One thing I have often heard from some ‘moderate’ Pakistanis is that we are more rational and thoughtful than Indians since religious parties here have not been voted into power. Many a times I have heard people say that we don’t have a popular “fundamentalist” party like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India. As I have written before, this assertion is far too simplistic. Back in August 2018, while analysing the results of the 2018 elections, I wrote,
“The problem is that these aggregate numbers hide a far more complex story. Yes, religious parties do not get seats, but that does not mean the Pakistani electorate does not give weight to religious sloganeering and is immune to the weaponisation of sensitive religious matters.”
That election saw the intense politicisation of the sensitive issue regarding the finality of Prophethood. While the newly founded Tehreek-e- Labaik Pakistan (TLP) spearheaded that campaign, the two mainstream conservative parties, namely Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PLM-N) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), also evoked this issue continuously for political gains. In fact, on this particular issue, the difference between religious and mainstream parties began to blur to such an extent that they became virtually indistinguishable from one another.
Since the issue of the finality of Prophethood has become invariably linked with Pakistan’s marginalised Ahmadiyya community, every time it is politicised, hatred and vitriol against the community also increases. It was perhaps the rise in political temperature around this issue that led to the Atif Mian fiasco, due to which a brilliant economist was made to resign from the economic advisory council just because of his faith. That incident placed Pakistan in an extremely negative international spotlight since it highlighted the collective bigotry rampant in our society and the inability of our government to show some spine.
Unfortunately, Pakistan continues to be on the same trajectory. During the last few days, another extremely virulent anti-Ahmadi campaign has been making rounds on social media. Hashtags like #قادیانی_اقلیت_نہیں_غدار (“Qadiyanis are not a minority but traitors”) and #قادیانی_دنیا_کا_بدترین_کافر (“Qadiyanis are the worst infidels in the world”) have been among the top trending hashtags on Twitter in Pakistan lately, and the tweets carrying these hashtags reek of extraordinary bigotry and vile hatred against the Ahmadi community.
The reason this matter is once again being drudged up on social media is because a few days ago the federal cabinet reportedly approved, in principle, the inclusion of Ahmadis in the National Commission for Minorities. Now, since Ahmadis have already been declared to be non-Muslims in 1974 due to the Second Amendment and are therefore legally a minority, this should not have been controversial. However, once again, unfortunately the matter was immediately and needlessly politicised. In fact, the ‘first’ move came from a government ally, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), whose President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain objected to the inclusion of Ahmadis in the commission on the grounds that they don’t “accept” the constitution of Pakistan.
Following this, PTI’s Religious Affairs Minister Pir Noorul Haq Qadri reportedly asked that the federal cabinet should be approached to review this matter. As the news spread and the backlash ensued on social media from right-wing circles, the government started to adopt a defensive position. In order to distance itself from the decision, some Ministers like Ali Muhammad Khan started to indulge in a similar kind of vitriol. For a sitting minister to engage in such behaviour is extremely irresponsible and simply unacceptable. When it comes to Ahmadis, most political leaders in Pakistan, instead of showing some responsibility, merely try to outdo each other in their displays of bigotry and hatred towards them.
What I find truly bizarre is that on the one hand the state has already declared them to be a non-Muslim minority under the Second Amendment, yet on the other hand many don’t want them to be included in the National Commission of Minorities. Moreover, the stance that Ahmadis should be excluded from the commission since they don’t “accept” the constitution of Pakistan is extremely banal. The fact is that everyone has a right to take issue with some clauses in the constitution, and such an objection does not mean that one has violated the constitution. Ahmadis have the right to feel aggrieved about and voice their objections regarding the Second Amendment. This does not and should not deprive them of the rights which a Pakistani citizen should be able to enjoy. For instance, in America there are many who think that the Second Amendment of the United States constitution, which allows citizens to possess firearms, should be repealed since its presence increases gun violence; and these individuals are allowed to voice their dissent. Criticism of any law, amendment or state policy is a fundamental right of every citizen, and exercising this right allows nations to evolve and change for the better.
Unfortunately, in Pakistan, it seems like religious hardliners are hellbent on marginalising Ahmadis as much as they can; and the problem is that the government invariably always capitulates. This capitulation from the government will only further embolden such zealots. As I write these words, social media is rife with dehumanising and horrendous comments about Ahmadis, with some suggesting that they should now be declared blasphemers and apostates and therefore should be given a death sentences by the state. It is ironic that the same lot is often crying about the plight of Muslims in India. They were protesting at the top of their voices when India passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in 2019 which discriminated against Muslim immigrants, yet they themselves want to apply the same exclusionary criteria when it comes to Ahmadis.
What we as a society need to understand is that our moral case regarding atrocities being carried out against Muslims in other countries is immensely weakened when we ourselves are guilty of perhaps even worse mistreatment of our own minorities. When we are not willing to treat our minorities as equal citizens then we should not be complaining about the mistreatment of Muslims elsewhere in the world. If we truly wish to become a tolerant nation then Ahmadis must be treated as equal citizens in Pakistan.
Raza Habib Raja
The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (twitter.com/razaraja?lang=en)