By Zeeba T Hashmi
April 18, 2015
Persecution in Pakistan is the culmination of stewing hate speech that has been growing unchecked in our society. Religious minorities here are the worst ones anywhere in the world to suffer the brunt of hate crimes. But what makes the persecution of Ahmedis unique is that they consider themselves Muslim but are made to sign a statement that they are non-Muslims before taking up their citizenship. This was defined in the Constitution when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in 1974, declared Ahmedis to be non-Muslims, a move demanded and hailed by the orthodox clergy. This was further strengthened and enacted into an Ordinance later by General Ziaul Haq, which criminalised Ahmedis for practicing normal rituals that ordinary Muslims would do like greeting each other with the term “Asaalamualaikum”. Ridiculous laws set precedents for general intolerance and hate crimes. Politically, Ahmedis are unrepresented and denounced in public. The chairman of the PTI, Imran Khan, during his election campaign in 2013, alienated himself from the Ahmedis, who had initially been supporting him for change. The ‘honourable’ Khan had to make a special television appearance to clarify his stance on the issue on how the laws that are discriminatory to this particular segment of the population are synchronised with his beliefs.
In 2014, 11 members belonging to the Ahmedi sect were killed for their faith. The increase in crimes against Ahmedis is becoming a reason behind why many of them are opting to leave Pakistan for the sake of living dignified lives in countries that ensure religious freedom and security. There are about three million Ahmedis residing in Pakistan at present and most of them are resiliently living here despite the fact that the authorities deliberately ignore the many dangers and threats they face here. Many perpetrators are set free whereas the Ahmedis, by the discretion of the law, are taken in and persecuted at the smallest instance of practicing their beliefs in public. This not only gives a negative image of Pakistan to the world, it is shameful on every level of humanism of how the state has given in to the whims of the extremist mullahs here.
There is a plethora of hate speech against the Ahmedis that often incites violence against them. There are no background checks or investigative and forensic measures taken against the publication of such pamphlets that call for vicious action against our religious minorities. There have often been reports of the circulation of pamphlets considering it a religious responsibility to kill Ahmedis, whom they consider to be murtids (apostates). There is a 720-page book titled Tohfa Qadianiat, written by Muhammad Yousaf Ludhianvi of Khatam-e-Nabuwat, which openly calls for the murder of Ahmedis. This book is making the rounds in the residential areas of Lahore without any government intervention to stop it or to prosecute its author for inciting murder. A well-known television celebrity, Amir Liaqat Hussain, has twice named Ahmedis as wajib ul qatal (justifiably to be murdered) on television, which has been followed by the murders of Ahmedis and not once has he been indicted for inciting violence against them. He unabashedly keeps running his show on television, which is viewed by millions across Pakistan.
A local Urdu newspaper in Lahore has been printing an advertisement for the Khatam-e-Nabuwat Conference that was to be held on March 22. The sponsors of the advertisement and the organisers of the event are all revealed in it yet no one from the authorities is willing to take note of the conference. In the months of February and March 2015, there have been six such conferences that took place under the nose of the government. These conferences were held by the Khatam-e-Nabuwat, Majlis Ahrar Islam, Tahafuze Namoose Risalat Committee and other elements that preach the killing of Ahmedis, limiting their movements, restricting them and obscuring their rights to assess education, health and other services. It is also important to note that a meeting organised by the Tahafuze Namoose Risalat Committee was presided over by Liaqat Baloch of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and it was attended by the federal minister for railways, Khawaja Saad Rafique of the PML-N and Mehmood ur Rasheed of the PTI. In February this year, a similar conference was held at the Aiwan-e-Iqbal, a government cultural facility in Lahore. Such conferences insist their communities excommunicate the Ahmedis. This is ironic as freedom of speech for alternate voices is quashed while abettors to murder are given open and free spaces to actually propagate their mission to persecute religious minorities. Moreover, this is a contradictory resolve of the state to end religious extremism in the country. However, actions like these are not even discouraged, let alone eradicated from the roots. The police are also notorious for picking up Ahmedis in fabricated crimes and physically torturing them at the behest of the mullahs.
Why is it that the state is helpless in safeguarding the Ahmedis from mullah persecution? Last year, an Ahmedi woman and her two minor granddaughters were attacked and killed by an angry mob over an allegedly blasphemous post on Facebook made by another Ahmedi. The killers of the woman and two minors are still roaming free. Is it because of fear of the mobs that the state feels absolutely unable to take up responsibility for the protection of a persecuted community? There are reports that the extremist mindset has also seeped into the state machinery (many were seen attending the Khatam-e-Nabuwat conferences) making it impossible to secure Ahmedis their rights on an equal footing with other citizens. It is a tragedy for Pakistan that, despite knowing the grudge and religious hatred for people choosing and practicing their faith, the government has failed to protect and safeguard its citizens.
Zeeba T Hashmi is a freelance columnist