Pakistan Elections 2018: Significance of Social Media, Minorities

Pakistan's 46 million young voters of ages 18-36 years, up from 41 million in 2013, will likely have the biggest impact on the outcome of the elections this year.  Among other notable changes in the electorate is the number of non-Muslim voters that has jumped 30%, significantly faster than the 23% growth in overall voter registration in Pakistan since the last elections in 2013, according to data from the Election Commission of Pakistan.

Pakistan's young demographics and soaring use of social media platforms will almost certainly have a major impact on how political party candidates reach out to voters in general elections scheduled for July 25, 2018. The use of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other social media apps may even make the Pakistani election campaigns and outcomes vulnerable to manipulation by both domestic and foreign players. It is a fact that was recently acknowledged by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in his testimony to the United States Congress earlier this year.  Pakistani authorities will have to be on high alert to stop any attempts to manipulate the voters.

Young Electorate: 

There are 17.44 million voters between 18 and 25 years  and 28.99 million between 26 and 35 years. These 46 million young voters, up from 41 million in 2013, will likely have the biggest impact on the outcome of the elections this year.

Pakistan's online population of over 55 million is predominantly from 18 to 35 years age group. Social media platforms will play a very important role in reaching this demographic group to bring them out to vote.

Social Media Campaigns: 

Major political parties, particularly Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) are keenly aware of the importance of social media in the upcoming elections. Both parties have very active social media teams on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other platforms.

Foreign actors may also try to influence Pakistani elections in the same way that the Russians are alleged to have influenced recent elections in the West.

Social media news feeds are driven by users' profiles to reinforce their preferences and prejudices.  Newsfeeds are customized for each user. Any posts that don't fit these profiles don't get displayed. The result is increasing tribalism in the world. American and British intelligence agencies claim that Russian intelligence has used social media to promote divisions and manipulate public opinion in the West.  Like the US and the UK, Pakistan also has ethnic, sectarian and regional fault-lines that make it vulnerable to similar social media manipulation.  It is very likely that intelligence agencies of countries hostile to Pakistan will exploit these divisions for their own ends. Various pronouncements by India's current and former intelligence and security officials reinforce this suspicion.

Pakistan Voter Population by Age Groups. Source: Dawn

Electoral Map:

There are nearly 106 million registered voters eligible to vote in general elections scheduled for July 25, 2018, says the Election Commission of Pakistan.  This figure includes 59 million male and 47 million female voters.

Punjab tops the list with the largest number of registered voters with a total of 60.67 million,  23% increase from 2013. It is followed by Sindh with 22.39 million registered voters, 18% increase over 2013.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is the third largest province with 15.32 million registered voters, 25pc higher than 2013.  Balochistan has just 4.3 million registered voters but it's a increase of 29% over 2013. Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have 2.51m voters.

Among other notable changes in the electorate is the number of non-Muslim voters that has jumped 30%, significantly faster than the 23% growth in overall voter registration in Pakistan since the last elections in 2013, according to data from the Election Commission of Pakistan.

Hindus make up the bulk of the non-Muslim population in Pakistan. Their numbers increased from 1.6% to 1.73% or 3.593 million individuals, according to 2017 Pakistan Population Census.

The population of Dalits (Kohli, Bheel and Meghwar communities in Sindh) has also increased from 0.25% to 0.41% of the total national population. Together, the Hindu and Dalit population adds up to 2.14% of the total population.

Krishna Kumari Kohli recently made history by becoming the first-ever Hindu Dalit woman Senator in the upper house of Pakistan, according to media reports.  Her election represents a major milestone for women and minority rights in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Hindu population of the areas that now constitute Pakistan was 15% in 1931 India Census. It declined to 14% in 1941 India Census. Then first Pakistan Census in 1951 showed it was 1.3% after the massive cross-border migration of both Hindus and Muslims in 1947. During the partition, 4.7 million Hindus and Sikhs migrated to India from what became Pakistan, while 6.5 million Muslims migrated from India to Pakistan. Since 1951, the Hindu population of what is now Pakistan has grown from 1.3% to 2.14% now.


Pakistan's young electorate and soaring use of social media platforms will shape the election campaigns of major political parties in this year's elections scheduled for July 25, 2018. The use of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other social media apps may even make the Pakistani election outcomes vulnerable to manipulation by domestic and foreign players. It's fact that was recently acknowledged by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in his testimony to the United States Congress earlier this year.  Pakistani authorities will have to be on high alert to stop any attempts to manipulate the voters.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Social Media: Blessing or Curse For Pakistan?

Planted Stories in Media

Indian BJP Troll Farm

Kulbhushan Jadhav Caught in Balochistan

Lowdown on PTM and Manzoor Pashteen

Use of Social Media in Pakistan Political Protests

Riaz Haq's Youtube Channel


Riaz Haq said…
Pakistan’s “war generation”, now aged 18-25, comprisesome 17.5 million people, or 17 percent of the voting public, and could have the decisive say in Pakistan’s forthcoming general election on July 25.

Unlike their elders, their ballot box decisions would not be moulded by the power struggles of competing political dynasties predating their births. That is particularly true of middle-class youngsters in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, once the epicentre of the TTP rebellion.

At the last election, the province maintained its historic tradition of voting for a different party every time, elevating Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) from the political wilderness into the national limelight. If he is successful in his bid to become prime minister, Khan must persuade KP voters to kick the habit.

Crossing the confluence of the Indus and Kabul rivers, the natural border of hilly KP and the rolling plains of populous Punjab, I wondered if Khan’s rallying call of “change” had convinced first-time “war generation” voters from the urban middle class - on paper, the natural constituency of the PTI. Their importance lies not so much in numerical strength as in their influential role as social trendsetters.

In Peshawar’s affluent University Town shopping district, I find that they—like their contemporaries in Islamabad—are focused on aspirational goals, many of which fly in the face of the conservative traditions embraced by the narratives of political parties.

Take, for instance, 21-year-old Noreena Shams, an energetic young woman who manages to pursue multiple careers as an engineering student, businesswoman, education activist and professional sportswoman with equal determination.

She is the survivor of a TTP vehicular suicide bombing attack which destroyed her family’s home in July 2010. Located next to the entrance gates of a paramilitary fort in Timergara, the administrative centre of northern Dir district of KP, the house was routinely in the line of night-time fire from TTP militants entrenched on facing hillsides. As such, the family was not particularly perturbed when shooting erupted around 1am that fateful night.

Rather than evacuating the upper storey bedroom they shared, they dozed until the suicide vehicle, under fire from troops in the fort, crashed into the wall of the property and exploded. The force of the blast tossed the family from their beds and rained shattered glass on them.

In an interview with TRT World, Noreena recalled dragging her physically disabled elder sister Sairah from the room and fleeing with her mother and three other siblings to the basement of the partially collapsed structure.

“The house was practically destroyed. Our servant, who was sleeping in the hujra (an unattached reception room), was convinced the entire family had been killed. The local community was amazed we had survived,” she said.

Since then, she has defied the ultra-conservative social mores of her native Dir, which had prompted her parents to name their third daughter Noorena; in Pashto. It means “no more girls”.

Having started playing sports with her brothers and soldiers from the fort while disguised as a boy named Noor Islam, she has become Pakistan’s No. 2 woman squash player and is ranked 118 worldwide.
Riaz Haq said…
Three minority candidates elected on general seats in Pakistan

For the first time in Pakistan's history, three minority candidates were elected on general seats in the National Assembly and the Sindh Assembly.

People voting in favour of these candidates shows that the people of Sindh have rejected the politics of hate, and elected people regardless of their religion.

Interestingly, all three candidates were contesting on the ticket of Pakistan Peoples Party.

It is pertinent to note that majority of the Hindu voters reside in Sindh, of which 40% live in two districts; Umerkot and Tharparkar.

Here's a list of the three candidates who have been voted by the people of Sindh:

Mahesh Kumar Malani

Pakistan Peoples Party's Mahesh Kumar Malani clinched victory in the NA-222 constituency of Tharparkar after securing 106,630 votes.

On the other hand, his main competitor Arbab Zakaullah managed to secure only 87,261 votes.

Hari Ram

PPPP's Hari Ram was proven to be victorious in PS-147 Mirpurkhas 1 constituency after securing 33,201 votes.

His competitor from Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, Mujeeb Ul Haque, secured 23,506 votes.

Giyanoo Mal

PPPP's Giyanoo Mal secured victory in PS-81 constituency of Jamshoro after getting a total of 34,927.

Independent candidate Malik Changez Khan was the runner-up after securing 26,975 in the said constituency.
Riaz Haq said…
A game of votes: Some interesting stats about Pakistan’s General Elections 2018
Most Popular Party? Highest Turnouts? What if most of TLP voters voted for PMLN?

Province Wise Analysis
Province Total Registered Total Polled Total Rejected Turnout % Rejection %
Punjab 60,646,558 34,321,422 910,492 56.59 2.65
Sindh 22,392,999 10,554,507 408,520 47.13 3.87
KPK 17,600,839 7,530,245 241,505 42.78 3.21
Balochistan 4,300,040 1,854,889 104,357 43.14 5.63
Pakistan 104,940,436 54,261,063 1,664,874 51.71 3.07
National average of Turnout was 51.8% and Rejection was 3.1%. All provinces other than Punjab had lower Turnout and higher Rejection than the National average. Sindh was close to National average in Turnout and KPK was close to National average in Rejection.

Top 10 Parties in Pakistan
Party Total Votes Total Seats Poll % Seat %
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf 16408879 116 30.90% 43.00%
Pakistan Muslim League (N) 12595438 64 23.70% 23.70%
Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians 6849586 43 12.90% 15.90%
Independent 5894539 13 11.10% 4.80%
Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal Pakistan 2341685 13 4.40% 4.80%
Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan 2138038 4.00% 0.00%
Grand Democratic Alliance 1257351 2 2.40% 0.70%
Awami National Party 790038 1 1.50% 0.40%
Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan 729767 6 1.40% 2.20%
Pakistan Muslim League 515258 4 1.00% 1.50%
Riaz Haq said…
The bane of Pakistani politicians: young voters with mobile phones
Long-established politicians are being confronted by youths disappointed their leaders are not living up to their campaign promises and videos of the encounters are going viral

The crowd of young Pakistanis, many armed with mobile phones, surround the politician’s car and begin streaming live footage of something extraordinary: angry voters asking their elected representatives what have they done for them lately.

A titanic 46 million people below the age of 35 are registered to vote in elections on July 25 – many of them savvy social media users who are posting videos complaining about the powerful.

In one clip, influential politician, landowner and tribal chief Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan is filmed in his car in the central city of Multan surrounded by young men chanting “thief” and “turncoat”.

To be held accountable in such a public manner is virtually unheard of for most Pakistani politicians, especially in rural areas where many of the videos have been filmed.

There feudal landowners, village elders and religious leaders have for decades been elected unopposed. Many are known to use their power over residents to bend them to their will.

Dubbed the “electables”, these politicians command huge vote banks. Most also take a flexible approach to ideology, and are highly courted by political parties, who view winning their allegiance as a passport to power.

But videos like the one of Bosan have gone viral in the weeks leading up to the polls, shared thousands of times in a country of some 207 million people, of whom roughly a quarter use 3G and 4G internet, according to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority.

They have also made their way on to Pakistan’s numerous and raucous television channels, ensuring they are also broadcast to audiences without access to social media.

Analysts are watching closely to see whether these moments of accountability might disrupt the way the major political parties have long relied on rural politicians and their huge vote banks as a short cut to power.

The videos’ popularity is a sign of simmering resentment against corrupt politicians among Pakistan’s youth, said Sarwar Bari, an analyst at the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), a democratic watchdog.

Historically apathetic, young Pakistanis first emerged as a political force in the 2013 elections, when a generation who grew up idolising cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan voted for his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party in droves.

Under-35s represent a massive proportion of the total electorate of 106 million voters registered in the 2018 elections.

More than 17 million are in the 18-25 age bracket, with a huge chunk set to cast their ballot for the first time.

The Asia Foundation noted in a recent report that many young people are increasingly engaged in the democratic process, usually through social media.

If so, and as concerns over election rigging mount before the vote, the impact of uncensored content such as the viral videos could become significant, analysts say.

“Social media has emerged as a democracy strengthening tool,” said Shahzad Ahmed, director of Bytes for All, a digital rights group.

Bari, who predicts a “massive” election turnout, said if even half the young voters who have seen and shared such videos go to the polls “it will strengthen the trust of the people in the democratic system”.

Pakistanis only started to receive high-speed mobile data in 2014 and its use has spread at one of the highest rates in Asia.

Access for young people to social media is helping to create a more democratic and participatory form of government, said Maham Khan, a 21-year-old student of international relations at the Quaid-i-Azam university in Islamabad.

“Basically the youth is actually using social media ... to bring about slow social revolution,” she said.
Riaz Haq said…
Facebook Says It Removed Pages Involved In Deceptive Political Influence Campaign
Tim MakJuly 31, 20181:06 PM ET

Facebook announced Tuesday afternoon that it has removed 32 Facebook and Instagram accounts or pages involved in a political influence campaign with links to the Russian government.

The company says the campaign included efforts to organize counterprotests on Aug. 10 to 12 for the white nationalist Unite The Right 2 rally planned in Washington that weekend.

Counterfeit administrators from a fake page called "Resisters" connected with five legitimate Facebook pages to build interest and share logistical information for counterprotests, Facebook said. The imminence of that event was what prompted Facebook to go public with this information.

In a blog post from the head of Facebook's cybersecurity policy, the company says that those accounts were "involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior" but that their investigation had not yielded definitive information about who was behind the effort.

However, Facebook's top security officials said the campaign involved similar "tools, techniques and procedures" employed by the Russian Internet Research Agency during the 2016 campaign.

There are not many details presented about the origin of these pages, but there is a link established between a page involved in organizing Unite The Right counterprotests and an IRA account.

Facebook noticed that a known Internet Research Agency account had been made a co-administrator on a fake page for a period of seven minutes — something a top Facebook official called "interesting but not determinative."

The actors behind the accounts were more careful to conceal their true identities than the Internet Research Agency had been in the past, Facebook said.

While Internet Research Agency accounts had occasionally used Russian IP addresses in the past, the actors behind this effort never did.

"These bad actors have been more careful to cover their tracks, in part due to the actions we've taken to prevent abuse over the past year," wrote Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook. "For example, they used VPNs and internet phone services, and paid third parties to run ads on their behalf."

Both the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate intelligence committee were less reserved about placing the blame for this campaign on the Russian government.

"The goal of these operations is to sow discord, distrust, and division in an attempt to undermine public faith in our institutions and our political system. The Russians want a weak America," said Sen. Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of that committee.

Added Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the panel, "Today's disclosure is further evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division and spread disinformation."

This most recent political influence campaign consisted of pages with names like "Aztlan Warriors," "Black Elevation," "Mindful Being" and "Resisters."

The pages were created between March 2017 and May 2018 and had a total of 290,000 followers. Over this time period, they generated 9,500 posts and ran 150 ads for about $11,000. They also organized about 30 events, only two of which were slated for the future.
Riaz Haq said…
#Pakistan Protests Over Acquitted Christian Woman #AsiaBibi Fizzle Out. Tehreek-e-Labbaik #TLP, which petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse its Oct. 31 acquittal of Bibi, had called for new rallies after the top court this week threw out its petition.

Pakistani police have fired tear gas and wielded batons to disperse a rally by Islamic radicals in the southern port city of Karachi against the acquittal of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy.

But despite the Karachi violence, nationwide rallies the extremists had called for on Friday against Aasia Bibi's freedom mostly fizzled.

Bibi had spent eight years on death row on charges of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Tehreek-e-Labbaik party, which petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse its Oct. 31 acquittal of Bibi, had called for new rallies after the top court this week threw out its petition.

It had also urged businesses and transport operators to strike but the call was ignored.

There were scatterings of small rallies against Bibi in northwestern Pakistan and the capital, Islamabad.

Riaz Haq said…
The Military Says Pashtuns Are Traitors. We Just Want Our Rights.
Pakistan’s powerful military is trying to crush a nonviolent movement for civil rights.

By Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen

The government ignored us when these militants terrorized and murdered the residents. Pakistan’s military operations against the militants brought further misery: civilian killings, displacements, enforced disappearances, humiliation and the destruction of our livelihoods and way of life. No journalists were allowed into the tribal areas while the military operations were going on.

Pashtuns who fled the region in hopes of rebuilding their lives in Pakistani cities were greeted with suspicion and hostility. We were stereotyped as terrorist sympathizers. I was studying to become a veterinarian, but the plight of my people forced me and several friends to become activists.

In January 2018 Naqeebullah Mehsud, an aspiring model and businessman from Waziristan who was working in Karachi was killed by a police team led by a notorious officer named Rao Anwar. Mr. Anwar, who is accused of more than 400 extrajudicial murders, was granted bail and roams free.

Along with 20 friends, I set out on a protest march from Dera Ismail Khan to Islamabad, the capital. Word spread, and by the time we reached Islamabad, several thousand people had joined the protest. We called our movement the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, or the Pashtun Protection Movement.

Ours is a peaceful movement that seeks security and political rights for Pashtuns. Apart from justice for Mr. Mehsud, we demand investigations into the killings of thousands of other Pashtuns by security forces and militants. We seek an end to enforced disappearances.
Riaz Haq said…
Pakistan says normalcy returns to former Taliban stronghold

Residents say they are happy about the return of peace.

"Taliban are gone and we pray that they don't come back," said Tahseen Ullah, a local resident who sells cooked rice in the Miran Shah bazaar.

Another shop owner, Khadim Hussain, complained that residents still face lengthy power outages during the day and at night.

"We demand that mobile phone service be provided to North Waziristan," resident Bakhat Zaman told Ghafoor.

To Zaman's surprise, Ghafoor said cell phone service will be available in March. "We will do whatever is possible to make your life easier," he said.

Ghafoor said the Pakistani Taliban used religion to spread violence and that now a young Pashtun leader, Manzoor Pashteen, was "misguiding and inciting youths against the army."

Ghafoor said the military is fencing the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan to ensure peace on both sides and that he hoped that Kabul will not allow Afghan soil to be used as a staging ground for attacks against Pakistan.

Afghanistan does not recognize the boundary, known as the Durand Line, which was drawn by British rulers in 1896. Ghafoor took the journalists to the main Ghulam Khan border where fencing has been completed. He said the military in 2017 planned to fence 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) of the border and about 800 kilometers (500 miles) has already been completed.
Riaz Haq said…
#Pakistan’s First female Inspector General of Police Helena Saeed is #Christian from #Quetta, #Balochistan

Helena Saeed has become the first female Additional Inspector General (AIG) of Police in the country. She is the first ever AIG from Quetta- Balochistan and the first to ever make it to this rank from Pakistan. She is the first one to reach flag rank in the history of Police service of Pakistan. Another notable factor is that Helena comes from a Christian background. Currently Helena is the highest ranking female officer of the Police Service of Pakistan. The internet seems to be celebrating the new AIG over her success and everyone seems very proud of her.

Riaz Haq said…
In pictures: #Pakistani #Hindu community defy #coronavirus to celebrate #Holi2020 festival across the country. Thousands come out on streets to splash colours while #Muslim friends also join them

LAHORE: Members of Hindu community dancing and throwing colours during their Holi celebrations at Neela Gumbad G Sawami Temple in Lahore.

Holi celebrations in Lahore. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has sent his good wishes to the Hindu community on the occasion of their festival of Holi.

Pakistani Hindu celebrate the Holi festival in Karachi on March 9, 2020. Holi, the popular Hindu spring festival of colours is observed in India and across countries at the end of the winter season on the last full moon of the lunar month.

Members of Hindu community dancing and throwing colours during their Holi celebrations in Hyderabad. The festivities mainly happened in Hyderabad, the second largest city of southern province of Sindh. Temples were decorated with colours and special prayers were also offered there for development and prosperity of the country.

Jubilant Hindu community in Hyderabad during Holi celebrations. Holi marks the end of winter and the start of spring. This year, the Hindu community across the globe celebrated the day on March 9.
Riaz Haq said…
Redefining citizenship in Pakistan
The PTM movement envisions an alternate relationship between citizen and state.

Perhaps, the only slogan borrowed from older iterations of Pashtun nationalism is that of ‘Lar-o-bar Yaw Afghan’ (All Afghans are one). This slogan particularly evokes insecurity within the Pakistani state because it implies the fracture of the country. It can also evoke either making a separate Pashtunistan (a homeland for the Pashtuns) or joining with Afghanistan. The propaganda and suppression tactics surrounding this slogan, it can be argued, form the basis of Afghan support for the PTM. But this slogan expresses the cultural, historical and linguistic identity of Pashtuns as transcending the borders of Pakistan and also as participants in the project of the Pakistani nation as a people having their own identity and culture.

This charge of separatism also comes with the charge of an exclusively ethnic movement. This charge erases the conceptualisation of the particular versus the universal. It raises questions around collective self-expression and how it can be done in a participatory, ethical way.

A national consciousness is very different from the kind of nationalism which creates an essential category of a ‘nation’. That national consciousness takes stock of race- or ethnicity-based oppression. Rather than essentialising the ‘nation’, this consciousness seeks recognition in a framework of the universal. The crucial concept is that a particular race or ethnicity shouldn’t become universal and collaboration should be sought with other groups working towards a universal movement recognising the specificity of nationhood. The universal in turn shouldn’t essentialise and erase particular communities (both go hand in hand).

In this light, the PTM can be seen as reclaiming the right of being different and simultaneously of belonging to a country through the instrument of the constitution. In the PTM’s imagination, the constitution has a life of its own, and can be called upon again and again in order to legitimise the movement. Though the constitution is not a perfect document and is open to change to reflect changing socio-political circumstances, it is a guarantee protecting against the violation of human rights and of the state’s praetorian hold. The abstractness of the articles of the constitution finds materiality in the political programme where those who see the constitution as subservient to the ‘interests of the nation’ are made subservient to the dictates of the constitution. The PTM finds solidarity from people who are not Pashtuns and are not affected by war, because the constitution has the seeds of an alternate tomorrow which can challenge the economy and war-fuelled state through the constant violation of rights of the periphery as well as of people cast as the undesirable ‘other’.

Pashtuns have a complex relationship with the Pakistani state. It is validly argued that they hold disproportionate representation in some institutions, such as in the army, with between 15 and 22 percent of officers and between 20 and 25 percent among the rank and file said to be Pashtuns.

This is partly due to Pashtuns being the largest ethnic minority of the country, the portrayal of Pashtuns as a martial race by the British Raj (continued by the postcolonial state), and a long political struggle leading to upward social mobility for Pashtuns in some areas. Despite being the largest ethnic minority, they are treated, consciously or unconsciously, as the ethnic other to the de-ethnicised Pakistan: their lands are treated as arenas of war and their people are deployed to fight proxy wars of the state. The PTM aims to disrupt this dual treatment born out of the war economy. Their program is not only non-violent, it is also anti-violence and anti-war.
Riaz Haq said…
Black Lives Matter – for Pakistan's Sheedi community too

Pakistan has the largest African immigrant population in all of South Asia, known as the Sheedi community.

• The Sheedis continue to face colourism, racism and prejudice from mainstream Pakistani society.

• The South Asian community has a collective responsibility to educate ourselves about anti-Black racism in our countries, and how we have benefited both from systematic oppression of Black people and their efforts to overturn it.

Despite being the largest African immigrant population in South Asia, Sheedis – as they are known – in Pakistan face restrictions to social, economic and political progress. This community was initially brought to the country as slaves between the first and 20th centuries, and entered the subcontinent through the ports of Sindh and Balochistan in present-day Pakistan, where many remain as dock workers, domestic workers, carpenters and blacksmiths.

As they assimilated into local life, many lost their languages and traditions, with several Sheedis deliberately marrying outside of the community. In Pakistani culture and among its diaspora (including in the United States), the very term Sheedi has come to be used as a derogatory term. Many see it as a form of bullying, something that has kept the Sheedi community from progressing, and a public backlash is beginning to build.

Levels of poverty, illiteracy and crime among the Sheedi are higher than in other ethnic groups in Pakistan. In Karachi, the majority of Sheedis are confined to Lyari, a city slum known for drugs, gangs and struggling education systems.

Sheedi have been historically under-represented in Pakistani government. The groundbreaking election of the first Black Pakistani to parliament in 2018, Tanzeela Qambrani, was marred by dissent, including the resignation of a fellow party member. Qambrani is vocally outspoken on the discrimination against Sheedi people in Pakistan. In March 2019 she pushed through a resolution that penalized educators who displayed racist behaviour towards Sheedi students. She is also leading a protest resolution in the provincial assembly against anti-Black racism in the US, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

Many grassroots efforts in Pakistan are similarly campaigning to safeguard the heritage and culture of Sheedis in Pakistan. The most prominent festival of the Sheedi calendar, known as the “Sheedi Mela”, was recently restored after a seven-year hiatus, signaling a major breakthrough towards government recognition of the significance of Sheedi heritage in the country.

“Colourism” has been linked to the marginalization of the Sheedi in South Asia. The colonial-era preference for fair skin is disappearing from Pakistani culture, but it can still be seen in the success of the skin-whitening industry and inclusion of whiteness as a criteria in marriage proposals.

Pakistani people in the US: the 'model minority'
There are clearly parallels between the mistreatment of Black Americans and Pakistani Sheedis. American society is no stranger to bias against minorities, and is seeing the result of that bias in barriers to access to capital and educational funding for minorities, as well as discrimination in hiring and lack of political representation.

The Pakistani diaspora in the US must acknowledging that Black people fought for the very civil rights that allow Pakistani-American communities to exist. After all, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 allowed the majority of Pakistanis currently living in the US into the country in the first place, by eliminating restrictive immigration quotas and allowing family-based immigration. As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to grow globally, it is critical for us to support it and acknowledge the contributions of Black Americans that enabled Pakistani and South Asian success in the US.

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