The UN Human Rights Council's meetings provide a perfect backdrop to 'aggrieved' people to put their case before the world. In that sense there was nothing unusual about the Mohajir show on June 19 on the sidelines of the 29th session of world human-rights body.
Yet, the seminar organised by the European Mohajir Network (EMN) became a big draw since it is not every day that the Mohajirs of Pakistan come knocking at the doors of Geneva to "expose" Pakistan's double standards on civil rights. In my view, which is the perception of an outsider, the Mohajirs managed to put across rather well their sense of "persecution" and their "sorry human-rights" status in the State of Pakistan they had helped to carve out of British India as the Land of the Pure in 1947.
The word, Mohajir, is of Arabic origin though it is a part of the Urdu (Pakistan's national language) lexicon; it literally means immigrant Muslims; these Mohajir Muslims had migrated to Karachi and neighbourhood from what then were the British Indian provinces of Bombay, Bihar, Central Provinces, Berar, Delhi, and the United Provinces, as well as the princely states of Hyderabad, Baroda, Kutch and the Rajputana. And their number, according to Pakistan Census, was 7.2 million. The Urdu-speaking Mohajirs form the majority of Karachi's population, and give the city its northern Indian atmosphere, as a commentator puts it.
One issue that most panelists highlighted at the EMN show was targeted killings in Karachi, which has a "long history of bloody feuding between ethnic-based political factions". Ryszard Czarnecki, Vice President of European Parliament, noted human-right activist Asif Mohammed, EMN's executive director Mohammed Khan, and other speakers had one demand -- "Hold Pakistan government accountable for the persecution and targeted killing of Mohajirs".
"Demand answers from Pakistan government for its double standards on civil rights and prosecute those found guilty of crimes (against Mohajirs) at the ICJ (International Court of Justice)", they told the international community.
The Mohajirs grouse is that the Pakistani government is not paying any heed to their plight over the past several years. Riots had rocked Karachi twice in recent years -first time in 1985 and later on in 2011. In between, 2007 saw the month of May turn into a sea of blood for two days. The past year has seen targeted killings in what observers see as a new form of ethnic cleansing. "Thousands of lives were lost in senseless killing but the Pakistan government remains unmoved", said the speakers in one voice.
The Mohajirs are ethnically distinct from the dominant Punjabis. They live in parts of Sindh, Punjab (which dominates political scene, powerful army and civilian bureaucracy), and the Pathan belt of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (known earlier as NWFP - North West Frontier Province) that borders Afghanistan. Why are these Mohajirs scattered, and often live away from Karachi- their chosen habitat? "We live shattered lives in the land we have accepted as our home after partition (of (India)", a Mohajir leader told me.
Most Mohajirs who immigrated to Pakistan were more educated and skilled than their rural middle-class counterparts. Despite having better academic qualifications and professional skills, some Mohajirs felt they were discriminated against, a report by IRIN- humanitarian news and analysis service, says.
Released in May 2007, the report, titled "Karachi violence stokes renewed ethnic tension", examined Pakistan's worst political fighting in two decades, "when more than 40 people were killed and scores more injured over two days (May 12 -13) in the country's largest metropolis, resulting in a nationwide day of mourning and commercial shutdown for a day and a major security crackdown with authorization to the paramilitary troops to shoot anyone involved in serious violence".
The aim of the Geneva show was two-fold: draw attention of the world towards the Mohajirs' plight in all its dimensions, and highlight what the Mohajirs consider as the cold eye of the Pakistani government. Expectedly therefore, the key speakers made out a strong case for a proactive role for the international community.
"While these (killings, denial of rights etc) are some of the important issues that the international community needs to contemplate on and condemn the Pakistani government for its stubbornness for deliberately ostracizing the Mohajirs, it must also adopt a pro-active role to bring about a qualitative change at Ground Zero", they said.
Amongst Mohajirs there are Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims. Pakistan is a Sunni-majority state and its Shias face existential threat. As such Mohajir Sunnis should fare better. It is not the case, according to reality check. What is more the Mohajirs are still treated as outsiders/foreigners. Other issues articulated at the Mohajir meet included planned genocide attacks in 1965, ethnic riots in 1985, and ethnic-political tensions in 2011.
History is repeating itself on the streets of Karachi these days. An estimated 1.3 million plus Mohajirs have become victims of the new weapon - targeted killing. Like in the past, now also, the Pakistan government is not paying any heed to the plight of Mohajirs- this was the refrain of the speakers, who had stuck an emotional chord with their audience.
In a nutshell, their fact sheet read in parts thus:
1.Targeted killings have claimed around 1.3 million Mohajirs; target killing is on the rise
2.74 kidnappings for ransom between January and June 2013 itself.
3.The riots of 1985, 2007, and 2011 had claimed thousands of lives to which the Pakistani government did not pay a heed.
4.The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) stands for equal rights and identity in the country but this is resented by powers that be.
5.Mohajirs are deprived of their very right of existence, what to talk about basic needs like food, education, and health.
The foregoing makes an effective case that the international community needs to condemn the Pakistani government for deliberately ostracizing the Mohajirs; it must do much more than mere condemnation which in reality is neither here nor there. The Mohajirs want, as pointed out at the outset, the international community to adopt a proactive role in their cause. Accountability of the concerned and prosecution of the guilty will be a natural corollary.
Certainly the UNHRC, as the nodal global HR agency, has a task cut for it. It cannot turn a blind eye to a HR abuse in a member country, which the Mohajir plight is, and at the same time keep that country as its member nation. The crying need is for remedial measures by the United Nations, to ensure that Mohajirs enjoy the basic right to live; the issue is no longer merely of human rights.