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Bahrain hiring Pakistani ex-soldiers to suppress uprising

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Message Abdus Sattar Ghazali
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While the world attention is focused on the US-led NATO invasion of Libya, the ruler of the tiny Persian Gulf state of Bahrain -- headquarters of the 5th US fleet - is brutally suppressing month-long Shiite majority protest with the help of Saudi invasion forces and recruiting Pakistani ex-soldiers.

On March 14, hundreds of Saudi troops entered Bahrain amid escalating anti-government protests. Soon after Saudis arrival, the Bahrain government launched a crackdown against the protestors, arresting prominent anti-government leaders. Four days later Bahraini forces demolished the monument at Pearl Roundabout after smashing a protest sit-in there. Pearl Roundabout, like Tehrir Square of Cairo, had come a symbol of the anti-government movement.

Twenty-four people died in the anti-government protests, according to an official statement while the opposition Shiite Wefaq party said 250 people have been detained and another 44 have gone missing since the crackdown.

Traditionally, Bahrain's Sunni ruling family has relied on non-native security forces to control the population which is around 70 percent Shiite. The Shiite complain that the government is bringing in Sunnis from outside Bahrain and granting them citizenship in order to bolster the ruling elite's political base. The country is less than 30 percent Sunni.  More than 50,000 "imported" Sunnis from southern Pakistan, Balochistan, Jordan and Yemen - have been naturalized. Virtually everyone in the Ministry of Defense and the police is an "imported" Sunni from Yemen, Jordan, Syria and Pakistan.

One of the chief complaints of the protesters is that no Shiiite citizens, who are sons of the soil are allowed to serve in the security forces even though they make up approximately two-thirds of  Bahrain's Population.

Not surprisingly, a Bahrain National Guard (BNG) was in Pakistan recently to recruit ex-soldiers. The BNG is recruiting ex-soldiers from the Mashwani Syed tribe, according to The News, a leading Pakistani daily.   At the same time a Bahraini security delegation was visiting Pakistani town of Makran for recruitment. It also visited Lahore, the second largest town of Pakistan.

The BNG delegation followed advertisements, titled "Urgent Requirement: Manpower for Bahrain National Guard," were published in the daily Urdu newspapers -- the Jung and the Express Tribune. The ad was also placed on the website of the Overseas Employment Services of Fauji (Army) Foundation stating that the Bahrain National Guard immediately requires people with experience and qualifications as anti-riot instructors and security guards. An official of Fauji Foundation said there were 800 vacancies. The Fauji Foundation, set up in 1954, serves as a trust for ex-servicemen and their families. It is believed to be among the largest industrial conglomerates in Pakistan.

The BNG is recruiting people from the following categories: officers (majors), Pakistan Military Academy drill instructors, anti-riot instructors, security guards, military police, cooks and mess waiters. Civilians are required as security guards while the other categories require experience in the military or security forces.

Bahraini protestors have already exhibited intense hatred towards Pakistanis serving in the Bahraini police. The dead bodies of the two policemen of Pakistani descent, who were publicly lynched in Pearl Square, were later kicked around and mutilated by angry demonstrators. On March 15, Bahraini protesters attacked Pakistani residences in the Sheikh Abdullah Road and Markaz Naeem areas.  

The Bahrain National Guard is recruiting ex-soldiers since Pakistan army is apparently reluctant to entangle itself in the Bahrain Shiite-Sunni dispute although it has a record of sending troops to the Gulf region. In 1980, Saudi Arabia hired 20,000 Pakistani mercenaries, about half of whom were used in armored combat units stationed outside Tabuk and the other half in support roles. In 1987, they went home as many of the soldiers were Shiites who were considered a security risk. President General Mohammad Ziaul Haq had declined the Saudi request to wet the soldiers on sectarian basis.

While BMG recruits ex-soldiers in Pakistan, crackdown of opposition continued. Wefaq said Wednesday many Bahrainis, mostly Shiites, are being arrested at checkpoints or in house raids. Other times, family members call up to say their relatives never came home, Wefaq member Mattar Ibrahim Mattar told Reuters. "We have around 250 confirmed arrested and 44 who are missing, though that number fluctuates when people reappear after hiding from police," said Mattar, a parliamentarian before Wefaq resigned over the use of force against protesters. "Just today and yesterday, we got calls from 35 families saying they lost contact with their relatives when they passed through a checkpoint," Mattar said. "We don't know what's happened to them, authorities won't say. In these conditions, we actually have to hope they were arrested."

US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday that Bahrain authorities were harassing and isolating hospital patients wounded in the protests. In the March 16 crackdown, Bahraini forces took over Salmaniya medical centre, the country's largest public hospital. The HRW cited several cases where patients were quickly picked up by police after they gave hospitals their identification and cited the cause of their injuries as tear gas, rubber bullets, and birdshot, which were all used to disperse protesters.

On Wesdnesday, Bahrain is expanded the crackdown on the opposition, by detaining a prominent blogger, his family and a social media editor. Amira al-Hussaini, a Middle East and North Africa editor at Global Voices Online reported that police took Mahmoud al-Youssef, the "godfather of the Bahraini blogging community," into custody early on Wednesday. Two other internet activists were also said to be arrested. Al-Youssef has for years criticized the Bahraini government for curbing freedom of expression. He has supported the Shiite protests and advocated political reform through dialogue between the government and the opposition.

The arrest comes a day after Bahrain's parliament accepted the resignations of 11 lawmakers from the Shiite opposition in another sign that the political crisis and sectarian divisions are deepening in the tiny Gulf kingdom. The 11 lawmakers of Al Wefaq and seven other from the opposition's biggest party submitted resignations last month over the deadly crackdown on anti-government protests.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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