October 12, 2017
It was a diatribe both repugnant and dangerous, not only in what was said but also in terms of its wider ramifications.
On Tuesday in the National Assembly, retired Capt Mohammed Safdar, having just secured bail from an accountability court, launched a vociferous attack against the Ahmadi community, describing them as a “threat to this country” and demanding that its members be banned from induction into the government and military service.
He also called for Nobel Laureate Dr Abdus Salam’s name to be delinked from Quaid-i-Azam University’s physics department, which has recently been renamed — by his own father-in-law, the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — in honour of the celebrated Pakistani scientist.
The MNA’s words are a repudiation of history, and if his prescription — that of faith as a condition of military recruitment — were to be put into practice, it would imperil our future as a nation. Many officers belonging to minority faiths have served this country with distinction; to name but a few, Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry, retired Major Gen Maneck Sopariwala and Wing Commander Mervyn Leslie Middlecoat. Some, such as the latter, and more recently army Sepoy Lal Chand Rebari, have laid down their lives in the line of duty.
Merit alone must determine the composition of the armed forces; any other consideration would fatally compromise its professionalism and its capacity to defend the country’s borders. To its credit, Pakistan’s military leadership has consistently resisted any attempt to create communal or sectarian divisions within its ranks. To demand otherwise is to run counter to that pragmatic approach.
Not only that, Capt Safdar’s tirade — one that any violent extremist would be proud of — clearly violates the country’s hate speech laws as well as the objectives of the National Action Plan. The concept of inclusivity that our leadership is supposedly promoting as an antidote to intolerance in society brooks no exceptions.
However, when the floor of the assembly was being used to spew invective against a minority community, the people’s representatives could only watch in craven silence, sometimes even thumping their desks in approval. Despite their lofty claims of countering religious extremism in all its forms, not one legislator had the spine or decency to object.
Until all Pakistani citizens are deemed equal before the law, until patriotism or the right to security of life and property is not contingent upon faith, aspirations for a more peaceful polity will remain a pipe dream.
Mainstreaming Of Bigotry
Captain (retd) Safdar’s National Assembly speech against the Ahmadia community is a reminder of the bigoted mindset that exists in the country. The PML-N leader called for a ban on hiring Ahmadis in the Armed forces and other institutions. He went on to demand withdrawal of the decision — of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz led government — to name a department of Quaid-e-Azam University after the first Pakistani Nobel laureate, Dr Abdus Salam.
Both the PML-N and the government need to clarify if Safdar’s hate speech is his opinion or if it reflects the party and the government policy. If it does not reflect either the party’s or the government’s position, then the least that has to be done is to issue a show-cause notice to the MNA.
No one can be allowed to get away with spewing venom against Pakistani citizens for their religious beliefs — least of all parliamentarians. Safdar’s statement is a clear violation of the National Action Plan (NAP) as well.
The PML-N’s deafening silence on the hateful remarks of the former PM’s son-in-law is concerning. The ruling party has been making tall claims about wanting a pluralist Pakistan. It was just a few weeks ago that Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif made passionate appeals for support from the international community to enable the government to rid the country of its liabilities. These appeals won’t count for much until Asif’s party and the party’s government first rid themselves of their liabilities.
If the PML-N government does not immediately disown Safdar’s statement, all its claims about pluralism and tolerance will be considered dubious.
The Ahmadia community has been on the receiving end of faith-based violence and discrimination for far too long. Such statements from political leaders tend to further enable violence against the persecuted community.
The commotion in the National Assembly in the name of a debate following a ‘clerical error’ in the draft of the Election Reforms bill had already sent a signal about the misplaced priorities of the political leadership. Besides, we have the mainstreaming of militant outfits going on without any debate on its parameters. And now with Safdar’s hateful speech, it seems like mainstreaming of bigotry is also underway.
This state-of-affairs will serve to reverse all the progress made so far against terrorism, because the latter cannot be eradicated without confronting the extremist mindset. *