Being a minority is a death sentence in Pakistan. Not just for a Hindu, Christian or Sikh, but even for a Muslim—an Ahmadi, Ismaili, Bohra or Hazara Shia. In Pakistani society, whose Sunni Muslimisation has turned a most virulent shade of green over the past three decades, any sect that does not follow rigid Wahhabi dogma is deemed a kafir and fair game for a jihadi with a gun. Minorities are moreover discriminated against on all fronts, including the right to employment, education and worship—considered natural in India. The Pak media, especially the Urdu press, is fanatically anti-minority and has even published entire editions attacking the Ahmadis, one of Pakistan’s most victimised minorities.
Thousands of Muslims in Pakistan have been killed, jailed or attacked by mobs; their mosques burned, women and children murdered, innocents stoned to death and schools and hospitals bombed simply because they do not conform to the Sunni majority concept of Islam.
The persecution of minorities in Pakistan has brought the country worldwide shame. It proves bigotry is the real power in the country, ruling at the expense of modern models that could spur an economic miracle and rescue it from a multi-billion debt morass. Last week, Imran Khan, who had opened his innings with the promise of ‘Naya Pakistan’, was forced by the extremist Islamist party Tehreek-i-Labbaik to sack Atif R Mian from Pakistan’s Economic Advisory Council (EAC).
The only crime of the Princeton professor, who is considered one of the top 25 economists in the world, is that he is an Ahmadi. Outraged by the prime minister’s capitulation to the radicals, London-based economist Imran Rasul quit the EAC. In a country where teachers have been replaced by clerics who radicalise its youth instead of informing them, revival is a distant hope.
WAVE OF DEATH
Hope is in short supply for Pakistan’s Ahmadiyya community, which accepts their founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the last prophet; considered a heretic belief that repudiates Islam’s tenet that there is no other prophet than Muhammad. As god’s vengeance, they are murdered, arrested, jailed or executed for various imaginary crimes, including under the appalling blasphemy law of Pakistan. The wave of anti-Ahmadiyya hatred hit its shores in 1953 when prominent theologians led rioting mobs demanding the removal of Jinnah’s associate and then foreign minister, Sir Zafarullah Khan, an Ahmadi. The agitators also clamoured for the scalps of all Ahmadis in top government posts, and their formal excommunication. The Ahmadi plight worsened in 1974 when the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government passed the second Constitutional Amendment taking away their right to be called Muslims; they are now registered as non-Muslims on the country’s voters’ list.
In 1984, Islamist military dictator Zia-ul-Haq, who later executed Bhutto, passed Ordinance XX preventing Ahmadis from practicing their religion in public.
They cannot call the azan. They cannot use Islamic terms and titles, read Islamic texts for prayers, name their places of worship ‘masjid’ and greet people in the Islamic manner; acts punishable with three years in jail and a fine. Ahmadis are also banned from Haj pilgrimage. Their life just became even more dangerous when Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court ordered that Ahmadis should append the word denoting their faith to their names: “Qadianis should not be allowed to conceal their identity by having similar names to those of Muslims, therefore, they should be either stopped from using name of ordinary Muslims or in the alternative Qadiani, Ghulam-e-Mirza or Mirzai must form a part of their names and be mentioned accordingly.”(Ahmadis are derogatorily referred to as Qadianis; the eponymous birthplace of Ahmad.) This ruling is meant to prevent them from entering the civil services and the judiciary since declaration of denomination is necessary to obtain a national identity card, passport, birth certificate and voter ID; all requirements for top government and semi-government jobs. Lawyer Yasser Latif Hamdani, visiting fellow at Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Programme called the ruling the ‘Yellow Star of Pakistan’ in reference to the deadly anti-Semitism of the Nazi Holocaust. “The international community must act before there is genocide of Ahmadis in Pakistan,” he warned. In January 2018, the US State Department placed Pakistan on its ‘Special Watch List’ for “severe violations of religious freedom”. But Imran, whose election plank was anti-US, may not be easily scared. He declared last week that Pakistan would not fight another country’s war.
VICTIMS OF HATE
Pakistan is fighting an internal war of its own, against its own people. Farahnaz Ispahani, former media advisor to the Pak president from 2008 to 2012, said in an interview in 2016: “When Pakistan was being formed in 1947, its population of non-Muslims was 23 percent, today we are somewhere between 3-4 percent. So there has been a purification of minorities.” Such purification is being carried out by militant squads which routinely target Shias and followers of Sufi Islam. The extremist clerics of Pakistan and their Saudi sponsors have for decades tried to strip Pakistan of its Sufi legacy, which they consider a dilution of Islam. Failing to escape its India obsession, Pakistani governments have successively acted to assimilate Sufi shrines into an exclusive narrative that eliminates the syncretism with which the saints are worshipped by different faiths in different ways. Last year’s Islamic State suicide attack on the Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, Sindh, killed around 90 people and injured hundreds. 2017 was a bloody year for Shias; their mosques and shrines were targeted by Saudi-backed Takfiri terrorists from Parachinar to Quetta. More than 3,000 Hazaras have been slaughtered since September 2011, according to official figures. Minority persecution is official state policy: human rights activists note 140 Pakistani Shias have “disappeared” over the past two years, arrested by the intelligence services. Hazaras are the majority indigenous population of Gilgit-Baltistan, where the Pakistani military establishment has let loose a wave of genocide and rape to suppress their demand for autonomy. In 2015, 43 Ismailis—16 women and 27 men—were butchered on a bus in one of the worst terror attacks in Pakistan. The mullahs see Ismailis as a liberal, reformist and ‘Westernised’ sect that does not ask females to cover their hair in public; the majority of Ismaili women do not wear hijabs. After Ahmadiyyas, Shias and Ismailis, the miniscule but prosperous Dawoodi Bohra community has come under the jihadi gaze. A Bohra mosque in Karachi was bombed in 2015. In the last few years, members belonging to moderate Sufi and Barelvi Muslim sects have been massacred by religious extremists as part of jihad. In the insane communal mosaic of Pakistan, many Barelvis have now taken up arms against the Shias. The founding principle of jihad is takfir, which ejects a person or a group from the Islamic faith, making their lives forfeit. It also allows the killing of Muslims who are considered not Muslim enough. The self-defeating cycle of Pakistan shows the state itself operates on takfir. In the 1980s, the Pak military was behind the first organised terrorist outfit in the country: the Sipah-e-Sahaba whose members were recruited and trained to bomb Ahmadi mosques and Shia imambargahs. After changing its name subsequently to Millat-e-Islamia and now Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, it functions in the mainstream as a political party.
PATRIOTISM LOSES TO ISLAMISATION
The cardinal cause of Pak radicalisation is the gradual de-Pakistanisation of Pakistan, led by regressive clerics and their organisations funded liberally by Saudi Arabia, which has been exporting violent Wahhabism for decades. After Mian was dropped from EAC last week, Pakistan’s foreign minister Fawad Chaudhry fumed, “The entire world is speculating that Atif Mian will receive a Nobel Prize in five years, we have appointed him to the EAC and not to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII).” But historically the Nobel is not considered an honour in Pakistan. It’s only Nobel laureate Dr Abdus Salam was an Ahmadi, whose name has been dropped by the new government from the premier Quaid-i-Azam University’s Physics Department under pressure from the all powerful CII: the body that constitutionally governs all religion-related matters. Dr Salam’s post mortem debasement had started with the desecration of his tomb in 2014, when the word ‘Muslim’ was erased from his gravestone at the Bahishti Maqbara—an Ahmadi cemetery in Rabwah; the inscription had initially read ‘the first Muslim Nobel laureate’. Dr Salam being an Ahmadi is not considered a Muslim in Pakistan. Wrote Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, “Now that the Islamic State in Pakistan had established the right to determine who was and was not a true Muslim, religious identity and religious correctness became larger issues in Pakistan’s political discourse.” He believes the schismatic policies of Zia ul-Haq who ruled from 1977 to 1988 aggravated sectarian conflict in the country. However, religious fanaticism had been flourishing at the high levels of the Pak government even in the 1950s. Khawaja Nazimuddin, the second Pak Prime Minister, had enshrined the prevailing ultraist state philosophy by stating, “I do not agree that religion is a private affair of the individual nor do I agree that in an Islamic state every citizen has identical rights, no matter what his caste, creed or faith be.”
Saudi Arabia, Islam’s self-chosen representative on earth, wouldn’t agree more. The deepest root of minority genocide and targeted killings of advocates of ‘soft’ and modern Islam in Pakistan is the Saudi influence. When Pakistan was formed in 1947 as a state for Muslims, many moderates played a major role in the nation’s birth; the first president of the All India Muslim League was Sir Agha Khan III, an Ismaili. The founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was a Shia. So was Jinnah’s patron Raja Sahib of Mahmudabad. Pakistan’s first Foreign Minister Sir Zafarullah Khan was an Ahmadi. Their moderate legacy would be anathema to the Salafists. Terrorist organisations such as the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat are affiliated to the ultra-conservative Deobandi sect, whose beliefs are similar to Saudi Wahhabism. In two decades, the Taliban have massacred over 60,000 people—mostly minorities. Wahhabi Islam, the official religion of the Saudi kingdom, is the surging voltage of international terrorism. Its severe interpretation of life is a bleak puritan social landscape governed by merciless religious laws better suited to medieval desert conditions than the modern world. The most powerful Saudi puppet in Pak history was Zia who made Islamisation the state policy and included religious parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami in governance. He established new religious laws, a federal sharia court and promoted compulsory Islamic education in schools. The madrassas were funded generously with Saudi riyals. Zia also inserted Islamic teachings into the military’s training syllabus, thereby effectively radicalising the army. Muslim misogyny entered the judicial system after laws were passed that recognised the value of a woman’s testimony only as half of a man’s on trials over sexual offences. Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military written by Haqqani lays out how the Mullah-General nexus benefitted both parties to control Pakistan politics and society. This bigoted bond changed the geopolitics of not only the subcontinent but also affected the world. America, now Islamic terror’s main target, had turned a blind eye to Zia’s desecration of Pak democracy since he was the main conduit of Saudi money and support for the mujahideen who were waging a bitter war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Around 35,000 militants from 43 Muslim countries were trained jointly by the intelligence services of the US, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in madrassas and army camps. In 2008, Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid had warned in his book, Descent Into Chaos, that Pakistan’s slide into religious anarchy “will sow the seeds of al-Qaeda and turn Pakistan into the world centre of jihadism for the next two decades.” Before 9/11, there was only a single recorded suicide attack in Pakistan’s history. But after 9/11, their numbers are in the hundreds. Former Foreign Minister of Pakistan Khawaja Asif has argued that Pakistan has to get rid of the ‘ghosts’ of Zia and Pervez Musharraf if it has to move forward.
THE EDUCATION BACKLASH
The ghost of Zia will not be easily exorcised from the vast Islamic madrassa network funded by Saudi petrodollars to promote hardline Wahhabi and Salafi fundamentalism. Pakistan’s slide from nationhood to Islamisation has gained at the expense of the moribund state education system. In 2016, The Economist put the number of madrassas at 24,000 where around two million boy students are taught the scriptures in place of science, math or the liberal arts to make them competitive in the global employment market. The government spends only two percent of the country’s total GDP on education. Tahir Ashrafi, head of the Pakistan Ulema Council, affirms that 60 per cent of madrassa students are “not involved in any training or terrorist activities” though he is not sure about the remaining 40 per cent. Lamented author William Dalrymple, “If only the Pakistani government could finance schools that taught respect for the country’s own indigenous and syncretic religious traditions, rather than buying fleets of American F-16 fighters and leaving education to the Saudis.”
The Saudi psychological colonisation was apparent last week when Pakistani social media exulted over Mia’s sacking, heedless of the dire economic straits of the country and the debt burden that is driving it even deeper into the China orbit. Mian, a firm patriot, was opposed to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor—likely to benefit China the most—which has saddled Pakistan with a $62 billion loan to pay for Islamabad’s part in the construction. Pakistan’s forex levels have dropped to a four-year low and the government may not be able to meet its monthly export bills. But economic reality flees in the face of fanatic hatred as has been witnessed often in the Islamic Republic’s history. Chaudhry declared last week, “Pakistan belongs as much to its minorities as it does to the majority”. Former interior minister Ahsan Iqbal argued “talent and competency” should matter and “merit should not be mixed with religion”. The madrassas couldn’t care less.
THE DECLINE OF A SOCIETY
Former Pakistan Director of the Human Rights Watch and activist Ali Dayan Hasan tweeted in 2015 after the Ismaili carnage in Karachi, “Increasingly, formulaic condemnations and condolences by state institutions in the face of carnage just add insult to injury. Blaming India & others for atrocities against minorities does not absolve the state of failing in responsibility to protect.” In the recently published book Purifying the Land of the Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities by scholar and parliamentarian Ispahani, Pak history has been dissected into four consequential stages.
1. Muslimisation of Pakistan between 1945 and 1951 followed by the rise of the Islamic identity from 1958 when state-sponsored education rejected pluralism, demonised religious minorities and highlighted and glorified Islamic history without historical proof.
2. The state’s redefinition of the Pakistani identity as purely Islamic.
3. Islamisation further consolidated through legislation to make Islamic law supreme and hostile to the minorities.
4. State supported organised violence towards minorities in the form of terrorism and lynching.
The dilemma of modern Pakistan is while it strives to retain a place in the world, it also functions as a non-secular nation founded on an anti-inclusive Islamic foundation that feeds on ultra conservative hatred of its nonbelievers. “Abdus Salam, pioneer of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme; Zafarullah Khan, president of the UN General Assembly; Air Marshal Zafar Chaudhry, Pakistan’s First Air Chief; and Lt Gen Abdul Malik, hero of the 1965 conflict, were all disgraced like Atif Mia because of their beliefs. People dishonoured and their mosques reduced to rubble. Is this the ‘Homeland for Muslims’ that Mohammed Ali Jinnah created?” asks G Parthasarathy, former India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan. In the 1940s, pre-Partition Deoband clerics such as Syed Abul Ala Maududi and Ashraf Ali Thanvi opposed the All India Muslim League’s (AIML) demand for Pakistan on the grounds that AIML leaders were too liberal to be true Muslims who wanted a liberal and pluralistic Pakistan instead of a country where Allah’s will would be supreme.
The senseless savagery towards the Ahmadis and other minorities can be traced back to AIML’s hasty politics that ignored the geographic and sociocultural differences among Muslims in the new country and chose Islam as the only glue. But once Pakistan was formed, its clerics demanded that Islam should be the preeminent force. They compelled the government to adopt the Objectives Resolution in 1949, which serves as the Constitutional base of Pakistan. The Resolution had two Islamic provisions—God’s will supersedes the people’s and Muslims must live according to Koranic laws. This left Pak parliament with limited space in democracy since its responsibilities were deemed a “sacred trust” thereby making it subservient to the Islamic edifice. By sacrificing the rights of its minorities to sectarian loathing, Pakistan is yielding to the bleak laws of a bygone preacher in an Arabian desert instead enriching peace by embracing the all-encompassing heritage of the Indian subcontinent.
1947: Almost 23 percent of Pakistan’s population comprise non-Muslims.
1974: Ahmadis declared non-Muslims
1990s: Nearly 1,000 Hindu temples targeted by Islamists
1998: Census reports that a little over 3 percent non-Muslims
2005: 32 Hindus killed in firing by the government forces during clashes between Bugti tribesmen and paramilitary forces in Balochistan
2009: Mass anti-Christian violence in Gojra. The Taliban impose Jizya on non-Muslims
2010: Hindus attacked and ethnically cleansed with 60 fleeing Murad Memon Goth in Karachi. Lahore bombings kill 50 people and wound 200 others in two suicide bombings on a Sufi shrine.
2012: Jundallah militants stop buses and massacre 18 passengers. All but one of the victims are Shia Muslims.
2013: Twin suicide bomb attacks at a church in Peshawar; 127 people killed and over 250 injured
2013: Bombings on Shias in Quetta
2017: Pakistan ranked fourth on the Christian support group Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian
Pakistan’s Muslim Sects and Their Tribulations
The community originated with the teachings of its founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908). He saw himself as a renewer of Islam and claimed to have been chosen by Allah. His followers regard him as the messiah and a prophet. In 1947, the community moved its religious headquarters from Qadian in India’s Punjab, where the movement was founded in 1889, to Rabwah in Pakistan. The movement follows the Koran’s teachings. But it is regarded by orthodox Muslims as heretical because it does not believe that Mohammed was the final prophet sent to guide mankind, as they believe is laid out in the holy book.
In 632, after the death of Islam’s founder, the Prophet Muhammad, tribal Arabs disagreed over who should succeed him and inherit the political and religious office. The majority—later known as the Sunnis—backed Abu Bakr, a friend of the Prophet and father of his wife. Others considered Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, the rightful successors. This group became known as the Shia, and are considered a minority.
Throughout their 1,400-year history, the Ismailis have been led by a living, hereditary Imam. They recognise His Highness Prince Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV as their Imam in direct lineal descent from Prophet Muhammad through his cousin and son-in-law. The community can be found in over 25 countries around the world. They have faced thousands of years of persecution and targeted propaganda by other Muslims.
The Dawoodi Bohras follow Shia Islam as propagated by the Fatimid Imamate in medieval Egypt. Also known as the Mustali Ismailis, the sect is derived from early Hindu converts to Ismailism who split from the Nizaris in 1094. The Bohras split around 1600 into a majority Dawoodi and a minority Sulaymani sub-sect. Both resulted from disputes over succession of leadership.