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Discrimination on the basis of faith
The triumph was momentary, the open heartedness brief. The pleasant surprise vanished as abruptly as it had appeared. In a swift reversal sadly it was bigotry, which emerged victorious. In the Naya Pakistan, nothing remains new. The change is yet to come.
When Atif Mian resigned or was asked to resign from the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) to save the infant government from a stampede of intolerant extremism, it was disappointing but not unexpected. A day or rather hours before his announcement, the one made by Minister for Information, Fawad Chaudhry defending Mian’s appointment was something the liberal and tolerant population of Pakistan had not witnessed for a while. But when the state had to give in to the threatening demands of the ‘other’ side of the population, known for its loud, violent and extremely influential tactics, it simply retraced its steps back in history.
Pakistan’s first foreign minister and a close aide of Quaid e Azam, Sir Zafarullah Khan, was an Ahmadi. He remained in the office until 1954, but even at that time, his tenure was mired by demands from certain quarters for his resignation, based on his faith. However, that time was different in the sense that the then government allowed national progress and survival to prevail. Then, Pakistan was facing a severe wheat shortage and Zafarullah’s services were needed to reach out to the United States and other western states for help. The government did not sack him, despite demands growing louder every day.
In 1953, riots erupted over the death by lynching of a police official in Lahore, alleged to have desecrated a book of religious verses. When the situation became too difficult for the civilian administration to handle, a martial law was imposed in Lahore. The martial law authorities arrested a number of protest leaders, including Abul A’la Maududi, the founding head of Jamaat-e-Islami. He along with others was given a death sentence for inciting hatred against Ahmadis. It was the first and seemingly last incident where the state showed some mettle against zealots and it did not last long as strong public pressure ultimately convinced the government to release Maududi after two years of imprisonment.
However, law and order could not be restored in 1974 after the infamous ‘Rabwah incident’, where a violent tussle at Rabwah’s railway station between some students of a medical college from Multan and Ahmadi residents erupted in protests across Punjab. The federal administration of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was put under severe pressure to resolve the ‘Qadiani Question’. A resolution was moved in the National Assembly demanding Ahmadis to be declared as apostates. Bhutto ‘was left with no option but to say that he would follow the Parliament’s decision’.
While Bhutto was still not prepared to criminalise the religious expression of Ahmadis, General Zia ul Haq did not present tough resistance. Succumbing to yet another protestors’ demand, in 1984 Section 298-B and 298-C were added to the Constitution where the use of Islamic terms and claiming any relation to Islam by Ahmadis is criminalised. The effective persecution had begun.
When Atif Mian resigned or was asked to resign from the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) to save the infant government from a stampede of intolerant extremism, it was disappointing but not unexpected.
In 1986, Nisar Fatima, Member of National Assembly and Jamaat e Islami warned that the assembly ‘would invite wrath on itself if it did not pass a law immediately to protect the honour of the Prophet (PBUH)’. The government soon conceded and death penalty was added to the then proposed anti- blasphemy law, Section 295-C.
In 2011, Governor Punjab Salman Taseer was assassinated by his security own guard Mumtaz Qadri due to Taseer’s support for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death on a charge of blasphemy. Salman Taseer had visited Asia Bibi in jail and had held a press conference with her, announcing that she would be released soon as the President of Pakistan would annul her death sentence. This triggered mass protests in Pakistan with many imams of local mosques claiming that Salman Taseer had defied Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and should be sentenced to death for it. While Qadri was quickly nabbed and hanged to death for his crime, his supporters built a mausoleum over his grave, which is still thronged by admirers and is a step no government ever bothered to stop. In fact, Mumtaz Qadri’s image was widely used in this year’s election campaign to garner votes, again a decision never questioned by authorities in control of the electoral process.
Last year, protesting an erroneous modification in the country’s electoral law involving the finality of Prophethood, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) had demanded the resignation of the then law minister Zahid Hamid, despite the ‘clerical error’ having been immediately corrected after being pointed out. For 20 days protestors blocked the main routes into Islamabad. After the police used tear gas and water canons to clear the area, the government called the army to control the law and order situation in the federal capital, while the protests spread beyond the Faizabad Interchange and sit-ins were staged in nearly 70 other cities and towns. The sit-in culminated with the signing of an agreement and resignation of the minister, seen as a complete surrender by the state.
This year, over ‘non-implementation’ of the Faizabad Agreement, supporters of TLYR spread to over 80 places in Lahore, while the group’s ‘peaceful’ protestors, threatening a nationwide protest, were seen carrying batons at major streets and crossings. When the provincial government yet again accepted all demands of TLYR and the then Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah agreed to appear before the clerics, the nationwide sit-ins were called off.
So when Atif Mian’s nomination from the EAC was taken back, it was no surprise. The nayee hukumat (new government) was advised that if sit-ins and protests erupted at a time when Saudi and Chinese delegations were expected in the country, it would present a bad image and make things tougher for the new government. Whether Mian’s resignation has portrayed a better image, is a question that remains unanswered.
Whether academic qualification and valuable experience are not the primary benchmarks for appointments at any high profile post, is another question that has arisen in this scenario. Does this mean that religious minorities have no room for any contribution they can make to their own country? Should they be expected to spend their lives abiding laws in Pakistan and simply wonder about the purpose and futility of being called a Pakistani?
So our newly elected government did nothing different. It simply followed a tradition that has long been entrenched in the politics of this country. It would probably take the likes of another Muhammad Ali Jinnah who could stand up for the rights of all Pakistanis and attempt to bring an end to the culture of bigotry. No one should expect that to happen anytime soon.