Gulf excess and Pakistani slaves

Rafia Zakaria

Pakistanis themselves, mired in denial and ever-ready to engage in the pantomime of pretending to be Arab, are inured to this reality of Arab racism. Easily appeased with the promise of Gulf jobs when their own country is in shambles they consider any paltry thankless employment a godsend

“We need slaves to build monuments,” says an Iraqi engineer living in Abu Dhabi to a reporter from the Guardian. In the published report he goes to add that he would never use the metro if it wasn’t segregated since “we would never sit next to Pakistanis and Indians because of their smell”.

The dismal condition of Pakistani labourers in the Gulf States is well known and the above statements are merely reflections of the deep-seeded and overtly racist attitudes of Arabs in the Gulf and otherwise towards Pakistanis.

The same Guardian report also details how Pakistani slave labourers work up to eighteen hours a day and often live twenty to a room without any ventilation and with only a single bathroom for several hundred people. Several do not see their families for four to ten year periods, unable to afford the airfare home and many die on the job.

Without any insurance scheme families are often not notified of deaths for months and the only compensation available to them is through an underground system through which other workers donate thirty dirham each which is then collected and donated. The strictly segregated society means that the rich Arabs never come across the lowly Pakistani workers who build their roads, clean their floors and drive their cars.

But in recent years, the oil-rich barons of the Gulf have found a new use for slave labour that goes beyond cleaning bathrooms and picking trash off the streets of Dubai. A recent statement issued by Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke in Brussels revealed that the Taliban are being funded by individuals from the Gulf States. Secretary Holbrooke said: “The Taliban receive more funding from the Gulf States than they do from the narcotics trade”.

As has been reported by several Pakistani newspapers, this means that the sources of foreign funding for the Taliban are greater than the approximate USD100 million they receive from the narcotics trade based on poppy cultivation inside Afghanistan.

While Holbrooke was careful to note that the money is not coming from governments but rather from individuals, his statement, based on credible reports tracing wire transfers from the region, illustrates a new use that rich Gulf Arabs have found for expendable Pakistani lives.

Similar to the onerous burden of cleaning one’s own bathrooms, or drilling one’s own oil or building one’s own monuments, the task of fighting one’s own holy war has proven to be far too burdensome for Arabs intoxicated with the seemingly never-ending largesse of a resource-fuelled economy. Smelly Pakistanis, the Arabs have discovered, are not only good enough to build crass monuments to consumerism but also to fight misguided holy wars that destroy nations and eviscerate thousands of innocent lives.

Holbrooke’s statement is not the only basis for believing that the Taliban are receiving support from the Gulf States. In May of this year, the United Nations sent out an international appeal for aid for the nearly 2 million people displaced by the fighting in the tribal areas and the NWFP. While the US has pledged USD320 million for the IDPs and the EU has pledged up to USD121 million, no significant pledges have been made from the Gulf States.

This strange dichotomy in which our supposed Muslim brethren have turned their back on the suffering of the people of Swat, Buner and Dir makes far more sense in light of new information that illustrates that in picking sides, rich sheikhs from the Gulf have chosen to place their bets with the Taliban rather than with the Pakistani soldiers fighting them.

Pakistanis themselves, mired in denial and ever-ready to engage in the pantomime of pretending to be Arab, are inured to this reality of Arab racism. Easily appeased with the promise of Gulf jobs when their own country is in shambles they consider any paltry thankless employment, even if it denies them basic human rights, a godsend.

Ironically, the standards they expect non-Muslim countries like the United States and the European Union to uphold in terms of equal employment, egalitarian laws and freedom of expression are all abandoned when it comes to the assessment of Arab nations. No attention is given for example to the Arabs’ discriminatory employment practices that pay a Pakistani a fraction of what is paid to a European citizen for the same engineering job.

Some workers make as little as 400 dirhams a month, barely able to afford meals while surrounded by unimaginable excess. Even less emphasis is received by the condescending and racist attitudes of Gulf law enforcement authorities that regularly detain immigrant workers without any legal process and routinely beat and abuse them.

All this injustice, perhaps because it is committed by fellow Muslims, who make a great pretence at religious devotion, is somehow unthinkingly and unquestioningly forgiven. The fact that such discrimination overtly and blatantly flouts any minimal allegiance to the concept of the Islamic ummah is never even considered.

This latest news presents an urgent challenge to the apathy of those Pakistanis unwilling to acknowledge the reality of Arab discrimination and disdain toward South Asians. The fact that Gulf sheikhs are contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to the Taliban who are bombing schools, marauding villages and devastating the economy and infrastructure of our nation while shutting their coffers to the IDPs languishing in tents should irk even the most minimal nationalist.

More pressingly, it should expose the duplicity of our Arab overlords who, while freely engaging in debaucheries behind their castle walls now wish to use the Taliban to impose a virulent and dogmatic form of Islam on the poor smelly Pakistanis.

Sending money to fuel a war that is depleting Pakistan’s already meagre resources, turning young men and boys into human bombs and transforming Pakistani cities into battlegrounds exposes their desire to condemn Pakistan into oblivion.

Rafia Zakaria is an attorney living in the United States where she teaches courses on Constitutional Law and Political Philosophy. She can be contacted at

4 thoughts on “Gulf excess and Pakistani slaves

  1. There is truth to the racism and mistreatment of workers in the UAE, but this article takes a very exaggerated stance that displays a lack of familiarity with life in the Gulf. Pakistanis and Indians are visible everywhere. There is a different kind of discrimination against affluent Pakistanis and poor labourers. Importantly, well to do Pakistanis and the Pakistani state are absolutely complicit in the abusive conditions endured by poor migrant labour; it is not simply a case of Arabs being racists.

    The claim of money from the Gulf funding the Taliban is one that is still entirely unproven, and I would hardly consider the US Envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan a reliable source of information on this!! Even if it is true, what makes anyone think it is Arabs, and not Pakistanis living in the UAE, who are sending the money to Pakistan for the Taliban? Islamist organisations and madrasahs in Pakistan are openly funded by bazaar donations inside Pakistan, and it is more logical to assume that funding from the UAE is a continuum of this pattern of mercantile funding of religious groups than some grand Arab conspiracy to spread violence in an otherwise tolerant and peaceful Pakistan.

  2. We all have opinions upon cultural. Acceptance see, we fail to understand. New social order in Middle East its About nationalism and pre social understandings. I’m a engineer still coming from Tunisia. Do you, figure they respect me no. Most Gulf states attempt to pay me less. Which makes me angered if this united Ummah. Does it matter were your from in Ummah? Still which apparent the attitude of new rich elite. Non Arabs are I admit this detested. Reason the myth Arab superiority if this the case. Ever since the dominance of former Ottoman Empire! Always been external influence to save them from invasion. So men when your in Gulf states including myself. Don’t feel slighted because of lack. Of interaction on there behave. See it regionalism they prefer there own. Only problem with this can they eventually. Take the employment from
    the guess workers. Answer is no lack of training and
    entrench ego. Of vainglorious nationalism the world
    only. Acknowledgment reason the petroleum nothing more. Fellow Arab if either Tunisian,Egyptian,Algerian,Libyan and Moroccan. Your
    not given a break only. Prominent businessman so before non Arabs. See racism there also regionalism
    just enjoy the employment. And seek better employment opportunities elsewhere! Salaam!

  3. May the curse of Allah SWT befall these gulf-Arabs for treating their Muslim brethren the way that they do.

    God willing, they will once again return to their original state of riding camels and living in tents.

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