Disaster in the making


The crisis in Bahrain is likely to blow into Pakistans face unless the government moves fast.

I am not interested in going into the whys and wherefores of the popular unrest in an archipelago where 54 percent of the population is non-local. One can wonder why the more urban and urbane Bahrainis should agitate violently, given that the constitutional monarchy there has been, for the most part, cognizant of popular attitudes. There can also be an argument against more opening up on the basis of Sunni and Shia Islamists that elections seem to throw up and who are not particularly democratic. All of this and more can be analysed by those who understand Bahrain, which I do not.

My concern relates to Pakistan and I want to point to Islamabads challenge in Manama. Pakistani workers in Bahrain are now under threat from the protestors. At least one Pakistani has been killed so far, according to official estimates, and more than 250 injured, in most cases badly beaten up and dumped. Thousands are meanwhile stranded.

Reason: the agitating Bahrainis say to put down the protests the ruling family is using security forces that comprise Pakistani nationals. According to some estimates, up to 50 percent of Bahrains 20,000-strong security apparatus is made up of Pakistanis, Jordanians and Yemenis. Protestors have alleged that Pakistanis serving in Bahrain’s security forces were involved in a crackdown in Manama in February in which seven people were killed and hundreds injured. Some injured protestors, says a report, told the media that the police who beat them up spoke Urdu.

This is serious business even discounting exaggeration in the narrative. These island/city states have often bought security from states with trained manpower and where former soldiers and policemen were/are looking for better paying jobs in the Gulf. Legitimate under normal circumstances. But the situation, as in the case of Bahrain, is not normal any more. The local population wants change and is prepared to make sacrifices to that end even in the face of violence. This has brought the Bahrainis in collision with the security forces that, among other nations, comprise Pakistanis.

It would be challenge enough for the government and the Foreign Office to tackle the situation thrown up by the fact of existing Pakistani personnel within the Bahraini security forces. But it is downright stupid for the Overseas Employment Services of Fauji Foundation to place adverts and start recruiting people as anti-riot instructors and security guards for the Bahrain National Guard with full knowledge that the ruling family is looking for a force that can suppress the unrest even if violently.

Even more worrisome are reports that say the recruitment targets Sunnis because the agitating Bahraini population is primarily Shia. While there are no official figures available on the Shia population in Bahrain, unofficial estimates put it at roughly 66 percent. A drive to recruit Pakistani Sunnis which could then be pitted against the Bahraini Shias has its own terrible consequences, not just in Bahrain but back home too. We have seen enough of sectarian violence and cannot afford to have either more of it delivered at home or go and dish it out to others.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has already extracted a resolution from the Gulf Cooperation Council and troops have gone in to save the ruling family. While that is a cause for concern, the issue for us here is whether we would like Pakistanis as part of Bahraini security forces to crack down on the protestors and, as happens in such situations, become party to atrocities. The answer can only be an unequivocal no. Also, while Pakistani advisors and personnel in the security apparatus are better protected from the ire of the agitating population, the same cannot be said for the poor workers who are already facing the anger of protesting Bahrainis.

It is surprising that the Fauji Foundation should begin such a recruitment drive without consulting with the FO. Does someone there read the newspapers? While it is all too well for the Foundation to try and place former soldiers, it boggles the mind that it would put them in a situation where they are likely to end up killing and injuring civilians of another state.

The government and the FO should immediately take cognisance of this situation and ensure that this does not snowball into a foreign policy and public relations disaster for Pakistan. We are already caught in a maelstrom at home and it would be bizarrely absurd to create another issue for ourselves in a foreign land.

As for the absolute and dire need to untangle ourselves from KSA, thats another debate but one that must begin fast. It doesnt make sense to always end up in a cul de sac.

The writer is Contributing Editor, The Friday Times.