PESHAWAR: “IDPs and Afghans are not allowed to enter the city,” read a banner put up near a police station in Peshawar. After much outrage, it was taken down and replaced with an amended version that read they would not be allowed “within 400 feet of Muharram processions”.
The provincial government denied it issued any such directives that included internally displaced people. The police, for its part, remained adamant the banner was placed with the best of intentions and the message was misconstrued and portrayed “negatively” by the media.
It was for the first time those who are internally displaced were included in a narrative, which puts everyone into that category of being suspects. While political parties have lambasted each other and social media has become a warzone for slurs, the incident cannot be viewed in isolation.
As the terror jargon grows, things become more complicated; but what is it that marginalises an entire community? The fact is almost everyone from the outer city has not been allowed into specific areas of the walled city where processions have been held.
Even those who live inside the city are issued security passes to avoid any untoward incidents. This begs the question; why particularly mention IDPs and Afghans? While this is a legal and ethical discussion, there is another serious aspect which comes through; a flaw segregating communities and touching upon very sensitive ethnic lines. This is not recent.
While I was travelling to Lahore via public transport (since there are no flights from Peshawar to Lahore for some reason), my luggage was thoroughly checked and my identity was verified. I was asked if I had my original CNIC with me. It all seemed good, considering the circumstances over the last decade. However, the process was not repeated when I was travelling back to Peshawar.
Expecting a similar check on my return, I stood and waited for the person handling my luggage to go through it. He asked me what I was waiting for. I told him I would prefer to be standing right there when he searched the baggage. He laughed and asked, “What for?”
Terrorism is not an ethnic phenomenon, nor does it have much to do with a person’s educational qualifications or background. Recent arrests of militants involved in major attacks are indicative of this fact.
The war on terror has created more stereotypes in the last decade than it has managed to break. The implications of stereotyping are catastrophic, particularly at a time when we require a national consensus on several important developments. These include a displaced community, which left their homes for our security needs, to be treated with respect.
What is beyond comprehension is that such a signboard has been put in an environment where the demographics of the city have changed considerably due to the one million IDPs living in the province.
There is either a serious flaw in the police’s understanding of the matter or the issue has not been taken seriously enough to become part of the discourse.
No law-abiding citizen wants to witness or be a part of violence; even if that means giving up certain liberties for a period of time. However, stereotyping racial or ethnic archetypes is a problem-laden policy that needs to be avoided at any cost.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2015.