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Pakistan@75 does some welcome introspection on minority persecution

The question being raised in Pakistan@75 should be welcomed, that how come Pakistan, carved out as a safe home for the Muslim minorities of the Indian subcontinent, has failed to provide safety to its own minorities? Only Pakistan has the answer

Mahendra Ved Aug 17, 2022
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Pakistan minorities (Photo: Twitter)

Call it exuberance or call it introspection, there are murmurs about how Pakistan has been treating its religious minorities as it celebrated 75 years of its birth on August 14. That they are taking place in public forums, and a section of the public welcomes it, is a positive sign. But given Pakistan’s record, one would nurse some reservations.  

The self-reflections on Independence Day were those of federal Finance Minister Miftah Ismail. This is significant, given the high probability of his triggering a controversy that cannot be good for a government that is facing a relentless campaign by former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is demanding snap polls.

There appears an unmistakable risk factor. Politicians sometimes become voluble while appearing on television where they do not follow a prepared text and are required to answer questions by the anchor or points made by other participants.

Bold minister

During Geo News' programme "Naya Pakistan", the finance minister shed light on “Why Pakistan has failed to develop while other countries who gained independence after it are far ahead of us.”

The web edition of weekly The Friday Times (August 15, 2022) had reported that Ismail, speaking on Independence Day, “won hearts” when he made “a bold statement” in favour of minorities who face unfavourable situations in the country.

He said: “We should ask ourselves why we have lagged behind many countries. We are a narrow-minded and emotional nation. We do not give much priority to education. We find faults if Dr Abdus Salam wins the Nobel Prize because he was a Qadiyani. We do not like it if Malala Yousafzai receives the Nobel Prize.

"There is a lack of tolerance in the country. Our religious leaders are also to blame for it. Some time ago, a Christian couple was burnt alive, how many people raised their voices against it? Recently, an Ahmadi was killed, how many people raised their voices? People are afraid," the minister said.

Mistreatment of minorities

The website observed that the finance minister’s remarks about minorities and other sensitive issues received appreciation from netizens who hailed him for “being so upright and principled in calling out social ills in our society that keep us from progressing”.

Ismail’s comments about Ahmedis, also known as Quadianis, are unusual coming from a serving minister. He is a US-trained economist and businessman and belongs to the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz).

However, the party’s own record on minorities, especially on Ahmedis, is dismal. Demand to persecute them was made in the National Assembly some years ago by retired Captain Mohammed Safdar. He is the son-in-law of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and husband of Maryam Nawaz, the party’s vice president.  

Dr Salam, a renowned physicist who set up many institutions in Pakistan, died in France, despised and not allowed to return home. He was also the first Muslim Nobel winner. But the word Muslim has been erased from his grave’s tombstone.

Ahmedis' plight

Of all of Pakistan’s minority communities, Ahmedis are perhaps the most prosecuted. They are not supposed to call themselves Muslims and bear Muslim names. Their places of worship and of burial are frequently attacked.

Ahmedis are unique in that they were Muslims till they were declared non-Muslim by amending the law in 1973. The promulgation of the 1984 Ordinance XX practically proscribed the community. In Pakistan, widespread anti-Ahmedi persecution enjoys legal and social sanctions.

Besides official connivance on this, the largely Sunni Muslim population keeps special vigil on them during religious festivals. 

In a bizarre incident on July 10, some Ahmedis were arrested for celebrating Eid al-Adha. The complainants had climbed nearby roofs to see what Ahmadis were doing and claimed they felt "offended".

Last week, the Punjab government received demands that the Ahmedis be evicted from different places in the province and be confined to Chenab Nagar, the country’s only town where they are in a majority.

The 76th anniversary, however, was an occasion the Ahmedis celebrated with gusto, decorating their homes, shrines, markets and public places, the Friday Times reported.

However, just two days earlier, Naseer Ahmad, 60, was stabbed to death at a Chenab Nagar bus stop. He failed to raise slogan in praise of Tehreek-e-Labbaik-Pakistan (TLP), a hardline Sunni group. In a statement, the Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya (JA) said Ahmad had no personal rivalry with anybody. “He was simply killed for being Ahmadi.”

State of minorities

Ahmedis are believed to number between 200,000 and two million. The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics released religious data of Pakistan Census 2017 on May 19, 2021 -- 96.47 percent Muslims, followed by 2.14 percent Hindus, 1.27 percent Christians, 0.09 percent Ahmadis and 0.02 percent ‘others’.

Writing in The News (August 16, 2022), political commentator  Mosharraf  Zaidi observes: “Perhaps most worrying is the state of minorities that have always bled green and continue to live and, sadly, die in their country as lesser citizens. The fear and trepidation of religious minorities is palpable, real and utterly shameful. It is the absolute opposite of how Quaid-e-Azam imagined this place.

“To be itself, Pakistan needs to become the safest country on earth for Pakistani Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and Ahmedis. An absence of an acknowledgment of this failure is unforgivable, and a plan to fix this is inescapable on the path toward realizing the Pakistan of our dream,” he said. 

Pathetic state

Minister Miftah Ismail may not be alone and may be reflecting the thoughts of many more. However, the record so far is dismal, be it the issue of minorities or the blasphemy law that is often used to target these minorities. Even when the state – the government and the judiciary -- have tried to be fair, the Muslim clergy remain largely unhelpful. Above them all, the general public delivers mob justice to the alleged offenders.

Even then, the question being raised in Pakistan@75 should be welcomed, that how come Pakistan, carved out as a safe home for the Muslim minorities of the Indian subcontinent, has failed to provide safety to its own minorities? Only Pakistan has the answer.  

(The author is a veteran journalist and columnist on South Asian affairs. Views are personal.)

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