01/07/2016 8:31 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST

Why Mullahs Are Mere Pawns In Pakistan's Persecution Of Ahmadis

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Two Ahmadis were gunned down in Karachi recently. On June 20, a homeopathic doctor named Abdul Khaliq fell to unknown assailants in Malir district. This followed the brazen drive-by shooting of Dawood Ahmad in Gulshan-e-Iqbal town less than a month earlier.

Neither killings registered on the 24/7 news cycle in Pakistan, which did not surprise one bit. Talking about Ahmadis on national television can get you banned, if not slapped with a fatwa from some apoplectic mullah, as actor-turned-Ramadan televangelist Hamza Abbasi found out the hard way recently.

[T]he Ahmadis of Pakistan were Jews in their own Nazi Germany.

Pakistan's Ahmadiyya community, of which many have fled abroad, has been under siege for over half a century. To say they keep paying the price for their beliefs, however controversial, would be an understatement. Even before 1974, when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto officially stripped the Ahmadis of their right to call themselves Muslims, these followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad were actively persecuted by the religious-right backed by old-money conservatives from west Punjab.

Why? Rumor has it wealthy Punjabis who had angel-invested in the Muslim League were wary of a Pakistan where the enterprising Ahmadis, like the highly educated Muhajirs of Karachi, could overtake them in clout, profit and influence, and therefore planned a preemptive strike. Mere conjecture of course, but where there's smoke...

Earlier, in 1953, full scale rioting broke out in Lahore (as it would again throughout Pakistan in 1974) against the Ahmadiyya sparked by the religious coalition "Majlis-i-Amal," after the state dismissed its ultimatum to declare all Ahmadis non-Muslims and summarily remove every one--including storied foreign minister Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan--from public office. It took the army and a three-month long martial law to restore order in Punjab.

Still, the Pakistan of 1953--insofar as how it repelled right-wing forces overreaching their purview--was possibly the only fleeting representation of what founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah intended his creation to be. Three years later, with a new constitution, Pakistan would cast away all pretensions of secularity and officially become an "Islamic Republic."

Later, in 1984, General Zia-ul-Haq cued the funeral march for "freedom to profess religion" in Pakistan by enacting Ordinance XX. This legislation not only tore to shreds Article 20 of the Constitution protecting every citizen's right to worship without impediments, it also sharply narrowed the lens with which the state would thenceforth view the Ahmadis.

Zia had them declared impostors of the Muslim faith and barred them from using any religious vernacular that overlapped with mainstream Sunnis or Shias. From that point on, and for all practical purposes, the Ahmadis of Pakistan were Jews in their own Nazi Germany. To this day, any Pakistani applying for a passport or national identity card must affirm Ahmadis as non-Muslims.

Pakistan is emotionally a theocracy.

But hold on. This is 2016 and defending the Ahmadiyya community is now en vogue, at least in print. So why has nothing changed? Furlongs of inked paper are wasted every month by Pakistan's intellectual capital harping on the travesty that is the state's treatment of Ahmadis. Yet what is stopping them, ordinary Pakistanis or indeed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from remedying the injustice?

Why didn't "enlightened moderates" like Benazir Bhutto or Gen. Pervez Musharraf buck the trend? Why does this present parliament not strike off the legal abominations instituted by Bhutto senior and Zia from the constitution? The answer is simple, yet deceptive. Liberals would have you believe that Pakistan's problem with Ahmadis is steered by right-wing lunatics with no buy-in from the lay citizen. Utter hogwash.

Here's my challenge to them: If tomorrow the state decided to hold a nationwide referendum on the Ahmadi Muslim/non-Muslim question as the baseline for constitutional review, no more than 10% of Pakistanis (and I'm being generous here) would support reversing the status quo. Why? Because Pakistan is emotionally a theocracy. What else would the Two-Nation Theory make it?

Progressives prone to psychoanalyzing Jinnah from beyond the grave are convinced the maltreatment meted out to Ahmadis is symptomatic of straying from his vision of Pakistan. That, in turn, prevented the country from separating mosque and state. Ultimately, the Pakistan that, "Ought to be" never existed. It had no roots in local politics or society. Jinnah himself was a transplant from Gujarat to Karachi: a vibrant cosmopolis that in his lifetime invited inclusivity as opposed to the tribalism prevalent across Muslim-majority provinces.

Consequently, Jinnah may have misread Pakistan and Pakistanis. Especially after the ravages of Partition served to intensify the orthodoxy of Islam among the millions who had migrated in utter ruin with just the clothes on their backs, or lost loved ones to internecine strife. For these hapless souls, the political slogan "Pakistan ka matlab kya? La Illaha Illallah" (What does Pakistan mean? There is no God, but God) took on a very literal meaning and turned Pakistan into the new citadel of Islam worthy of the blood shed.

Moreover, Jinnah reportedly never spoke of the "ideology of Pakistan." How could he? Jinnah sahib was rather tepid of faith. He understood and perfectly argued the legal case for Allama Iqbal's Two-Nation Theory, but could never connect with its heart: the blind obedience to a social order based on religion. It never crossed his mind that Pakistan, a mishmash of mutually distrustful ethnicities, would over time dive deeper into Islamic nationalism for survival, all the more when coupled with a perpetual persecution complex vis-à-vis India.

If those electing public officials to government are not "rational," the state by default cannot be rational.

"But how can the state decide who is a Muslim and who isn't?", protest Pakistan's intellectuals. The state, they argue, is meant to be a "rational actor"; concerned only with upholding the constitution--its compact with the people--through impartial institutions and without discriminating on color, creed or religion. If only it were so simple.

The state is also not Stonehenge, a stoic physical monolith. It is merely the focal point for the emotions of its constituents. If those electing public officials to government are not "rational," the state by default cannot be rational. Remember Nazi Germany? Hitler came to power through the ballot, not a putsch and a highly civilized people subsequently reveled in systematically exterminating the Jews.

In Pakistan's case, I am of the firm belief (misguided though it may be), that by enacting anti-Ahmadi legislation to appease the religious right-led crusade against that community, the state may in reality have saved them from mass lynchings because there was no backpedaling from that level of hatred. There still isn't, otherwise parliament would have annulled Ordinance XX and the Second Amendment ages ago.

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Photographs by Nemai Ghosh

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