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An area of darkness

Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting girls’ education, has become a global symbol of courage against forces of religious intolerance that pervades Pakistan.

Published: 21st October 2012 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th October 2012 12:32 PM   |  A+A-

Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting girls’ education, has become a global symbol of courage against forces of religious intolerance and jihadi fundamentalism that pervades Pakistan. Close observers of Pakistan have voiced concern that the country is witnessing a gradual genocide of its minorities by jihadi groups calling themselves “true Muslims”. Yet, the extent of this persecution remains unrecognised by international human rights organisations. In a revealing study, a Washington-based think tank, The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), has documented this phenomenon on the basis of reports in Pakistani media. The Director of MEMRI’s South Asia Studies Project and author of the study titled Calls to Put Pakistan on Genocide Watch amid Mounting Persecution of Its Religious Minorities, Tufail Ahmad, says the study started with researching Pakistani media sources for a report on the persecution of Hindus in Pakistani society. “However, we soon realized that such a report cannot be complete without taking into account the widespread persecution of other minority groups in Pakistan: Christians, Ahmadi Muslims and Shia Muslims,” says Ahmad.  The most disconcerting finding of the study is its observation that violent Islamism in Pakistan has emerged over the past half a century with the support of Pakistani state and secular leaders. Excerpts from the study: In August 2012, Rimsha Masih, an 11-year-old Christian girl with Down’s Syndrome, was arrested for allegedly burning the pages of a booklet used to teach the Koran. The incident happened outside Islamabad, after protesters beat up the girl and her mother. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) noted. “It is deplorable that the country’s political leadership refrains from speaking out against extremism and the injustices towards non-Muslims.” The Rimsha case, which provoked global outrage, forced the Pakistan government to act. The cleric who accused the mentally and physically challenged girl was found guilty of planting the “evidence.” Rimsha’s case is an exception. Mass genocides in the name of religion — of Shi’ites and Ahmadiyas, rape and forcible conversion of Hindu and Christian girls, murder of Sikhs and other minorities and their property grabbed by powerful Pakistani landlords in cahoots with militants draw a picture of Pakistan as the world’s most bigoted nation that has become a hell on earth for minorities.

In all spheres of Pakistani society – including the administrative, military, police and judicial branches of government – minorities are experiencing discrimination, social avoidance, and hate crimes. This is a result of an interpretation of Islam that has been favoured in Pakistan since its creation in 1947… reflected in the actions of local officials and in government policies, for example in the 1974 law that declares Ahmadis non-Muslim… it is still reflected in villages and city streets, leading to acts of discrimination, hate and violence. Almost all influential Islamic organisations in Pakistan approve this interpretation of Islam, including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and its parent organisation Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan (JI), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), Sunni Tehreek (ST), and various Khatm-e-Nabuwwat groups.

In an August 2012 article, Raza Rumi, director of policy and programs at the Islamabad-based think tank Jinnah Institute, spoke of the killing of Shi’ites in terms of “a genocide (that is) unfolding before us.”  Leading Pakistani columnist Dr Mohammad Taqi condemned the “muted response” to the massacres of minorities, observing: “The sanitized discourse and muted response to... (the killings of minorities) is similar to what happened in Nazi Germany. It seems that the present-day Nazis in Pakistan have succeeded in coercing or co-opting a vast majority of their countrymen into backing them. More vicious than the massacre at the Babusar Top (where Shi’ite Muslims were plucked out of buses and shot dead) was the muffled response of the Pakistani political leaders, rightwing intelligentsia and the military leadership....

In July 2012, nine Christian trainee nurses at the Civil Hospital in Karachi fell ill after drinking tea allegedly poisoned by their Muslim colleagues at their hostel. “They were claimed to have been deliberately poisoned because of their faith,” a newspaper reported.

In July 2012, Pastor Victor Samuel Maseeh of Toba Tek Singh town in Punjab province was kidnapped by men who were wearing police uniform and arrived in a police car, leading to fear and panic among Christians. The kidnappers showed a false search warrant allegedly issued by a Lahore judicial magistrate. Similar attacks on Christians are reported by the Pakistani media regularly.

A common tactic used by Muslim clerics and the Pakistani land mafia is to accuse members of minority communities of blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad and the Koran, with the objective of seizing their land and property, especially churches. Victims have been known to be tortured and even killed in Pakistani prisons.

In September 2009, 25-year-old Fanish Masih was arrested for desecrating the Koran and later died in prison. Numerous sources, including senior Pakistani officials, admitted he had been tortured to death. Punjab Minister for Minority Affairs Kamran Michael said: “I have seen the body and there were torture marks on it.” Following Masih’s arrest, some 100 Muslim youths attacked a Catholic church in the Sambrial district of the Punjab province. In September 2005, a case was filed against Younus aka Jonah in a court outside Lahore for committing blasphemy against a religious congregation of Muslims. In April 2007, a blasphemy case was filed against five Christian brothers in a court in the town of Toba Tek Singh. In Karachi, Qamar David was accused of committing blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad in March 2008 allegedly by sending blasphemous SMS messages to a Muslim. In March 2011, he died in a Pakistani prison. In July 2010, Rashid Emanuel, a 32-year-old pastor, and his brother were arrested on charges of committing blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad and were shot dead inside the court premises in Faisalabad. In July 2011, Christian youth Noel Gulzar was accused of blaspheming the Koran. In one case, Christian youth Manzoor Masih was granted bail in a blasphemy case but was shot dead soon thereafter. In another incident in early 2012, blasphemy charges were brought against a Pakistani Christian who gave his name as “Jew Jurian” on an application for a national identity card, with the motive being that anything associated with the word “Jew” is blasphemous.

According to a media report, eight to 10 Christians are being forced to convert to Islam every month in the Sindh and Punjab provinces. According to human rights lawyer Amar Lal: “It is a conspiracy (aimed at forcing) Hindus and Christians and other minorities to leave Pakistan... As a minority, we feel more and more insecure. It is getting worse day by day.”

Forced conversion of Christians is continuing. Some recent incidents of forced conversions of Christian girls include: 28-year-old Tina Barkat was abducted, converted and forcibly married off to a Muslim youth; 17-year-old Samina Ayub was kidnapped, forced to convert and renamed Fatima Bibi in a town near Lahore; 15-year-old Uzma Bibi and 20-year-old Saira Bibi were kidnapped from Lahore and converted to Islam; 14-year-old Sidra Bibi was kidnapped from her home in Sheikhupura district and converted to Islam; 19-year-old Shazia Bibi was forced to convert and marry a Muslim youth in Gujranwala town.

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In May 2012, the 160-year-old Guru Gorakhnath temple in Peshawar was desecrated in a targeted attack. Ramesh Lal, a priest at the temple, said: “Vandals smashed a statuette of Lord Shiva to pieces and burned the holy Gita as well as several images of our deities.” The attack came after the Peshawar High Court ordered the reopening of the historical temple, which had been abandoned since Pakistan’s establishment. In March 2012, a historical Sikh temple–the 150-year-old gurdwara of Baba Karam Singh – was destroyed by the land mafia in Mardan town of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The Sikh community expressed concern over the targeting of their holy sites.

In September 2009, Islamist extremists set fire to Sikh holy books in a joint Hindu-Sikh temple in the Kashmore district of Sindh province. In July 2011, authorities barred worshippers from a Lahore gurdwara after Muslims claimed it was built on the site of a Muslim saint’s tomb.

In July 2010, 60 Hindu men, women and children were forced to abandon their homes in Karachi’s Memon Goth area and take refuge in a cattle pen after a boy from their community drank water from a cooler outside a mosque. Local Muslims were so enraged that they beat up the boy and other Hindus, and drove them from their homes.

Islamist militants in the Pakistani tribal region have forced Hindus and Sikhs to pay jizya, the Islamic poll tax imposed on non-Muslims, and have punished those who refused. In 2009, a Taliban representative phoned Dr Parkas, the leader of the Hindu community in the Batagram district of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (now called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), and ordered him to collect six million rupees and deliver it to the Taliban.

According to a report in the Urdu-language daily Roznama Express, in June 2009 Hindus and Sikhs in the Khyber Agency agreed to pay jizya to Islamist militants led by Mangal Bagh, in return for protection. Also in 2009, Taliban militants in the Orakzai Agency banished 50 Sikh families from the area for failing to pay jizya. The militants took over their houses and shops and auctioned their valuables… In January 2010, militants abducted two Sikhs in Khyber and Orakzai tribal districts, and beheaded them after their families failed to pay a large ransom.

In February 2011, prominent Islamic scholar Maulana Samiul Haq, emir of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-S) party, called for jihad against the Sikh community in Pakistan, arguing that the objectives of the jihad launched by Islamic cleric Syed Ahmed Shaheed against the British rule and the Sikhs in the 19th century have yet to be achieved. In March 2010, Lahore High Court chief justice Khawaja Muhammad Sharif, known for his Islamist views, accused Pakistan’s Hindus of “involvement in funding terrorism” in the country.

Members of the Hindu community were among the victims of the 2010 floods in Pakistan. After the floods, some Pakistani officials denied aid to the Hindus, including children. A Pakistani daily reported that officials at the Mir Imdad flood relief camp outside Jhirk in the Sindh province refused to provide aid to the children because they were low-caste Hindus.

An increasing number of Hindu girls in Pakistan are being abducted and forced to convert to Islam. In May 2010, cleric Abdul Jabbar, the head of an Islamic seminary in the town of Khanpur, was accused of abducting Radha, a 13-year-old Hindu girl, and converting her to Islam... All sections of Pakistani society are involved in such acts. In December 2011, a police constable in Karachi was accused of kidnapping Bharati, a 15-year-old Hindu girl, who was later converted and married off to a Muslim youth…  Mangla Sharma of the Pakistani Hindu Council said: “It is the same drill every time... A girl is kidnapped and converted at a madrassa and when the family creates an uproar, the kidnappers produce a certificate that shows she has accepted Islam and ‘wants’ to be a Muslim.”

In October 2011, 15-year-old Poonam Wasu was drugged by some Muslim friends, and woke up a few hours later to find herself a married Muslim woman named Razia. Poonam Wasu said that her two Muslim friends, Saiba and Shazia, gave her tea. “After drinking it, I fell unconscious. I don’t remember what happened after that. All I know is that, when I woke up, I was a woman who had accepted Islam and married with my friend’s brother... I never thought these two girls would do something like this. Both of them were so nice to me.” In August 2012, a teenage Hindu girl, identified by initials MK, was kidnapped, converted, and married to a man named Ghulam Murtaza Channo.

Early in 2012, Dr Lata Kumari, a Hindu doctor at the Aga Khan University Hospital, became the fifth woman of her family to be kidnapped and converted to Islam. When her sister Jyoti met her in court, Dr Lata Kumari whispered that she “needed help”–“the only thing she managed to whisper,” according to a Pakistani daily, “before being roughly pushed aside by some clerics.”

*****

At a March 2012 conference of Hindu leaders from the Sindh and Baluchistan provinces, Kalpana Devi, vice-president of the Larkana Bar Association, said: “Why is that only Hindu girls fall in love with Muslim men and convert to Islam with full conviction? Why don’t we ever hear of a Muslim boy or girl doing the same for the sake of love and perhaps rectitude?... If you have the mettle to take our girls and make them your daughters-in-law, then you should have the nerve to give us the same opportunity... But no, if this happens, the little (Muslim) girl or boy becomes Wajib-ul-Qatl (condemned to be killed under Islamic law), so it is always one-way traffic.” There is fear that the kidnapped Hindu girls are also being sold into prostitution. According to a media report, Bherulal Balani, a former legislator, said: “Once the girls are converted, they are then sold to other people or forced into immoral activities.”

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The Ahmadiya Muslim Community was founded in 1889 by spiritual leader Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) in the northern Indian town of Qadian. Today the movement has followers in more than 200 countries, and its present-day headquarters is in the United Kingdom.  In 1974, under the influence of fundamentalist forces in Pakistan, the secular government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto passed a law designating Ahmadi Muslims as non-Muslim. Under this and subsequent legislation, Ahmadi Muslims are forbidden to call their places of worship “mosques” or build them like mosques, and are forbidden to use Islamic symbols and names; Pakistanis who call Ahmadis “Muslims” can be taken to court.

Perhaps the biggest attack on Ahmadi Muslims in recent years was the May 2010 attack in Lahore, in which Taliban suicide bombers targeted the city’s two Ahmadi mosques during the Friday prayers, leaving some 90 people dead and 200 wounded.  In early 2012, the Lahore Bar Association (LBA), a representative body of lawyers, initiated a ban against selling the Shezan brand of juice, and other goods produced by companies owned by Ahmadi Muslims, in Lahore courthouses.

*****

The killing of Ahmadi Muslims is justified by many Islamic clerics. A pamphlet issued by All Pakistan Students Khatm-e-Nabuwwat Federation, one of the many End-of Prophecy organizations, the killing of Ahmadi Muslims is termed “jihad.” A pamphlet states: “The Qadianiat (beliefs of Ahmadi Muslims) are a deadly poison…It is jihad to shoot these people in the market…Awaken... and achieve martyrdom by killing them.” An ideological campaign to eliminate Ahmadi Muslims from Pakistan is underway through acts of target killings. During 2001-2005, at least 79 deaths of Ahmadi Muslims were recorded in acts of target killings. In 2012, at least 11 cases were recorded.

In a letter to human rights organizations, Syed M Mahmood, an Ahmadi Muslim leader, expressed the community’s concern: “Ahmadis are completely at the mercy of assassins who are targeting and killing them with impunity and police and other law-enforcement agencies... [are] doing nothing to thwart their actions.”

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Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other powerful extremist Islamic groups in Pakistan call the Shi’ites infidels. The most venomous attacks on the Shi’ites of Pakistan come from Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), the military wing of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP, or Soldiers of the Prophet’s Companions). Both the LeJ and the SSP are banned, but they work freely under the banner of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) headed by Maulana Ahmad Ludhianvi.

Murders of Shi’ites have been common in Pakistan for decades, and have recently increased. Extremist militants stop buses at random, identify the Shi’ites, and shoot them.

 In reporting these attacks, the Pakistani media rarely states explicitly that the victims were Shi’ite. Instead it describes the attacks as “sectarian,” a more neutral term which removes culpability of the Sunni militant groups.

In a June 2012 report titled “Ethnic Cleansing of Hazaras Going On in Systematic Manner,” a Pakistani paper observed: “Every month around 50-60 members of the Hazara community are either gunned down or killed in bomb blasts, mostly within the precincts of Quetta city (the capital of Baluchistan province).... During the last five years, as many as 50,000 Hazaras have left Baluchistan; a majority have managed to take shelter in other countries, and nearly 300 lost their lives as their boats capsized. Meanwhile, some have fled to Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

Not all killings are reported. One report put the number of Shi’ite Hazaras killed during a 19-day period in May 2012 at 39.  These attacks show a pattern of targeted killing of Shi’ite Muslims in various parts of Baluchistan, where the Pakistani military has been able to crush the secular Baluchi insurgency for independence, but is widely seen as unable or unwilling to tackle the killings of Shi’ite Hazaras.

Following the August 16, 2012 killing of 20 Shi’ite Muslims in the Mansehra district, a liberal Pakistani newspaper summed the situation in an editorial titled “Another Sectarian Massacre,” observing: “The targeting of Shias is usually accompanied by some form of official collusion. Curfews imposed in Gilgit tend to affect the Shia community the most and they are often even stopped from offering Friday prayers at mosques.”

Tufail Ahmad is Director of the South Asia Studies Project of Middle East Media Research Institute (www.memri.org), a Washington DC-based think tank that seeks to bridge the language gap between the West and the Islamic world, providing translations as well as original analyses.

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