Why Black Lives Matter in Pakistan

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The US-Pakistan relationship is consistently covered in mainstream discourse within the prism of national security and the perpetual Global War on Terror. Pakistanis and by extension, Pakistanis in the diaspora, are seen as potential threats to the national security of the US and the Western world. The relationship between state actors in the US and Pakistan is built upon how much Islamabad can do for Washington in terms of wiping out rogue and militant elements. Washington claims Pakistan still actively nurtures and supports militants, especially within Afghanistan. The narrative tends to revolve around what American rulers expect of Pakistan, and what in turn should be legitimately considered to be the vital interests of the Pakistani establishment. What gets lost in this entire back-and-forth between two oppressive state systems are the people within these states: those at the margins that are most affected by systems of oppression and games of power.

Indeed, horrific socio-economic and political conditions created by the state, and the constant presence of state repression and violence against marginalized peoples in both countries is engendering pockets of resistance that, at times, explode into full-scale struggles against repression. Currently in the US, we see the rise of a powerful movement that is confronting the system of white supremacy and structural anti-Black racism. 

Black Lives Matter was created in 2012 by Alicia Garza, Patrisee Cullors, and Opal Tometi, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the lynching and murder of Trayvon Martin. The movement for Black Lives Matter is rooted in the larger movement of Black Liberation and Black Resistance. Its an inclusive movement for all Black lives, and centers Black lives at the margins of the margins to fight against state violence. 

The US is built upon the dehumanization and exploitation of Black lives. Anti-Black racism is integral to the blueprint of American Empire. Slavery, Apartheid, dehumanization, and looting of Black labor is American law and was enshrined in the American constitution. Institutionalized and systemic racism against Black people, and people of color in general, continues to manifest itself through acts of cold-blooded state murder of Black individuals, state impunity, police brutality, the prison-industrial complex that oversees a system of mass incarceration, and Apartheid-like conditions in schooling, housing, health, employment, education, and so on. 


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For example, according to the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, every 28 hours a Black person in America is killed by the state. In majority of the cases, the violence is sanctioned by law or protected by the law. Black communities also face high rates of poverty. One in four Black women live in poverty, a rate that is the highest among any ethnic/racial group in America. Moreover, the mass incarceration system disproportionately targets Black communities and serves as the New Jim Crow, an Apartheid system that enforces racial segregation. According to the Sentencing Project, one in three Black men and one in 18 Black women will be imprisoned in their lifetime for mainly minor offenses.  The same disparities exist within access to housing, education, employment, nutritious food, land, and other opportunities. 

The race question is central in America and its relationship to the world. It is not simply a figment of one’s imagination to speak of divisions between white and non-white, as well as West and non-West. The colonial ideology and practices associated with these demarcations persist with lethal consequences for the social majorities of the world. But there are other issues that also persist in plaguing the Land of the Free.

We make it a point here to highlight before moving on to the more conventional target for such well-deserved opprobrium and critique (i.e. Pakistan) that the US remains a deeply white supremacist, racist, patriarchal and a predatory corporate capitalist society that continues to commit settler colonial violence against indigenous lives in the US and abroad. 

As individuals grounded in, and supportive of, the struggles for justice and dignity in both the US and Pakistan–we speak of what is taking place in Pakistan with caution in a Western and global context of intense Islamophobia, and specifically, ‘Pakistan-o-phobia.’ The ridiculous caricatures presented of Pakistan being a country of nearly 200 million extremists and fundamentalists running around serve the most reactionary, violent aims of the powerful outside of Pakistan. Issues which are profoundly social and political in nature are conveniently militarized to get ostensible quick-fixes which deepen the hold of empire and its local collaborators–such as the Pakistan Army–ever more insidiously in the country. 

Similar to how Black communities are dehumanized by the use of racially coded language as “thugs” to justify state violence and anti-Black racism, Pakistanis are racialized as “terrorists” to justify American intervention, drones, bombings, and support of a brutal military and intelligence apparatus in Pakistan.  While the focus of this piece is Pakistan, we are deeply aware that Pakistan is part of a legacy of American imperialism, which continues to target countries and oppressed minorities all over the world in order to secure the interests of maintaining and expanding the American empire. 

Pakistan has undoubtedly been cursed with an array of issues since its establishment in 1947. The core of this has been a repressive state apparatus marked by the power of the Army, which simply continued the role of the Raj in taming and pacifying the domestic population, especially “inferior” provinces–i.e. every province but the Punjab. The alliance between elites of all varieties–feudal, industrial, etc.–and the military-bureaucratic state killed any hopes of meaningful democratization, caused a brutal civil war that killed millions of Pakistanis who were able to finally secede and create their own state of Bangladesh, and has induced severe contradictions within the relationship between the centralized (punjabi) state and other provinces. 


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In Pakistan, there are multiple movements emerging to challenge state repression. For example, there is a movement forming that is centered around ending state violence against the Baloch. State terror unleashed on the people of Balochistan, a population subject to decades of the most criminal repression and barbaric violence, not to mention social, political, and economic apartheid, is now well-documented. Nevertheless, the state and mainstream, establishment mouthpieces do their best to quash any commentary calling for justice and dignity for the Baloch. 

In a similar vein, the Pakistani state’s collusion with Washington’s Global War on Terror and its increasing willingness to use massive violence in parts of the Northwestern Tribal parts of the country, called FATA, may–and should–spark a movement centering the lives of FATA/Tribal areas. Pakistani and US imperial violence, in the form of bombs and drone attacks, has engaged in the collective punishment of entire populations whose faces we are told to ignore. They are Tribal and supposedly uncivilized, unlike the Pakistanis living in the US or in Punjab, so they probably are guilty of something and deserve mass displacement and death. Though often not articulated so blatantly in polite company, this is the underlying attitude which informs the current policy towards this region.

What has undoubtedly contributed to the overall state of despair and violence in the country is the rise of fundamentalist and sectarian ideological currents, supported by powerful domestic and international players for vile, crass political interests. The ‘religious zeal’ of Pakistanis is what we are told we must obsess about, removing the context of where exclusivist, right-wing religious ideology came from.

If other parts of the Muslim world–and the Western world occasionally–are experiencing fundamentalist/sectarian violence and conflict, then they should all sympathize with the region of the world that was the original victim of internationally-backed armed Jihad in the 1980s–what the Obama administration has patronizingly called Af-Pak. Pakistan did not miraculously get some new genetic pool of a generation of jihadis. All of the motley groups trace their origins to that period where ‘Godless Commies’ in Afghanistan needed to be destroyed, and Pakistan’s notorious intelligence agency, the ISI and the Army, would serve as the conduit for helping to train and arm such characters flocking from the entire Muslim world. The second aim of supporting these fighters who beheaded women organizers in Afghanistan for demanding equality, was to create an army of jihadists to fight against the Indian occupation in Kashmir. Behind all of the headlines of how Osama was found and killed in Pakistan, how such and such extremist group is on the payroll of the Pakistani state, and so on should be a deeper question that holds Western powers, as well as the venal Saudis, also backed by the US, accountable for what was imposed on Pakistan and Afghanistan.  

But resistance and people’s struggles are taking place in Pakistan, as well. Despite overwhelming odds against them, including a deeply repressive, authoritarian state, a callous, oppressive elite, and non-state actors trying to violently quell any discussion of progressive politics, Pakistanis continue to fight back. As we write, shameful state actions have forcefully displaced poor residents in Islamabad from their homes–simply because they do not nicely fit into the image of ‘development’ that the elite crave to project and benefit from. But these impoverished Pakistanis are battling heroically from being merely the collateral damage of development, as their counterparts in the Northwest are of bombs and drones. In addition, there are several other inspiring examples of people’s resistance in the country, including the Missing Persons movement, Justice for Pashtuns, the Pakistan Fisherfolks Forum, and the All Pakistan Alliance for Katchi Abadis. There is a convergence of many of these groups around two interconnected layers of oppression: state violence and socio-economic impoverishment and exploitation.

Finally, we underscore how patriarchy, sexism, and misogyny do indeed exist and sadly are widespread in Pakistan–just like in every country in the world. The young Nobel prize winner Malala simply made the world realize what Pakistanis already know: there are millions and millions of Pakistanis who are involved in the struggle for gender justice in the country, and are a force of resistance  in all sectors of life. 

The crucial point for us is to link up all of these struggles, both within each country and between them, so that we witness genuine solidarity. In addition, we must also examine where groups are complicit in violence against each other. For example, marginalized communities in Pakistan are living with the consequences of US intervention, funded by US tax dollars and paid by Americans.  Therefore, American privilege is built upon the murderous exploitation and bombings of Pakistanis and other countries where Washington has created chaos. Hence, the anti-war/anti-imperialism movements in the United States should make genuine connections between how empire-building and racism are deeply connected. Fighting racism in the US is key to fighting US hegemony and war abroad. Second, for Pakistanis living in America, there is a unique relationship that our communities have with racism, xenophobia, settler-colonial violence, and Islamophobia. 


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While Pakistani Americans experience xenophobia and Islamophobia, we are also complicit and benefit from anti-Black racism. Internalizing and seeking acceptance as the “model minority” upholds one of the key pillars of anti-Black racism. It also contributes to erasure of marginalized Pakistani Americans, who are living with poverty, lack of status, and are at the intersections of multiple marginalized identities. Hence, challenging anti-Black racism within Pakistani American communities is a key component of building solidarity and genuine movements. Moreover, anti-Blackness must also be challenged within Pakistan, which is key in upholding casteism, colorism, and the marginalization of the African diaspora in Pakistan, According to The South Asia African Diaspora Project, Pakistan has the largest people of African descent living in Asia, an estimated 50,000 individuals who live in Sindh. They are known as the Sheedi community, most of whom live in poverty with very little access to jobs and schools.

We recognize that extending solidarity is not always a simple affair for collectivities attempting to hold true to principled, ‘prophetic’ even, politics of social justice that challenge all forms of domination and hierarchy. The old adage of progressive anti-systemic movements of the 20th century still seems relevant: unconditional – but not necessarily uncritical – support and solidarity with communities and groups/movements resisting the multiple manifestations of oppression.  This, for example, may imply standing with a major political formation like Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) in its opposition to drone attacks, yet retaining a principled progressive critique of the sheer bankruptcy of its platform on other social and economic issues – as well as its uninspiring ideas on ending the violence related to the War on Terror, and its uncritical stance towards the Pakistan Army during its brutal operations in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas.

Nevertheless, the more we are able to make the connections between oppression in the US with that of its so-called ally in the War on Terror, Pakistan, the more we can actively work to identify with, and provide support to, those courageously resisting to dismantle white supremacy, racism, predatory corporate capitalism, patriarchy, and empire and its genocidal/settler colonial violence against indigenous bodies. 

Junaid S. Ahmad is the Director for the Center for Global Dialogue in Lahore, and has been teaching law and politics in Pakistan since 2008. 

Darakshan Raja is a Program Manager/Helga Herz Organizing Fellow at the Washington Peace Center. She is also a Co-Founder of the Muslim American Women’s Policy Forum (MAWPF).

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One Response to Why Black Lives Matter in Pakistan

  1. Iftikhar Ahmad on Aug 2015 at 7:19 AM

    Islam does not support terrorism under any circumstances. Terrorism goes against every principle in Islam. If a Muslim engages in terrorism, he is not following Islam. He may be wrongly using the name of Islam for political or financial gain.The Prophet Muhammad said, ‘Do not kill women or children or non-combatants and do not kill old people or religious people….Muslims Against Terrorism requests media not use phrases such as “Islamic Fundamentalists” or “Muslim Terrorists” regarding terrorist attacks “Because such things do not exist. Islam is the religion of peace, love and mutual respect. Islam is the religion of moderation. Islam is the religion of human value and dignity.” They ask that religious affiliation not be mentioned in terrorist attacks.

    Terrorists associated with the September 11th disaster could be called “al Qaeda Terrorists” since their involvement has been proven according to US, British, and Pakistani officials. When the Ku Klux Klan claimed credit for terrorist attacks in the 1960s, they were not identified by religion as “Christian Fundamentalists” or “Christian Terrorists.” Although they identified themselves as a Christian movement, media never labelled them as Christians because their terrorism was regarded as a basic violation of Christian principles. We owe the same respect to the Muslim religion.

    Following the mass shooting in a historical black church in Charleston, South Carolina, an incident that led to the deaths of nine churchgoers, data revealed that more than half of the total attacks in the United States since 9/11 were orchestrated by right-wing extremists than by jihadists.

    The data also suggests that the number of fatalities in right-wing attacks – which include attacks by white supremacists and neo-Nazis, as reported by Vox – have been twice as much.

    New York-based non-profit New America Foundation (NAF) found that the mass shooting in Charleston (which was carried out by Dylan Roof, a white supremacist, believed to have acted alone in the attack) brought the tally of “lethal terrorist incidents” by indigenous extremists to 19, causing the deaths of 48 Americans in total. Jihadists, in comparison, have executed seven attacks in the same time frame, which have resulted in 26 deaths.

    According to The New York Times, John Horgan, a University of Massachusetts Lowell scholar, said, “There’s an acceptance now [among scholars] of the idea that the threat from jihadi terrorism in the United States has been overblown. And there’s a belief that the threat of right-wing, anti-government violence has been underestimated.”

    However, Charles Kurzman, a University of North Carolina professor, said, “Law enforcement agencies around the country have told us the threat from Muslim extremists is not as great as the threat from right-wing extremists.”

    Some of the other right wing attacks on home soil include assailing a Sikh temple, Christian churches and U.S. Holocaust Museum. These attacks were executed because people didn’t share the same race or beliefs as that of the perpetrator. The jihadist attacks, as studied by NAF, were brought to action because the terrorist group responsible did not agree with the U.S. government policies and actions. Moreover, most of the assailants in jihadist attacks share links to the Middle East.

    In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security authored a report that highlighted the growth of right-wing terrorism in the country. However, the report was deemed as an attack on conservative ideologies, according to The Washington Post.

    The author of the report, Daryl Johnson, was subsequently fired.

    “DHS is scoffing at the mission of doing domestic counterterrorism, as is Congress,” Johnson said. “There’ve been no hearings about the rising white supremacist threat, but there’s been a long list of attacks over the last few years. But they still hold hearings about Muslim extremism. It’s out of balance.”

    Some experts have expressed their concern that right wing terrorism poses a greater risk to the country than jihadist terrorism.

    Ibrahim Hooper, the national communications director for the Council on American Islamic Relations, said, “Look at the statistics. They are clear.

    “We called the Charleston shooting an act of terrorism … Why wouldn’t you call the murder of nine people by someone trying to spark a race war an act of domestic terrorism?”

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