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ELECTION 2018: Persecution of minorities in Pakistan

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Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. (File Photo: IANS) by IANS_ARCH.
Pakistan's Premier iShahid Khaqan Abbasi. (File Photo: IANS)

The tragic irony in Pakistan is that it is not considered politically expedient to discourage Islamic fanatics from disgracing those who worked for the foundations of Pakistan. The best strategy is either to keep quiet or join these fanatics just as Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) is doing….writes Rifan Ahmed Khan

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. (File Photo: IANS) by IANS_ARCH.
Pakistan’s Premier iShahid Khaqan Abbasi. (File Photo: IANS)

Pakistan’s minorities, especially Hindus, Sikhs and Ahmediyas, are struggling to avail of justice depitye 70 years of Independence. What makes us to think of the plight of Ahmediyas in Pakistan today is the recent attacks on them in the Kashmir colony in Sialkot in Punjab.

Their mosque was destroyed and century-old cluster of houses damaged.  The religious value of these houses can be gauged from the fact that founder of Ahmediya sect Mirza Ghulam Ahmed sometimes stayed here. He set up this sect in Ludhiana in 1889 and later, the headquarters of the sect were established in Qadian in Gurdaspur in Punjab (India).  After the Partition they were shifted to Rabwah in Lahore (in Pakistan).  Without the presence of Ahmediyas the political ambitions of many Islamic groups and parties in Pakistan would have died for lack of agenda.  However like a cruel joke, they joined together and started anti-Ahmediya riot in Lahore in 1953. They demanded the ouster of Ahmediyas from the pail of Islam and from the Pakistani Armed Forces and all high government jobs.  They failed because of the influence of the then Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

After a democratic government under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came after the breakup of Pakistan in 1971, these rabid anti-Ahmediya groups reorganised themselves and launched a virulent scandal that his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won the December 1970 elections (in West Pakistan) with Ahmediyas’ money.  Unnerved Bhutto used his party’s majority in the National Assembly to declare Ahmediyas a non-Muslim minority.  As a result, they were eased out from the Army, bureaucracy and from high government position in 1974.  It was a great victory of obscurantist Islamist parties.

PAKISTAN-ISLAMABAD-PROTEST by . On this way to more obscurantism these Islamists made the then  Army Chief and President  of Pakistan, Gen Ziaul Haq to make it a punishable offence if the Ahmediyas called their places of worship as mosques, recite the “Kalma” or used any signs to indicate they are Muslims. That did not satisfy them also. They raided Ahmediya graveyards and plundered graves which had tables indicating that the person buried there was a Muslim. The graves vandalised included that of Sir Zaffarullah Khan, who, according to Wali Khan, had conceived the two-nation theory also, as Pakistan’s foreign Minister, had formulated country’s Kashmir policy.  All Pakistanis swear by it.  M M Ahmed, an Ahmediya, was a great economist during Gen Ayub Khan’s military dictatorship.  Ahmed had laid solid economic foundation of the country.

The tragic irony in Pakistan is that it is not considered politically expedient to discourage Islamic fanatics from disgracing those who worked for the foundations of Pakistan. The best strategy is either to keep quiet or join these fanatics just as Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) is doing. PTI has joined the notoriously fanatic gang which called itself Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) to attack Ahmediyas’ mosque and houses in Sialkot.

PAKISTAN-ISLAMABAD-PROTEST by . The conspiracy behind the Sialkot attack looks deeper than just persecuting Ahmediyas.  The 2018 elections are just weeks away.  In the 2013 elections the PTI had shot up from almost zero performance in the previous polls thanks to Islamists’ support. It seems to have found a convenient issue in Ahmediyas to befriend TLYRA, a tested rowdy gang which had blocked traffic between Islamabad and Rawalpindi in November last year for almost a month.  It was very clear to a common Pakistani that TLYRA’s dharna had enjoyed the Army’s backing.  The Islamabad High Court agreed with this view. A gang like the TLYRA will be a great help to the PTI before and during the elections.

There are two other communities whose contribution to the establishment of Pakistan in its formative years cannot be ignored. They are the post-partition migrants from Northern India called Muhajirs (refugees) and Christians who chose to stay on in Pakistan after the Partition. There cannot be any exaggeration in the Muhajirs’ claim that they made the most sacrifices for Pakistan – they lost their near-and-dear ones, ancestral properties, their flourishing business and high government jobs for the creation of Pakistan. They brought to infant Pakistan their rich experience of running government affairs. One cannot imagine the shape of Pakistan had not these Muhajirs taken over the reins of government in the country.

Amritsar: Sikh jathas (groups of pilgrims) leave for Pakistan to celebrate the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, in Amritsar on Nov 2, 2017. This came after the Central Government gave nod to Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) to send jathas to Pakistan for the celebrations. (Photo: IANS) by .
Sikh jathas (groups of pilgrims) leave for Pakistan to celebrate the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, in Amritsar (Photo: IANS)

One particular contribution of Muhajirs to Pakistan is generally ignored.  That is forging the country into one emotional whole through their language Urdu.  No other extant language – Sindhi, Punjabi (it has no script), Baluch, Pushtun and Bengali – could play this role, Of course, before the separation of East Bengal in 1971, Bengal was the most spoken language in Pakistan but confined to East Bengal.

Today Muhajirs are a pitiable lot.  They have been made criminals and suspects as anti-nationals.  Their self-exiled leader Altaf Hussain has been widely maligned in Pakistan as a traitor to the country.  Muhajir have no trust in the Pakistan Army-installed alternative in Karachi and urban Sindh. Thus as the elections are coming near the Muhajirs wonder what is their status in the country for which they shed blood and which they built up.

Christians, who chose to stay back in Pakistan, devoted themselves to building and rebuilding educational and medical services fully aware that in this country they would at best be treated as second-class citizens.  They ran country’s best educational institutions and established best medical services but they were never treated as equal citizens whatever country’s successive Constitutions could have provided.  During Ayub Khan’s rule they were treated benignly but not equals.

In 1972 then Chief Martial Law Administrator and President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto forced educational reforms, in which Christians lost all their educational institutions along with their property.  Their major source of employment was thus snatched away and majority of Christian children lost their opportunity for education. Lakhs of Christians fled Pakistan and those who could not settle down to menial jobs. Global human rights organisations did not take note of this devastating fall of missionary of education to menial job. As if that is not enough their villages are often attacked and burnt by frenzied crowds. They are used by land mafia who spread rumours that a Christian committed blasphemy.  There have been cases of Christians burnt alive by frenzied mobs.  Nobody is caught and punished.

Ahead of the general elections in Pakistan, it is therefore crucial that international observers of Pakistan affairs keep a close watch on the election campaign to ensure that not only the Islamists but also the mainstream political parties should not target the minorities – ethnic, religious and linguistic- for everything which has been ailing Pakistan since its inception.