The Silent Minority: ‘Only Muslims and men can live in this country’

Published: February 13, 2012

Political analyst Khaled Ahmed attempted to identify, as best as he could in a five-minute slot, minorities in Pakistan. PHOTO: ARIF SOOMRO/EXPRESS

Political analyst Khaled Ahmed attempted to identify, as best as he could in a five-minute slot, minorities in Pakistan. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS Political analyst Khaled Ahmed attempted to identify, as best as he could in a five-minute slot, minorities in Pakistan. PHOTO: ARIF SOOMRO/EXPRESS
KARACHI: 

It started late, rushed to resolve and concluded with dismay. Indeed, the amount of interest displayed in the session on ‘The Silent Minority: A voice for the voiceless’ at the second day of the Karachi Literature, unfortunately reflected reality in Pakistan.

While the issue is one of immense significance, the priority given to it, seemed, was abysmal, much to the annoyance of the audience; and perhaps even the panelists – one of them even going as far as to say that he had no idea why he was there. While the sessions for Vikram Seth, Saad Haroon and Sharmeen Obaid were packed, the one for the silent minority was shamefully bare.

Political analyst Khaled Ahmed attempted to identify, as best as he could in a five-minute slot, minorities in Pakistan – explaining the constitutional history of “cornering” certain communities into a “white patch” on the national flag.

“I believe the white patch is becoming more and more apparent as a mistake,” Ahmed said, before suggesting that the ruling community should not intensify its identity. “Because of the intensification of Muslim identity under the blasphemy law, the Christian community is being very clearly targeted.”

Ahmed concluded with perhaps his most interesting point: “Women are a minority in Pakistan, in terms of the state excluding them.” However, he did not, or rather could not, elaborate.

Another panelist, the editor of German publication Fikrun wa Fann, Stefan Weidner’s rigidness could be forgiven for what he said was out of nervousness.

Nevertheless, Weidner went straight to the point, disagreeing with the title of the session. “We are faced with a silent majority, not minority. The minority speaks up.”

He added that the metaphor “voice for the voiceless” is a dangerous one, because, he simply said, it does not work that way. “It’s rather pretentious,” he added. Although the 5% Muslim population in Germany has a voice of its own, it still subject to “racism”. He was quick to add that he wouldn’t lend a voice to them (the minorities) and would rather try and make the “original” Germans reflect on their “racist discourse”.

While his brief speech received no reaction from the largely confused audience, the moderator of the session, Abbas Rashid, said: “I don’t think the intent was to appropriate the role of giving a voice; [it was] rather to create an enabling environment for them to contribute.”

Struggling to maintain coherence, the second speaker, linguist and scholar Tariq Rahman, discussed the existence of ‘linguistic minorities’ in the country and how the ruling communities and the elite have always had a different language. There may be a numerically large number of disempowered people, but “it’s not a number game, it’s a power game”.

It wasn’t until the Q&A session that substantive issues were discussed. One audience member suggested that instead of holding talks and essentially preaching to the choir, the authorities or a think-tank should be briefed instead.

However, the suggestion was shot-down, with Ahmed and Rahman both stating that think-tanks have external influence and “are undermined by the intelligence agencies”.

Khaled Ahmed particularly reacted, and achieved a few rounds of applause, when grilled over the exclusion of a member of a minority in the panel. Giving a few examples of his Ahmadi friends, Ahmed said that there was no question about the participation of members of minority communities in the session. “Ahmadis have said goodbye to their country,” Ahmed said. They would simply refuse to be targeted, he said, adding that while that is a right he has to respect, he will “continue to speak for them whenever he can”.

The moderator aimed to give a neutral conclusion to the session which had only started getting warmer: “Another world is possible only when you make it [possible]. There are examples of states coming out of the brink, but this [Pakistan] is a tough one, make no mistake of that.”

But what best captured the hopelessness of the situation was that one line by Ahmed, which did not need to be elaborated this time: “Only Muslims and men can live in this country.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Feb 13, 2012 - 7:25AM

    This is an absurdly cynical report which takes one sentence from Khalid Ahmed and makes it seem like that’s the prognosis for a country of 180 million. Most Pakistani elite are just caught up in a warp of self-hatred. Yes, there is plenty to be depressed about but there is much cause for hope. Certainly even with women’s rights, the situation has improved in most parts of the country and minority rights are being advocated despite the onslaught of the fanatics. The struggle for modernity will be a generational one and progress will be glacial but with this kind of dejection we have no one to blame but ourselves for the status quo.

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  • Imran Ahsan Mirza
    Feb 13, 2012 - 8:43AM

    A true free country does not need to highlight its minorities, there every one is equal in the eyes of the law. Unfortunately it is not true for Pakistan. Being an Ahmadi I consider it one of the most hyspocritical societies within Muslim world. Every Pakistani has to sign a document denying being Ahmadi to obtain an ID card, passport or even a government jobs. When you get an admission in a school, college or university, you have to declare your religion and for being a Muslim, you have to deny being an Ahmadi there too. Amazing, isn’t it? There are only two countries in the world whose passport bears the name Israel, one is Israel and the other is Pakistan. The religious clergy of the country has taken Pakistan’s future to new depths in the past 2 decades and without certain sections of the society representing the conscience of Pakistan, it will continue to move towards spiralling abysmal depths of chaos and destruction.

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  • Umer
    Feb 13, 2012 - 9:24AM

    @Saleem H Ali:

    Haven’t you had enough of spreading hatred against Shias and justifying presence of anti-Shia sectarian banned group that you have come again to distort the real picture of persecution in Pakistan? You are exactly the sort of person we need to be watchful of. You sir are a bigot.

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  • Hamza Ali
    Feb 13, 2012 - 9:30AM

    someday the most peaceloving and true islamic community Ahmedi will strike back with a vengeance.Recommend

  • Imran Ahsan Mirza
    Feb 13, 2012 - 10:43AM

    @Saleem H Ali:
    You are right that the struggle wil be generational one, but Saleem do you really believe that we have set our direction to move in that way? Absolutely not. Yes, there are few achievements here and there but the failures overwhelm them all. I live in a western country and come to Pakistan every year, this time I was advised to keep a weapon at all times, loaded and ready to be discharged, I complied fully. The only way to come out of this is to declare Pakistan as a Muslim majority country but secular state where clergy has nothing to do with the affairs of the state or with an individual and all are equal regardless of their faith being Shia, Sunni, Wahabi, Deobandi, Beralvi, Ahmadi, Sikh, Hindu, Bahai etc., a state which should recongise diversity of religion and languages like Sindhi, Punjabi, Hindku, Pukhto, Barohi, Balochi, Saraiki etc.

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  • M M Malik
    Feb 13, 2012 - 11:43AM

    Its very simple, separate the state and religion.
    Why are Muslims so afraid of this concept? In the sub-continent we grew in a similar environment. Islam was suppressed in Punjab during the the Sikh rule, but came out stronger during the secular imperialist governance.

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  • ahmed
    Feb 13, 2012 - 1:09PM

    @Imran Ahsan Mirza: We Indian Muslims have got deep sympathy for yours and shia community in Pakistan.

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  • Maryam
    Feb 13, 2012 - 3:39PM

    @Saleem H Ali: I think you are the same Saleem Ali who passed racial comments over Pukhtuns as well and want to make an Islamic Republic of Talibanistan. Shame on your views regarding shias and pukhtuns and now regarding Ahmadis.

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  • Sana
    Feb 13, 2012 - 4:54PM

    “Only Muslims and Men can live in this country” – sums up our current country’s situation. If someone wants to deny it, he can, but that wont change the reality. Hope there comes a time when we too will have deep respect for women, and deep respect for all faiths.

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  • Osama Shah
    Feb 13, 2012 - 5:25PM

    This report is a piece of junk….. we have more than 40 Christains & Hindus in our Company in Karachi branch only which is 20% of our total employes & we have a Muslim owner,,

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  • BJB
    Feb 13, 2012 - 5:58PM

    @Saleem H Ali:
    you are abs right.

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  • IndianDude
    Feb 13, 2012 - 9:11PM

    The discrimination against the Ahmadi community is all because of jealousy,because the Ahmadis are the richest community in Pakistan. Same thing happened during partition. The then muslim league (ML) was mostly a movement by the bengali muslims who were poor and owned a lot of debt to the hindu land owners and banias(traders). The ML looked at the movement and partition as fast way to get out of their debt responsibility.(same thing in Lahore and karachi, most of the wealth was in hand of hindus who were forced to migrate). The uprising in kashmir valley also had some of the same “wealth” component, the hindu pandits owned majority of wealth/land/assets in the valley, under the guise of “freedom movement” all the hindu pandits were threatened and were forced to leave their homes and leave their wealth/land/assets behind in the valley to the muslims.
    So to Ahmadis as long as you are better and well to do than the majority muslims in pakistan, you will always be in trouble!Recommend

  • Liberalache
    Feb 14, 2012 - 1:15AM

    I’m glad Shayan has put these discussions in their proper context. Confused, marginal, divided and incoherent – that’s what the secular “movement” is. It basically consists of a bunch of phony foreigners, a handful of english speaking pakistanis, and an even smaller handful of aspiring non english speaking pakistanis. You could fit them all in one large auditorium and their significance would be lost in a fraction of the margin of error in pretty much any poll. How totally irrelevant these people are and how presumptuous those foreigners are to come here and tell us which is the majority and which the minority.

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  • Seher
    Feb 14, 2012 - 1:42AM

    Osama, clearly you’re in denial. 40 Christians and Hindus working for your (maybe) small company has nothing to do with the above article. Ethnic and Relgious minorites are being targeted all over Pakistan. We need to come out of our bubbles and realize the intensity of the situation and take a stand for it.Recommend

  • Feb 14, 2012 - 8:19AM

    @Umer: You are still stuck with misinformation spread by twitterati. Dont distort my arguments. I have always advocated for minority rights and only criticized a ritual which members of that community criticize too — such simplistic name-calling is what has led Pakistan to become a den of fanaticism and intolerance where no one can disagree without being called names or accused of bigotry. Sad.

    Recommend

  • Liberalache
    Feb 14, 2012 - 8:26AM

    The Quran says very clearly that those people who do not base their law and judgements on the book are not Muslim. You can either be a believer and be non-secular, or you can be a non-believer and be secular….you can’t have it both ways…the Quran is very clear about that. So if you want a secular Pakistan and you happen to be a Muslim, read the Quran again and make your decision. If you decide you want a secular Pakistan, get ready to fight it out with those who don’t. Either way, you must be absolutely sure of your convictions and stick to them…this wishy washy nonsense doesn’t fly

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  • Nangdharangg Pakistani
    Feb 14, 2012 - 8:29PM

    Khalid Sahib’s an asset…

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