Merchants of hate

This is not the first time the Ahmadi community has been attacked by a politician or an opinion leader

Kamal Siddiqi October 17, 2017
The writer, a former editor of The Express Tribune, is director of the Centre for Excellence in Journalism at IBA. He tweets @tribunian

It is no surprise that Captain Safdar, the son-in-law of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, said what he did in the National Assembly with regards the Ahmadi community in Pakistan.

Playing to the gallery, Safdar had called for a ban on hiring Ahmadis in the military and the judiciary. Speaking on the National Assembly floor, the son-in-law also demanded withdrawal of a decision to name a department of the Quaid-i-Azam University after Nobel laureate Pakistani physicist Prof Dr Abdus Salam.

While social media and Pakistan’s right-minded quarters condemned the speech, not much else was done to punish Safdar for his hate speech in parliament. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has said that the son-in-law should not have made statements against the Ahmadi community and that neither he nor Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is responsible for Captain Safdar’s opinions. “No one in the party would agree with him,” he told a private TV channel, assuring that he “will deal” with the PML-N leader for his remarks. So far nothing has happened.

This is not the first time the Ahmadi community has been attacked by a politician or an opinion leader. However, the fact that a senior member of the ruling party would make such a statement is indeed unfortunate. This is because it gives encouragement to those who use violence to justify their beliefs. In the past, members of the Ahmadi community have been killed after statements were made against them. Who can forget the killing of two Ahmadi persons in Hyderabad after a famous TV talk show host condemned the community on television a day earlier.

In this case as well, after the Safdar statement, members of the Ahmadi community were shot dead in Punjab. Police continues to “investigate.” The more important question of course is why Safdar chose to make the statement that he did. There is no mystery here. The PML-N has ridden on the crest of hate politics for several years now. Many of its electoral allies are parties that profess and practise religious intolerance.

As voting trends change in Punjab, other parties are now vying for this extremist vote. And this was apparently clear in the recently held Lahore by-elections where the PTI seems to have come close to defeating the PML-N in what was once the ruling party’s stronghold. More significant was the fact that smaller parties with more militant agendas seem to have done better than mainstream parties like the PPP, which seemed to be altogether absent from the polls.

Pakistan’s politics of hate is making a resurgence. This is because the two mainstream parties are no more competing against each other for votes in the coming elections. Instead, the challengers are the PTI and smaller parties that seem to be more right-wing than the PML-N. And this is bothering the ruling party and its leaders. For one, it is clear that the party cannot be assured of a win in the 2018 elections, especially in Punjab which is its stronghold. That is why the party is now making its appeal to those quarters it feels it is losing.

While this may seem like a sound electoral plan, what does this mean for the country’s religious minorities? Bad news, especially for the Ahmadi and Christian communities, both of which have a presence in Punjab.

There are fears that there will be more violence against the religious minorities as parties vie with one another for votes of the majority. Already we have seen incidents of violence against Christians where the police has looked the other way.

As elections approach, members of religious minorities have expressed fears that they will become fodder for politicians and their agendas. Representations have been made to the government but to no avail.

Shahbaz Sharif rules the roost in Punjab and unlike the statements of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, has no qualms about how he has to move ahead in the coming elections. The PML-N has built much of its political capital by gaining the support of extremist sectarian and militant organizations. What makes one think that 2018 will be any different?

In fact, given the tug and pull that we are seeing amongst other political parties, these smaller parties and groups have more of a say now in they have to be accommodated in the coming days.

All this is cause for worry and concern. A national dialogue must be started on this so that the rights of all Pakistani citizens can be guaranteed in the years to come.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 16th, 2017.

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