S ource: Al Jazeera
In March, as a government crackdown on pro-democracy protestors intensified in Bahrain, curious advertisements started appearing in Pakistani media.
“Urgent requirement – manpower for Bahrain National Guard,” said one.
“For service in Bahrain National Guard, the following categories of people with previous army and police experience are urgently needed,” said another, with “previous experience” and “urgent need” underscored.
The categories included: former army drill instructors, anti-riot instructors, retired military police, and former army cooks.
In the following two months, on the back of visits to Islamabad by senior Saudi and Bahraini officials, sources say at least 2,500 former servicemen were recruited by Bahrainis and brought to Manama, increasing the size of their national guard and riot police by as much as 50 per cent.
“We know that continued airplanes are coming to Bahrain and bringing soldiers from Pakistan,” Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, told Al Jazeera.
“We do not know the exact number, but we know that it is much more than 1,500 or 2,000 people.”
Recruited into the special forces, the national guard, and the riot police, the Pakistani citizens are tasked with suppressing Shia protesters that are reportedly demanding equal rights after years of alleged oppression at the hands of the royal family, part of Bahrain’s Sunni minority.
“Our own Shia cannot join the security forces, but the government recruits from abroad,” said Rajab.
On the ground in Pakistan, the recruitments were handled by the Fauji Foundation, one of the largest conglomerates in the country with close ties to the Pakistani military. In addition to the Overseas Employment Services, which is tasked with providing job opportunities for retired military personnel, the foundation owns large cereal and gas companies, sugar mills, security firms, as well as hospitals and universities.
|Advertisement placed in Pakistani papers, reading: ‘Urgent Need for Bahrain National Guard’|
The Fauji Foundation did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.
“Pakistanis, particularly Baluchs, make up a large part of the Bahraini force,” said Fahad Desmukh, a former resident of Bahrain who now lives in Pakistan.
“They are extremely visible on the streets – so visible that the protestors were recently responding to the police in Urdu, knowing they did not speak Arabic.” [Watch the video of protesters chanting 'police are crazy' in Urdu here.]
“What it shows is that the Bahraini government has little trust in its own citizens to conduct security operations,” Michael Stephens, a Qatar-based Bahrain specialist at the Royal United Services Institute, told Al Jazeera.
“So they rely on foreign recruits to unquestioningly carry out orders of violently suppressing protests.”
While Arab nations have a long history of leaning on Pakistan for military expertise as well as foot soldiers, the recent increase in recruitments come at a tricky time. Pakistan has struggled to quell widespread ethnic violence and a robust insurgency on its own streets.
In the region, too, the country faces tremendous challenges.
“It has certainly put Pakistan in a very awkward position, where it has to balance its relationship with Iran on the one side and Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on the other,” Stephens said.
Inside Bahrain, the recruitments have brought dangers to the South Asian diaspora, where ill-feeling towards Pakistanis has increased, reportedly because they are seen as the main vehicle in the crackdown.
The influx of Sunni mercenaries has also increased fears that the government might be naturalising the new recruits in its efforts to change the country’s Shia-majority demographic.