Pakistani traders shout slogans during a protest against the arrest of a shopkeeper in Lahore on Dec 14, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

The systematic persecution of minorities for political mileage

We are now making it impossible for Ahmadis, who are as much as Pakistanis as all of us, to live in this country.

Raza Habib Raja August 03, 2022

A few days ago, I wrote a blog on a shameful incident in Faisalabad involving the arrest of three Ahmadi individuals for practicing the Islamic ritual of animal sacrifice, otherwise known as "Qurbani" in Urdu. The incident shocked me for two reasons. First was the sheer inhumanity of arresting someone for an act which is performed by millions in Pakistan. Second, because the said individuals were performing the ritual within the confinement of their own homes, which means technically, they were not violating Section 298-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which prohibits any person of the Ahmadi sect from calling himself a Muslim or preaching or propagating his faith. Notwithstanding the draconian nature of the said law, the arrested Ahmadis were not violating it any ways.

Condemning the incident, I wrote,

“From policing their behaviour in public, we have now started to breach the privacy of their homes and in doing so are forcefully stripping them of their human dignity and respect completely.”

At that point, I thought we had reached the lowest possible level of our moral bankruptcy. Little did I know that when it comes to Ahmadis, both our state and the society have an amazing capacity to constantly outdo all our previous misdeeds.

Since then, two similar incidents have come to surface, which again have left me completely stunned. First, the government of Chaudary Pervaiz Elahi, immediately after taking over Punjab, decided to amend the nikkah nama form by including the clause about belief in finality of Prophethood. Second, in another and even more troubling development, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) leader Malik Ilyas Awan submitted a letter to the deputy commissioner of Khushab, requesting him to take away security from the Ahmadi residents of the region, while also calling for their eviction from Khushab.

While the Eid incident demonstrated bigotry and hatred at the general population level, what makes these two latest developments particularly shocking is involvement of the government. When such steps are taken by the government, then it means that it has abandoned its basic responsibility of provision of safety and protection to all its citizens and has become completely partisan against a minority and in the process increasingly showing traits of a quasi-fascist state.

The updating of nikkah nama is the continuation of the long trend of including such clauses in various government documents. This step was not needed as such since this requirement is already present in many identification documents. Moreover, the Muslim Family Law is not a provincial subject and yet the Punjab government decided to take this step. In my opinion, it does not serve any purpose except to further promote and institutionalise discrimination against Ahmadis for the purpose of extracting political mileage. This was first proposed in March 2022, before the no-confidence motion and even at that time there was criticism from the liberal quarters that the sole purpose of this was nothing but petty political gains.

Now, after “retaking” Punjab, the PTI and PML-Q coalition immediately enacted the bill they had proposed in March. One reason as to why they have done so is that in recent by-elections, which they won convincingly, they played on a religious wicket in order to outflank the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). They were so effective in their campaign of whipping up religion, including the finality of Prophethood issue, that TLP witnessed its share plung to merely 5%. Since the issue of finality of Prophethood is intrinsically linked with Ahmadis, therefore, whenever it is raised for the sake of extracting political mileage, they end up getting victimised.

Since the coalition had already charged up its base by using this tactic, it has now tried to demonstrate that those had not been just “empty slogans” after taking over. In other words, the coalition has tried to prove its “commitment” to the issue.

Due to recent sloganeering, the issue has gained strength and as a result, the second development, i.e. request from PLM-Q to expel Ahmadis and removal of their security can also be understood in the same context. It is a continuation of the trend in which religion, particularly the issue of finality of Prophethood, is raised, followed by some measure against the already marginalised Ahmadi community.

As I mentioned in my old blog, although all minorities in Pakistan suffer from discrimination, the treatment meted out to Ahmadis is by far the worst. There is what I call "Ahmadi exceptionalism" in Pakistan. And the way things are going, I really don’t see an end to this pattern. I genuinely fear that the tactics used by PTI will now be adopted by other parties such as Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and TLP with even greater vigor in the future.

Two years ago, in a piece about the politicisation of the Ahmadi issue, I wrote:

“Academic Sadia Saeed has identified three state responses, each one harsher than the previous, over the Ahmadi issue. First was accommodation, when in 1953 the state curbed anti-Ahmadi agitation; second was exclusion, when the state declared them non-Muslims in 1974; and the third was criminalisation under the Ziaul Haq regime, where anti-Ahmadi ordinances were introduced. The way we are regressing, I am afraid that a fourth one is not far away: ethnic cleansing or forced displacement of Ahmadis from Pakistan.”

I think with these recent developments, the fourth stage has started. We are now creating circumstances where it is impossible for Ahmadis, who are as much as Pakistanis as all of us, to live in this country. In doing so, we are depriving them of even basic human dignity and right to live while we are ourselves are morphing into a bigoted, hate-filled and cruel society.

May God help and show us the right path which is of kindness and empathy.

WRITTEN BY:
Raza Habib Raja

The writer is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the Maxwell School of Public Affairs, Syracuse University. He regularly writes for the Express Tribune, HuffPost, Daily Times and Naya Daur. He tweets @razaraja

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

COMMENTS (3)

Aleem | 2 days ago | Reply

This intolerance and politics over religion is the biggest threat to the country.

Ria | 2 days ago | Reply

Religious freedom and liberty should be a fundamental right of every individual any state translate should bared from world bodies like imf and un

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