaign to liberate and empower all suffering minorities, who are subjected to forced oppression by the Pakistani military establishment is the need of the hour, urging that the world needs to come and help the ones in need in Pakistan.