Monday, December 19, 2016

Perspective: Ethnic cleansing of Ahmadis | Yasser Latif Hamdani

Pakistan is a member state of the United Nations and a signatory to several international conventions and covenants. The world will sooner or later become alive to the plight of Ahmadis in Pakistan, and the consequences will be severe.

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By Yasser Latif Hamdani | December 16, 2016

What happened in Chakwal on 12 December, while the nation celebrated Eid Milad-un-Nabi, is yet another reminder that Pakistan’s systematic exclusion of Ahmadis, which started in 1974, is taking a disturbing and frightening turn.

After having attacked the Ahmadi place of worship (they are not allowed to refer to it as a mosque under law), the perpetrators then gave a nationwide call to protest against the “oppression by the administration and Qadianis against Muslims.” It is unclear as to what the end game is, but I have been warning through my articles in this newspaper that the world ought to monitor this situation carefully. Numbering between 300,000 to one million, Ahmadi community in Pakistan stands at the brink of genocide and ethnic cleansing. The state’s attitude so far has been extremely callous. Punjab’s Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, instead of siding with the community that faces a threat to its members’ life liberty and property, thought it wise to castigate the Ahmadis for taking to social media.

To recap the issue, since 1974 the state has insisted that Ahmadis are not Muslims. Ahmadis insist they are. Since 1984, the state has made it unlawful for them to claim that they are Muslims or to call their places of worship mosques, or to even give Azan from these places of worship. In 1993 the Supreme Court of Pakistan held this law to be constitutional by a majority of 2 to 1. The anti-Ahmadi laws of Pakistan, which are a stain on the Constitution and the legal system of the country, have emboldened sectarian extremists into taking the law into their own hands. Ahmadi places of worship are routinely attacked, ransacked, sealed, destroyed and desecrated. In 2014 three Ahmadis were burnt alive in Gujranwala. Even the dead are not spared. The community’s Model Town cemetery was attacked and graves were desecrated. To date, no action has been undertaken against the perpetrators of any of these outrages, encouraging others to do the same.

The objective of the anti-Ahmadi organisations is clear and has often been stated times from their platforms. They want to drive every Ahmadi either to the grave or out of Pakistan. It has also caused a crisis of the internally displaced persons as more and more Ahmadis are taking refuge in the city of Rabwah where a sizeable population of Ahmadis lives. Even this is not acceptable. The city lives in a virtual siege with a large number of sectarian organisations setting up camp in and around the city. At the very entrance of the city is a mosque called Majlis-e-Ahrar Masjid, named interestingly after the Indian National Congress backed religious organisation Majlis-e-Ahrar that had historically persecuted the Ahmadis and led the movements against them. The same Majlis-e-Ahrar had also attacked the founder of Pakistan as Kafir-e-Azam and called Pakistan Kafiristan. In Pakistan, you are free to abuse and attack the state so long as you also beat down on the Ahmadis. There is no law against doing that at all. Every Friday the sectarian Imams of the officially Muslim mosques freely abuse and curse the Ahmadis in their sermons on loudspeakers. Obviously, the Ahmadis are not allowed to respond. They are not allowed to use loudspeakers.

The best and the brightest of the Ahmadi community have been steadily migrating out of the country. That is not their loss but the country’s. An educated and enterprising community, the Ahmadis had been at the forefront of national progress before they were ostracised, marginalised, excommunicated and finally de-humanized. Those who have managed to leave have done extremely well for themselves abroad and have been contributing fully to their new homes. However, it is just not possible for every Ahmadi to emigrate abroad. Pakistan has to find a way to accommodate them in the country and protect them from the outrages of the kind we saw in Chakwal and elsewhere. It is amazing that this country of 190 million, an overwhelming majority of whom are officially sanctioned Muslims, cannot tolerate or protect a community that numbers less than a million. Indeed these few hundred thousand terrify the state to the extent that every Pakistani Muslim has to sign off on a statement declaring them Non-Muslims in order to get a passport. Historically the kind of persecution Ahmadis face in Pakistan is very similar to Jews in Nazi Germany of the 1930s. We all know how that ended and the trauma it inflicted not just on Jews but Germans themselves. 70 years later Germans have not really recovered from the overwhelming sense of guilt. It has consumed their politics, culture and intellectual endeavours. I shudder to think what this would do to Pakistan’s future generations. Do we want them to carry this awful burden?

Pakistan does not live in isolation. It is a member state of the United Nations and a signatory to several international conventions and covenants. The world will sooner or later become alive to the plight of Ahmadis in Pakistan, and the consequences will be severe. Our salvation, I repeat, lies in following the inclusive vision of the founder of Pakistan who wanted the state to protect the life, liberty religious beliefs of every citizen whether from the majority or minority. When pressed to turn Ahmadis out of the Muslim League in the 1940s, Jinnah refused. He said then that he was no one to declare someone Non-Muslim who professed to be a Muslim. How one wishes Pakistan had followed that noble principle. Instead, we drew new margins around citizenship as well as the idea of who may call himself a Muslim. This clearly has not served us well.

Yasser Latif Hamdani a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality. He can be contacted via Twitter @therealylh and through his email address

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