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Ethnic profiling?

EditorialJune 30, 2019

THE Rawalpindi administration’s recent move to surveil small hotels and cafes owned by Quetta natives settled in the capital has all the trappings of ethnic profiling. After the regional police officer issued orders to ‘obtain details’ about the employees and owners of these ventures, the small business owners say they are feeling harassed by the frequent visits of officials in plain clothes who claim to be from different departments. Despite being provided identification and registration documents, police and intelligence officials continue to frequent the hotels to ask various questions while being plied with tea. The ‘visits’ started after a meeting took place between police and intelligence officials in which they decided to keep an eye on two dozen hotels and cafes as they feared these premises could be used by ‘miscreants for unlawful activities’.

While there indeed exists a justified fear of security threats in a country like Pakistan, selecting enterprises owned by citizens hailing from a specific area reeks of prejudice. The targeting of hotel owners from Balochistan on the basis of their ethnicity is open discrimination — a tool often employed by law-enforcement agencies during surveillance. Due to a lack of employment opportunities in their native towns, these men move to bustling cities in search of a livelihood and offer good services and quality food for low prices. Marking them out as targets for investigation simply based on their ethnicity results in humiliating and often traumatising exchanges. It gives rise to a lack of trust in security forces on the part of not only the victims of this harassment but also their families and friends. Moreover, it negatively impacts police-community relations. So far, no evidence has surfaced of the hotel owners having links to banned or militant groups. Without credible intelligence, which appears to be lacking in these cases, intimidating these men will ultimately lead to decreased cooperation between law enforcement and ordinary people — a net loss for both the state and the citizens it vows to protect.

Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2019


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