Set by dictators, electoral standards aimed at religious exclusion continue to plague Pakistan. Despite having undergone two democratic governments, nobody has been able to undo the damage caused to our Constitution to ensure the participation of all segments of society in a truly free and fair election. Deviating from the vision of the founder of Pakistan, General Zia-ul-Haq introduced different political denominations on the basis of religion.It has been more than 33 years since then, but nobody has bothered to address this grave injustice. To register as voters or to avail their right to vote, Ahmadis must either renounce their faith or agree to be placed in a separate electoral list and accept their status as non-Muslim. To accept being non-Muslim would be a negation of their belief,thus they opt not to vote. In 1971, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto introduced use of religion in electoral process by allocating few additional seats to religious minorities. General Zia went further than Bhutto and introduced separate electorates in 1985. As if inspired by Bhutto’s use of religion to prolong his rule, Zia went even further to make the lives of Ahmedis difficult. If Bhutto’s government declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims, Zia introduced Ordinance XX to make it punishable offence for Ahmadis to“pose as Muslims” or profess their religion. From 1947 to 1985, all elections were conducted on joint electorates and Ahmadis, like all other segments of society participated in elections. Through the eighth constitutional amendment of 1985, General Zia introduced separate electorate on the basis of religion. This separate electorate system contributing in driving a deep wedge in Pakistani society, dividing people on the basis of faith. The state is practicing a two-pronged policy. It has in fact, banned Ahmadis from voting through its tricky policy. Ahmedis are prevented from casting the vote, and the government doesn’t have to face criticism for banning them from participating in the electoral process. Deprived of representation in Parliament, there is nothing Ahmedis can do to have these laws changed The system of separate electorates, against which a large number of citizens had agitated for years — describing it as the root cause of a dangerous division of the people and a whole regime of discrimination on the grounds of belief — was done away with on February 27, 2002. It was Pervez Musharraf who was responsible for this. With this order it became possible for every citizens to see their names on a single electoral list regardless of religion. But in a mere four months, the order was done away with. It wasn’t even ever implemented. This was done by the same dictator through Chief Executive’s Order No. 15, dated June 15, 2002. Musharraf undid his order of joint electorate by excluding Ahmadis from the rest of Pakistanis and ordering separate electoral lists for Ahmadis across the country. Musharraf too had to bow down to the demands of anti-Ahmedi clerics. Their concerns were properly conveyed to Musharraf in a state sponsored Seerat conference through Engineer Saleem ullah in May 2002 where Musharraf himself was present as Chief Executive of Pakistan and Chief of Army Staff. Presently, names of Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Bahais, Jews and all other religions are in one voters list, while the Ahmedis have a separate list for themselves. There are even certain areas where there is only one Ahmadi, who has a separate list for him or herself. This as usual obstructed the Ahmadis’ return to mainstream politics and they declared that if their status as voters has not changed, their decision to stay away from the polls will also remain unchanged. The state is practicing two-pronged policy here. It has in fact, banned Ahmadis from voting through its tricky policy. Ahmedis are prevented from casting the vote,and the government doesn’t have to face criticism for banning them from participating in the electoral process.Deprived of representation in Parliament, there is nothing Ahmedis can do to have these laws changed. Elections are the only occasion when all segments of society are interconnected and their concerns are voiced. Ahmadis are deprived of this chance too, as no politician tries to obtain their vote. Of course, if a politician does approach the Ahmedis for a vote, the rest of the electorate would be unlikely to vote for him. Therefore, this democratic victimisation of Ahmadis suites all politicians who have a stake in the present status quo. This is negation of Pakistan’s international legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), including the rights to freedom of conscience, religion, expression, and association; and to vote and be elected. Pakistan ratified the ICCPR in 2010. Before every elections, Ahmadis try to contact every government forum including the PM office, President’s office, and chief election commission to convey their concerns against these discriminations but no one even listens to them. They also tried several times to get their concerns against this discriminatory electoral process published or telecast in the media — even as paid content — but no media outlet was ready to give them space. No election can be ‘free and fair’ if an entire community of about 0.3 million people is effectively excluded from the electoral process. The writer is a journalist currently based in Canada. He can be reached at email@example.com and @RanaTanver Published in Daily Times, July 3rd 2018.