- - Thursday, August 24, 2017

Being an immigrant and a minority is something I can very well relate to. I came to the United States from India in 1990 seeking a better life for my family and myself.

From this vantage point, it is clear to see that the Muhajirs of Pakistan can play a vital role in advancing reforms in their nation, especially in the building of religious plurality and neutralizing terrorism and Islamic extremism.

The Muhajirs of Pakistan are Muslims who left their homes and material possessions in India to migrate to the newly formed Islamic State of Pakistan after the two countries split in 1947. They moved with the hope of finding religious freedom and stability for their families, and many of them took refuge in the southern city of Karachi and the surrounding areas in Sindh Province. Yet, more than 70 years later, they are still treated as third-class citizens in their adopted country and labeled “Hindustanis” rather than welcomed as Pakistanis

​Since its inception, Pakistan has romanticized Islamism. The early speeches of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Founding Father of the Nation of Pakistan, reflected his views about the future of the young country and its people.

In an address delivered on October 30, 1947, he asked each Pakistani to take a vow and “be prepared to sacrifice his all, if necessary, in building up Pakistan as a bulwark of Islam.”

“Do not be afraid of death,” Jinnah said. “Our religion teaches us to be always prepared for death. We should face it bravely to save the honor of Pakistan and Islam. There is no better salvation for a Muslim than the death of a martyr for a righteous cause.”

Fast-forward to the rule of General Zia ul-Haq, Pakistan’s president from 1976 to 1988, whose commitment to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan endeared him to many Western nations. The crisis in Afghanistan substantially strengthened his domestic position and that of the Pakistani Army and eventually generated aid from the U.S. totaling $1 billion per year. By arming the Afghan Mujahedeen through the Pakistani Army and Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), he used the crisis to shift Pakistan toward “sharia-zation” and away from secularism.

The Pakistani Army and ISI have now fulfilled the dream of its founder and its masterminds. In the name of Islamization, Pakistan has emerged as an infamous hub for harvesting a pipeline of terrorist actors and promoting instability across the region at large.

This much is well known. Less acknowledged is the incredible price being paid by the minorities and youth of Pakistan for these disastrous decisions. Today, Pakistan is ruled by Punjabi Muslims, the Pakistani Army and the ISI while Pakistan’s minorities — including the Muhajirs, Balochis, Gilgit, Ahmadis, Agha Khan Ismailis, Shias, Sindhis and others — face rampant persecution.

Of all the above communities, however, the Muhajirs are arguably the only organized and secular force to have confronted the Pakistani Army, ISI and the establishment elite. They’ve emerged as the country’s strongest proponents of religious freedom and equal rights for all minorities.

The Muhajirs have been grossly marginalized for more than 70 years and brutally oppressed by the Pakistani Army, with over 20,000 killed or forcibly “disappeared.” They face vicious crackdowns by the federal government almost daily, yet they still hold the unique ability to advance reform in Pakistan.

The Muhajirs are the unused arrow in the quiver of the U.S., India, Afghanistan and free people the world over to combat and reverse the radicalization of Pakistan, beginning in Karachi. That massive city’s suburbs have emerged as a recruiting hub for al Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS and other terror outfits. You might recall that the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks in India were masterminded and launched from Karachi.

Karachi is the nerve center of Pakistan. The Karachi Port makes it an industrial hub, helping to generate and collect over 65 percent revenue from the Sindh Province for the federal government. In the growing city of over 23 million, Muhajirs are the largest and strongest segment of its population.

The Muhajirs’ other great asset is their ability to help build a coalition of other oppressed and disenfranchised minorities in Pakistan. Discontentment is growing within these communities in response to the gross human rights abuses they are suffering — and which are largely unreported by the global media. The men and women of these minorities are fighting a daily struggle for their very survival, let alone to preserve their heritage and customs.

The Trump administration has realized the importance of confronting the menace of terrorism. President Trump’s clear message urging leaders of the Muslim world to unite and work together with the West to combat Islamist extremism was reiterated when he met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Washington.

It is time for the Pakistani establishment to re-evaluate the future it is providing for its fellow citizens, especially its youth. Without a dramatic change in policy, Pakistan’s internal problems will only get worse, further tarnishing its reputation on the international stage.

A more pluralistic Pakistan society in the nuclear power country of Pakistan is in the best interests of the civilized world. Pakistan must begin by ridding itself of the strong-armed persecution of its minorities that’s become commonplace since Zia’s rule.

With a new and sincere willingness to embrace all elements of Pakistani society, the free world could find a capable new ally in the Muhajirs, who are positioned to aid in the fight for the soul of Pakistan and end the country’s destructive relationship with terrorism.

Puneet Ahluwalia is a consultant at The Livingston Group and a member of the Virginia Republican Party’s State Central Committee.

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