By Ihsan Habibullah Khan
October 2, 2018
Ahmadis are a Muslim minority group that constitutes about four million members of the Pakistan citizenry and it is the largest minority group in the country. However the puzzle over their identity is that even though they have constitutionally been declared as minorities, in reality they are neither treated as Muslims nor as minorities in Pakistan. The major opposition to Ahmadis comes from the mainstream religious orthodox groups who consider them heretical, and prevent them from building mosques and spreading Ahmadi literature.
Although the Ahmadis regard themselves as Muslims, their persecution and marginalization is considered legitimate and often encouraged across Pakistan. Against this backdrop, the community has suffered inconceivable persecution in the country. This kind of treatment has remarkably caused international human rights concerns, especially in the United States during the past few decades. The 2002 US State Department report noted that since the end of the 20th century, 316 Ahmadis have been persecuted in different criminal acts, including blasphemy. By extension, its report on Human Rights and Labour observed that twenty four Ahmadis were charged with blasphemy, just between 1999 and 2000. Their ultimate punishment, if convicted, was life imprisonment and death. Thanks to Pakistan’s alliance with the US on their War on Terror, such debates did not get much media coverage.
In the same vein, the recent removal of Mr. Atif Mian from the Economic Advisory Council (EAC), a crucial non-religious advisory body initiated by the PTI government, points to further marginalization of the community. It also highlights the structural weakness of Pakistan as an equal opportunity provider for the largest minority group of the country. It not only shows the weightage that the PTI high ups give to minorities and inter-religious harmony, but also reveals the narrow minded political rhetoric and approach towards the group. More importantly, at such a crucial time when the country is in dire need of its best minds in order to pull our economy back from the brink, the removal of Mr. Atif on the basis of his Ahmadi identity is likely to affect our national and international image as a moderate Islamic state.
On the public level, the anti-Atif group protests are indicative of the deeply hostile attitude towards the Ahmadi community in this country. By taking this step, PTI under Imran Khan’s leadership has resolved the puzzle of how he visualizes the future of minority groups in Pakistan. This act strongly reiterates the notion that nothing is going to change and makes us wonder of the belief system that leads to such aggressive and at times, violent reactions.
Since we are already suffering sectarian divides, this decision also has the potential to further polarize the society we currently live in. The replacement of Mr. Atif from the EAC also puts a huge question mark on the leadership credibility and capabilities of the of the PTI, especially Imran Khan. A good leader must understand how different minorities and ethnic groups must cohesively live under one nationality in a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society, and only a short look into the past will show that countries who utilize such a narrow approach to progress, cannot move forward.
Despite the fact that we are not a value free society, we must consider and treat Ahmadis as human beings first, before we can talk about the other basic rights they are lacking. If we are serious in moving forward, then we need to resolve this issue for the long term peace, economic progress and political stability of Pakistan.
Ihsan Habibullah Khan is a PhD Candidate at the Centre for International Peace & Stability (CIPS), of the National University of Sciences & Technology (NUST), Islamabad