Pakistan, no home for Ahmadis

A 50-year-old doctor, belonging to the Ahmadi community, was gunned down in his clinic in the Abul Hasan Ispahani area of Karachi on Monday evening. Reportedly, the murder of Dr Chaudhary Abdul Khaleeq was second such incident in the same vicinity within a month. He was shot in his clinic where he sustained a single bullet wound to his head and died on the spot, as confirmed by SSP Malir Rao Anwar. The officer was of the opinion that it was a targeted attack. Later, a Jamaat Ahmadiyya spokesperson confirmed that the deceased belonged to their community.

Earlier in May, another member of the Ahmadiyya community was shot in a suspected targeted attack in the Metroville-II area of Karachi. Dawood Ahmad, 55, was sitting outside his home when two gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on them. The victim had sustained five bullet wounds to different parts of the body and was taken to a private hospital, where he succumbed to injuries during treatment.

Although Ahmadis played a significant role during the partition of India, and Mohammad Ali Jinnah had members from the Ahmadi community in his cabinet, the community has faced persecution at the hands of religious extremists and right-wing forces since the inception of Pakistan. Zafarullah Khan, the first foreign minister of Pakistan, was handpicked by Jinnah to be a member of his cabinet; Khan belonged to the Ahmadiyya community. The state jumped into the fray in 1974 when the then prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, succumbing to the pressure of right-wing forces, introduced a second constitutional amendment declaring Ahmadis non-Muslims.

The subjugation of Ahmadis started soon after independence in 1947. Led by Jamaat-i-Islami, right-wing groups spearheaded anti-Ahmadi campaigns. The first such violent movement erupted in Punjab in 1953, resulting in the imposition of martial law in the province. The military dictator, president of Pakistan, Zia-ul-Haq, furthered the agenda by passing an ordinance making it unlawful for Ahmadis to identify themselves as Muslims. In 2010, in Lahore, 86 Ahmadi worshippers were brutally murdered by the Punjabi Taliban. In December last year, protests had erupted after a shopkeeper was arrested for displaying anti-Ahmadi banners at his shop at Hafeez Centre, amid a crackdown by city authorities against posting hate material.

Over the years, speaking out on “sensitive” issues — such as religious discrimination — has become increasingly dangerous, highlighted by murders of some high-profile people, including Salmaan Taseer. The death of Dr Khaleeq comes in the wake of a ban imposed on Hamza Ali Abbasi by PEMRA for questioning the second amendment — which declares Ahmadis non-Muslims — in his TV show. All Abbasi did was ask the clergy on his show: is it allowed in religion to have the state declare anyone non-Muslim?

The controversy had escalated after an anchor, Shabbir Abu Talib, along with Maulana Kaukab Noorani, had openly incited violence against Abbasi. Then came some twisted logic: both Abbasi and Abu Talib were banned by PEMRA.

While the ban on Abu Talib is justified for inciting violence against a person, the ban on Abbasi is absurd. He was banned for merely initiating a debate on a sensitive issue that too with the ulemas. Minorities are openly persecuted in the Sunni Muslim-dominated Pakistan, and the issue has been made such a taboo that even a mere discussion highlighting the plight of a minority community could lead to severe consequences. Abbasi had merely raised voice for the fundamental rights of the persecuted community and had to face the ire of the radicals. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to Abbasi as the government had already lost the discourse-space to clerics, leaving no space for the public to discuss issues of sensitivity.

Unless a debate does not start in the mainstream media and public against the persecution of minorities and other sensitive issues like the blasphemy laws, religious fanatics will continue to exploit gullible people to incite violence against the minorities and everyone who dares to question their authority.

Pakistan came into existence to respect the rights of Muslims who felt persecuted in the Hindu-dominated India. And after its existence, what happened to Pakistan is the antithesis of what the essence of Pakistan was: a free country for all who made it their home. The persecution of non-Muslims and Shias and Ahmedis is a black stain on the soul of Pakistan, darkening the white on its flag irreparably, and sullying the message of equality and brotherhood emphasised upon by Jinnah.

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