The monsters fueling the racial profiling of Pakistani men abroad

The monsters fueling the racial profiling of Pakistani men abroad

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Sara Sharif was a beautiful child. The body of the ten-year-old girl was discovered at a house in the British town of Woking. No one else was in the house when she was found. Police had been led to the property after someone, believed to be the child’s father Urfan Sharif, called British emergency services.

The British Pakistani community has long been riddled with issues of violence against women. In this case, the child’s body was riddled with injuries that appeared to have been inflicted over a sustained period of time. After finding the body, British police named the girl’s father Urfan Sharif, her stepmother Beinash Batool and uncle Faisal Malik as people they would like to question regarding her death. According to news reports, a travel agent in the area came forward to say that Urfan Sharif had contacted him and booked eight one-way tickets to Pakistan. The tickets were for him, his wife and brother and his wife’s children. British police have contacted Pakistani police to find the three suspects.

On August 22, Pakistani police arrested a man, allegedly Urfan Sharif’s brother, who insisted he had no idea where his brother was hiding.

Sadly, this turn of events where Pakistanis commit crimes abroad and then run away to Pakistan is not unheard of. Last year, a man named Shabbir Abbas was arrested in his village in Eastern Punjab. His 18-year-old daughter Saman Abbas was found dead in a shallow grave near the family’s home in the farming town of Novellara in Italy. Even though she had not been seen since April, it took until November for Pakistani police to finally round up her father. It is alleged that Saman Abbas had told her Pakistani boyfriend that her family wanted her to marry an older man in the village and that she was refusing to do so.

In Abbas’s case, the father was arrested. In Sara Sharif’s case it is not yet known whether Pakistani police will be able to find him. Their inability to do so points to a huge problem. As long as Pakistanis in foreign countries believe they can abscond to Pakistan and disappear, they will also continue to think that they can commit crimes abroad and get away with them. It is particularly troubling that this seems to happen most often in cases involving violence against women and girls. In foreign countries, it slanders Pakistan’s reputation as a place where femicidal criminals hide with relative ease.

This truth ends up punishing Pakistanis who must not only live among criminals hiding from authorities in other parts of the world, but have trouble leaving and getting visas.

Rafia Zakaria

It will be terrible if Sara Sharif’s case ends with her father and step-mother getting away with killing her. Some British authorities have said that the child was known to the municipal authorities suggesting that there had already been complaints to child protection agencies about her being abused by her family. A few days after the news of her death became public, a bouquet was found that said it was from her “mama.” Olga Sharif,  her biological mother said she lives in the Lake District and cannot believe that her child is dead. She was married to Urfan Sharif until 2017. It is not known why the child did not live with her mother or what the custody arrangement was. What could have been an escape route for the child, it appears, simply did not exist.

It is absolutely imperative that Punjab police take all the steps necessary to find Urfan Sharif, his wife and brother. The death of a beautiful and innocent child, too young to know how to save herself must be punished. If they do not do so, Pakistan will continue to have a reputation of being a place where criminals who have committed heinous crimes abroad are able to hide. Though all their stories may be vastly different, from Bin Laden to the likes of Urfan Sharif, too many have been able to do just that.

This truth ends up punishing Pakistanis who must not only live among criminals hiding from authorities in other parts of the world, but have trouble leaving and getting visas, because it is imagined that they can go abroad, commit crimes and then escape accountability altogether.

It is undoubted that immigrants are under a lot of scrutiny in the UK as well as other Western countries. The stereotype regarding Pakistani Muslim men in the West, is that they mistreat women and propagate a culture steeped in misogyny, with instances like the notorious Rotherham child sexual abuse scandal adding to the damaging narrative, further fuelling racism and profiling.

With that sordid memory etched in the minds of Britons, cases like that of Sara Sharif simply reiterate the premise that British-Pakistani men are inherently misogynist and criminal. The British-Pakistani community must recognize this and make urgent overtures to cull such unbridled hatred of women. It will take very aggressive transformation of the community to insure that these sorts of crimes don’t occur with such tragic regularity.

While it is unclear what exactly happened to Sara, it is safe to assume that her last moments were ghastly and horrific. The fact that the family absconded without even giving the child a burial is enough proof of their complicity and guilt. The only way that her death can be made to have some meaning is if British- Pakistanis use it to initiate some soul searching on how and why such monsters exist among them.

- Rafia Zakaria is the author of “The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan” and “Veil.” She writes regularly for The Guardian, the Boston Review, the New Republic, the New York Times Book Review and many other publications.

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