By Qasim Rashid
July 29 20`8
On July 25, Pakistan went to the polls and handed the most seats in parliament to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the party of athlete-turned-politician Imran Khan. While hailed as a victory by many, the reality is that the Khan regime foreshadows immense hardship and violence for Pakistan’s religious minorities — particularly that of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
Election Day violence and claims of voter fraud notwithstanding, there’s an additional sinister reality that few in Pakistan are willing to discuss. For decades, Pakistan’s Ahmadi Muslims have suffered complete voter disenfranchisement on account of our faith — and this Election Day was no different. This election, Khan stood silent as Ahmadi Muslims were again disenfranchised.
Pakistan’s version of Jim Crow laws mandate two draconian options for the nation’s some 500,000 Ahmadi Muslims. To vote, Ahmadis must either declare themselves non-Muslim or declare Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Messiah and Mahdi and founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, as a false prophet and liar. Ahmadi Muslims reject both positions, and are thus forced into disenfranchisement.
Khan’s record is one of capitulation to the Taliban, acquiescence to unjust law and deflection from accountability. As journalist Jon Boone documented, “At the peak of the Taliban’s terror campaign in 2014 Khan was pleading for them, saying they were ‘confused.’ He thought the Taliban should be given an office in Peshawar from where they could parlay with the government. He bitterly opposed a military confrontation with the group, saying it would only fuel more violence.”
“As things turned out,” Boone noted, “Khan was wrong and the liberal fascists were right. After much foot dragging, largely caused by Khan’s noisy opposition, the army finally assaulted North Waziristan. The rate of Taliban violence fell precipitously.”
Khan hasn’t changed his views. In fact, he has doubled down, with reports that in January, his party “gave a grant worth PKR 550 million [more than $4 million] to madrasas of Sami-ul-Haq, who is also known as the ‘Father of Taliban’. Ahead of the polls, PTI joined hands with Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, who is on the US terror watch list.”
Khan claims he seeks justice for all people of Pakistan regardless of faith or creed, but his actions prove to the contrary.
Still, if Khan is sincere, he can prove it by returning free and fair voting rights to Pakistan’s Ahmadi Muslims — a feat literally a pen stroke away. An executive order issued by then-President Pervez Musharraf relegated Pakistan’s Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to a separate voter roll. Khan can issue another executive order and repeal this unjust law. Will he?
Pakistan’s own Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights — which Pakistan has ratified — mandate religious freedom. Thus, Khan can prove his commitment to justice by demanding a repeal of Pakistan’s second amendment which declares Ahmadi Muslims as non-Muslims, the 1984 anti-Ahmadi ordinance mandating fines and arrest for Ahmadis identifying as Muslim, and the 1986 blasphemy law that is frequently used to target Ahmadi Muslims, Christians, Hindus and atheists.
Instead, Khan is on the record stating, “I say with full conviction that … [Ahmadis] cannot call themselves Muslim … and we will stand by and fully protect Pakistan’s 295-C.” Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code enforces a mandatory death sentence for the act of “blasphemy,” which Ahmadi Muslims are apparently de facto committing due to our belief in Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the Messiah. Khan moreover frequents “Finality of Prophethood” conferences, which are run by religious extremists with a history of targeting Ahmadi Muslims.
Peculiar but significant is that every Pakistani prime minister or president, from Benazir Bhutto to Nawaz Sharif, persecuted Ahmadi Muslims — and each ultimately succumbed to the extremism or corruption they enabled.
If Khan intends to buck history, he must stop acquiescing to extremism. Notwithstanding the blood on his hands for supporting the Taliban as they killed thousands of Pakistanis — including scores of Ahmadi Muslims — you will never hear Khan affirm his support of Ahmadi Muslims. When asked whether he supports Ahmadi rights, he has responded that he “supports all rights.” Khan is the Pakistani version of “all lives matter.” Meanwhile, Ahmadi Muslims continue to suffer religious, social and political apartheid.
On July 25, while my fellow Ahmadi Muslims were again denied the foundational right to vote in Pakistan, I presented our case for justice before Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador for religious freedom, in Washington at the State Department’s first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. With representatives of more than 80 governments present, our case was received with a round of applause.
If Khan were present, would he have clapped for justice for Ahmadi Muslims? As the incoming prime minister who ran on slogans for justice, he should prove it with his actions.
Qasim Rashid is an attorney and the national spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. He is a Truman National Security Fellow.