- The ruling party was opportunistically manifesting liberal ideals two years ago
After being cornered by the military establishment a couple of months ahead of the general elections, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is manifesting its desperation through the blatant alienation of the marginalised communities in the country.
A populist step that epitomises this was the National Assembly’s resolution passed on Thursday to rename the Physics Department at the Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) to al-Khazini Department. Initial media reports said that the Professor Abdus Salam Centre for Physics is being renamed, which was later corrected.
However, it wouldn’t be surprising at all, if that was indeed the Centre for Physics that was intended to be renamed – and might eventually be done as well – considering that Captain (R) Safdar, who initiated the resolution, ranted in the National Assembly to do precisely that last year.
This is because nuclear physicist Dr Abdus Salam, the first Pakistani Nobel laureate, belonged to the Ahmadiyya sect, which was apostatised by a constitutional amendment in 1974, and a decade later through Ordinance XX in the Pakistan Penal Code, was even barred from ‘posing as Muslims’ – a ‘crime’ punishable by three years imprisonment.
This has meant that Ahmadis have been the convenient scapegoat for all political entities, starting with the very act of their ‘legal’ excommunication in 1974 by the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto led Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government, in a bid to appease the Islamist parties.
How far the PML-N can go in stomping over the marginalised in its political turf war was seen in Capt Safdar’s rant in the National Assembly in October
As recently as last November, the capital was held hostage by the Tehrik Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) over demands of accountability for passing the Electoral Reforms Bill 2017 into law with changes made regarding the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat clause that was discriminatory against the Ahmadis.
In March, an Islamabad High Court verdict actually called for the ‘termination’ of “those who scar (the belief in Khatm-e-Nabuwwat),” with a TLY affiliated 21-year-old man shooting Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal during a corner meeting in Narowal on Sunday.
And so, just like the PML-N government had rushed to correct the ‘clerical mistake’ that led to the original Electoral Reforms Bill being passed in October, it is now trying to go a step further to firmly distance itself – and in effect the country it governs – from the most illustrious scientist Pakistan has produced, to rub in the subjugation of his religious community for political mileage, even as its own ministers are being victimised by the same violent bigotry.
Parallel to this brutal scapegoating of the Ahmadis, is the PML-N’s blatant abandonment of women following senior leader and Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah’s sickeningly misogynistic comments, which despite Shehbaz Sharif’s regrets, couldn’t even derive an apology from Sanaullah – let alone any strict action against him.
In a bid to discredit last Sunday’s massive rally orchestrated by the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) in Lahore Sanaullah targeted the women: “The women who attended the rally were not from honourable families because their dance moves implied where they had actually come from.”
With only a token ‘retraction’ of the statement, Sanaullah has refused to “even say the first letter ‘s’ of sorry”, when unconditional apology coupled with uncompromising disciplinary action would’ve been the bare minimum action in civilised parts of the world, by a ruling party that champions itself as the champion of democracy.
But it isn’t new for the PML-N to fail to distinguish between majoritarianism and democracy, and to push the marginalised communities under the chopping block for political gains.
The language that Nawaz Sharif regularly used for Benazir Bhutto, the Muslim world’s first female prime minister, when their political rivalry was simmering in the 1990s was straight out of Sanaullah’s dictionary, while the PML-N has formed alliances with anti-Shia groups Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) for electoral gains.
It is the LeJ that continues to kill the Shia Hazaras to this very day, with the community resorting to hunger protest last week just so it could get ongoing attempts for its ethnic cleansing registered.
Even so, no action would be taken against the likes of Sanaullah – who also happens to have ties to groups that call for Shia genocide – considering the clout the ‘Sanaullah group’ wields in Faisalabad – the second most populous city in Punjab.
How far the PML-N can go in stomping over the marginalised in its political turf war was seen in Capt Safdar’s rant in the National Assembly in October, where he went as far as calling for a “ban on recruitment of Qadianis [derogatory term for Ahmadis] in the armed forces”.
Yes, the party’s bigoted populism has been pushed by its tussle with the military establishment’s brazen exercising of its own clout to target the PML-N. But what it all boils down to is this: the PML-N is willing to push large segments of the population under the bus, all the while shamelessly claiming to be representatives of that very populace