Posted By: Sammi Ibrahem
Chair of West Midlands PSC
In Manama, Bahrain, and TOM WRIGHT in Islamabad, PakistanBahrain’s ruling family is moving to shore up its security forces with more recruits from Pakistan, in a move that risks further stoking nationalist and sectarian tensions in the Persian Gulf state.
The Al Khalifa family, Sunni Muslims who rule over a Shiite-majority population, have long relied on recruits from Sunni-majority countries such as Pakistan, Jordan and Yemen to fill the ranks of their police forces. As antigovernment protests have flared in Bahrain, culminating in a violent crackdown last week, the monarchy has turned again to Pakistan military-linked foundations to find recruits for its security forces.
This month, Bahrani recruiters for the National Guard, a paramilitary body, signed up 1,000 new security personnel during road shows in Pakistan, according to officials with military foundations in Pakistan that organized the recruitment.
A spokeswoman for the Bahraini government declined to comment on its policy of recruiting foreigners to its security forces.
Bahrain’s dependency on foreign workers to fill security and other jobs has vexed Bahraini Shiites, who see it as an attempt to tilt the religious balance in the country and exclude them from jobs. Many are angered by the role of Pakistani policemen in suppressing the antigovernment protests.
Two Pakistani-born policemen and three other Pakistanis have been killed in recent weeks and about 40 others injured, according to the Pakistan Embassy in Bahrain. There are concerns that others in the 65,000-strong Pakistani community in Bahrain—most of them guest workers doing jobs that have nothing to do with the police, such as construction—could be vulnerable.
Bahrain’s opposition groups deny they are targeting the wider Pakistani community. They say Pakistani police have been injured because they are often on the front lines of clashes with antigovernment protesters.
But some Pakistani workers say they’re afraid. A 30-year-old Pakistani salesman who gave his name only as Arsalan, said protesters attacked his home in the suburbs of Manama with stones and Molotov cocktails. “They were saying all Pakistanis should leave Bahrain,” Mr. Arsalan said.
The killings of policemen and attacks on Pakistani workers are front-page news in Pakistan, where the government has faced questions about the wisdom of helping staff Bahrain’s police force as violence there has escalated.
There are also worries that Pakistanis are being drawn into a sectarian conflict. Shiite heavyweight Iran has strongly criticized the crackdown on protesters by Bahrain and its Sunni-ruled allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates; the Saudis have sent troops to the island, and the U.A.E. sent police.
Tehmina Janjua, a spokeswoman for Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, said the danger to Pakistanis, many of whom have lived for years in Bahrain and become Bahraini citizens, is being overplayed by Pakistan’s media and the government has no plans to repatriate workers.
“I don’t think we should paint it in a sectarian color,” Ms. Janjua said. The government, she added, played no role in sending police to Bahrain.
Still, Pakistan’s powerful military is involved through organizations that recruit police for Bahrain.
These recruits are increasingly “seen as the repressive arm of the state” by Bahraini protesters, said Tariq Fatemi, a security analyst and former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. and to Middle Eastern countries.
“The royal family of Bahrain feels much more comfortable having foreigners to guard them than locals,” said Jean-François Seznec, a professor at Georgetown University who studies Bahrain. “They are mercenaries and they are reliable to whoever hires them.”
In Pakistan, some of the new recruits waiting to ship to Bahrain later this month say they are willing to face the dangers to benefit from pay scales they could never attain at home. “The situation is not very good there but I’m willing to work anywhere if I get good pay,” said S. Khan, a 29-year-old university graduate from the northwestern city of Peshawar. Mr. Khan said he has been offered almost $400 a month to work for Bahrain’s security forces, seven times what he got in a Peshawar factory making matches.
Others have gotten cold feet. In Gujranwala, a scrubby city in Pakistan’s Punjab province where some families have more than 40 relatives serving in Bahrain’s government and police, people are worried about their kin. Muhammad Siddique, who runs a small grocery shop in Gujranwala, recently forbade his son to join Bahrain’s navy. “I don’t want to send my son to such a horrible situation,” he said.
Mahmood Ahmed Khan, a retired Pakistani navy admiral who heads the Bahria Foundation, a navy-linked foundation involved in the latest recruitment for Bahrain’s National Guard, said it began looking for workers in September, well before the start of the recent protests.
But he acknowledges the risks to Pakistani police and is running courses in etiquette to make sure they put forward a good face. “We’d like our people to work as ambassadors for Pakistan,” he said.
Officials for the Fauji Foundation, a Pakistan army-linked organization involved in the latest recruitment, didn’t respond to repeated requests to comment.
The roots of emigration from the Indian subcontinent to Persian Gulf nations goes back to the British colonial era, when locals who retired from the army would go to work as security officers in the newly oil-enriched Gulf states.
Pakistani emigration to Bahrain jumped to almost 6,000 people in 2010, a sixfold increase from 2001, official Pakistan government figures show. A breakdown of how many Pakistanis go into security-force jobs wasn’t available, but Police of Pakistani origin in Bahrain say as many as 7,000 people from a police force of 25,000 come from Pakistan.
Khalil Almarzooq, a senior member of Al-Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest opposition party, claims the government has used foreign Sunni Muslims in the security services to keep control of the population of 1.2 million, two-thirds of whom are Shiites. “The reason for the security apparatus is to protect the regime, not the people,” he says.
Akhtar Mahmood, a 38-year-old Pakistani who has worked for 14 years in the police and hopes to soon become a full citizen, says the government can count on his support. “We are supporting the government and standing in front of the government against those who spoil Bahrain,” he said.
—Shahnawaz Khan contributed to this article.