By Huzaifa Ali Ahfaz
July 23, 2018
It’s July. A lot has happened in our political landscape this month. From Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to lesser known parties such as Awami Workers’ Party (AWP), all of them have accelerated their election campaigns, publishing manifestos and engaging in door to door campaigns. I have personally read the manifestos of each major party. Despite this, I am not going to vote in the upcoming elections.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t have a political preference. After reading the manifestoes, I have clearly found myself tilting towards one party. However, I am only 17 and cannot legally vote.
Well, no worries. I’d at least be voting in the 2023 elections, right?
The reason is I am identified as a member of the Ahmadia community. Despite having keen interest in politics, this is the real hurdle that would likely be keeping me out of the 2023 elections; just like it kept my father out of every election he witnessed in this country.
What is the link between my faith and my vote? In 1974, Ahmadis were declared non-Muslim through the second amendment in the constitution of Pakistan. As if this wasn’t enough, General Zia-ul-Haq infamously issued Ordinance XX, worsening the plight of Ahmadis by depriving them of the right to profess, practice, and propagates their faith. As a consequence of this ordinance, Pakistani Muslims had to take oaths denouncing Ahmadiat.
In addition to that, General Zia also introduced separate electorates. Currently, there are two voter lists in the country: one caters to Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and all other religions, while the other includes only Ahmadis. This is clearly discriminatory behaviour being perpetrated against the Ahmadia community and it is why the Ahmadis have boycotted this election once again.
Ahmadi voters were not disfranchised in Pakistani elections when the country was founded. There was a time we voted — or at least, my grandparents and their parents did. In fact, Ahmadis were an important part of the Muslim voter demographic that helped the rise of the Muslim League in the 1945 elections of British India. Later, in Pakistan, Ahmadis were a key factor in the rise of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by voting for the PPP in the Pakistani General Elections.
Later, in the times of General Zia-ul-Haq, the situation worsened as mentioned above. However, it is worth mentioning that in the time of General Musharraf, General Zia’s separate electorate order was repealed. It was through the Chief’s Executive Order No. 15, that joint electorates were reintroduced in Pakistan. However, that did not last long as unexpectedly, the religious-right protested against this decision. How dare Ahmadis be allowed to vote? So, as a result, a separate supplementary list of voters was created for Ahmadis then.
The same situation persists now. Muslim voters have to sign a declaration that they believe in the supreme and absolute finality of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and have to denounce the Ahmadia sect. Those who fail to do so are moved to the supplementary list of voters.
One might say that the system has not denied Ahmadis the right to vote. Ahmadis can vote if they want, they just have a separate voter list; so they should just vote anyway. We say that the fact that there is a separate voter list solely for Ahmadis itself is a discriminatory act; forcing us to assume a religious identity we do not want. Thus, we are presented with two choices: our vote, or our faith. Most of us decide that our faith comes before our vote. Effectively, it is the same as denying us our right to vote. Thanks, but no thanks.
It would have been funny if it wasn’t so pathetically sad, that despite all that has happened; the myth that Ahmadis are influential in the government is still perpetuated by the Mullahs
It would have been funny if it wasn’t so pathetically sad, that despite all that has happened; the myth that Ahmadis are influential in the government is still perpetuated by the Mullahs. They have taken away our voting rights, yet believe that we somehow reached the top of the hierarchy. Ironically, the Mullahs fail to see any Ahmadi influence when they are with the government. The point I’m trying to make by this is that while Ahmadis are not allowed to partake in politics, they are still a very important part of the political landscape of Pakistan.
How? Take 2017’s infamous Faizabad sit-in, about the change in wordings of the pledge a Muslim has to take to prove his faith to the government, in the Election Bill 2017. Fun fact: Ahmadis do not care if the word in the pledge used was Oath, or if it was declaration. Ahmadis will not be taking that pledge as long as it involved denouncing the founder of the Ahmadia sect. However, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Party (TLP) was able to cash in on Pakistanis religious sentiment, and successfully pressurised the government to revert the changes. Now, TLP is contesting the elections on the basis of Khatm e Nabuwwat — effectively trying to get the anti-Ahmadia vote.
Even the mainstream political parties are campaigning on the basis of who would be suppressing the Ahmadis the most. For example, PTI chairman Imran Khan, who is a powerful contender for the Prime Minister’s office, has supported the anti-Ahmadi laws a number of times. Sheikh Rasheed, who is often allied with PTI and is in the political mainstream, has been campaigning by projecting himself as a ‘guardian of the Khatm e Nabuwwat’.
Al Haider Zaidi, PTI’s Central Senior Vice President, recently Tweeted a fake campaign image of his party, expressing his dismay over “enemies of the state who want to create chaos and mistrust amongst Pakistanis” by using fake posters. Curiously, Mr. Zaidi encircled a specific point of the campaign poster which he found to be quite disturbing. The point — and I kid you not — was protecting the civil rights of Ahmadis among other minorities. This Tweet clearly implies that protecting civil rights of Ahmadis is not on PTI’s agenda. Unfortunately, Ahmadis would still be second-class citizens in PTI’s Naya Pakistan.
The last few examples show how Ahmadis are used as a device to invoke the religious sentiments of the people to win the election. However, while hate speech against Ahmadis continues this election season, we still cannot play any role in the elections as we are effectively barred from voting. This again shows how deep Ahmadi phobia is rooted in our society.
I hope that there would be a time I would be able to exercise my right to vote in Pakistan. I am not a pessimist, but I see no light at the end of this tunnel.
Huzaifa Ali Ahfaz is an academic