Perilous times for Ahmadi Pakistanis

The PTI government is more interested in political manoeuvring, appeasing its allied religious supporters to reclaim seats in the upcoming by-elections, rather than protecting the rights of its citizens

The Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan is passing through a perilous period of attention and scorn. There is a relentless campaign by religious extremists, who are bent on harassing and targeting Ahmadis. This is not a new phenomenon for the Ahmadiyya Community, however, in the recent past this drive has intensified many fold.

I am pleased that this newspaper, Daily Times, has covered many such incidents and commendably spoken on the travesty of justice meted out to Ahmadis. On the other hand, a competing Urdu newspaper recently published a paid advertisement by the Ahmadiyya Community, which later, due to sheer bigotry and pressure by religious extreme elements; published an apology for printing it. The advertisement was a customary September 6, Martyrs Day remembrance commemorating the recipients of Nishan-e-Haider, besides various Ahmadi soldiers of the past. The advertisement was clearly a mark of respect. Moreover it was an attempt to show the integration and contributions of Ahmadis, in the past who sacrificed their lives for the cause and defence of Pakistan. The retraction by the Urdu paper is extremely demoralising adding to the destructive mindset prevalent in society.

There is a line from a couplet of Mir Taqi Mir’s Ghazal: “Every corner of the desert becomes green because of my wailing”. Contextually; it plainly means my misery causes happiness. The hatred propagated against Ahmadis causing misery, does satisfy many.

During the first few weeks of the PTI government, it took some effort to take stock of the financial and economic situation of the country. While setting various teams to address the core issues, it was pleasing to note that a renowned economist and academic of Pakistani origin; Dr Atif Rehman Mian of Princeton University, was included in the Economic Advisory Council (EAC).

Dr Mian’s work focuses on the connections between finance and the macro-economy, a desired policy area for Pakistan. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) identified Dr Mian as one of the 25 young economists, who it expects will shape the world’s thinking about the global economy in the future; a great acclaim.

However, in his native country; Dr Mian’s Ahmadi faith became a bizarre and yet understandable issue perpetuated by numerous religious parties, including members of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf(PTI). Initially the Information Minister Mr Fawad Chaudhry admirably defended his selection and with seemingly clear conviction snubbed the religious bigotry. But this was short lived. Dr Mian was asked on the first day of the EAC meeting to relinquish his membership. This was another highly dispiriting and disheartening decision, with deeper consequences which may not be apparent to the government as of now.

It is appalling that our current leadership and the religious clergy misinform the public about Ahmadis. Moreover, existing legal frameworks don’t even permit the community to provide a rebuttal to such allegations, which subsequently incites hatred on a daily basis. Scholars of Pakistani history are well versed with the contributions of the Ahmadiyya community, towards the establishment of this nation. Moreover, Ahmadis have excelled in the fields of science, technology, public service, medicine etc.

Ahmadis have been on the receiving end of violence for long enough, and are witness to its deep and profound impact. Such behaviour is not a part of the State of Madinah rather it has parallels with Nazi Germany. This is not just an Ahmadi issue and we must realise that ordinary Pakistanis will also witness that violence is detrimental for them

Amongst them was a renowned Ahmadi with economics expertise; Mirza Muzaffar Ahmad, better known as; M. M. Ahmad. He was pivotal in negotiating the finances for both Mangla and Tarbela Dams. He ran one of the most successful five-year plans in Pakistani history. He was a key player in establishing US-China bilateral relations, by introducing Henry Kissinger to the Chinese leadership. He has made immense contributions to economic policy; the impact of which resonates in the global economy till today.

The removal of Dr Atif Mian, sets a prejudicial and harmful precedence where removing an Ahmadi from a government institution, due to his beliefs was made an example of before the nation. Religious intolerance was given a new platform, by letting prejudice serve as a legitimate reason for the termination of employment. This has many repercussions for both the nation and the beleaguered Ahmadiyya community of Pakistan.

The PTI government inadvertently or perhaps deliberately abandoned safeguarding the rights of Ahmadis; who as citizens of the nation, are guaranteed safeguards against discrimination in accordance to Article 27 of the constitution. This will lead to increased vigilante behaviour by countless intolerant sections of society and numerous extremist elements spreading across the country.

This may result in more murders, destruction of Ahmadi properties, businesses and worship places. Recent history is replete with such incidents; such action will only add fuel to this fire of hatred. I assume that the PTI government is more interested in political manoeuvring, appeasing its allied religious supporters to reclaim seats in the upcoming by-elections, rather than protecting the rights of its citizens. Nevertheless, it is regretful.

The government has also given unchecked space to the anarchist religious elements of society, which propagate regressive, ignorant and downright violent philosophies in the name of Islam. The retraction of Dr Mian’s name will lead to more assertive conduct and control by religious parties and the extremist religious elements within PTI. This will lead to continued divisions and discord in Pakistan which is, as we know, a country of 220 million people with nearly 30 distinct languages and dozens of religious denominations and faiths.

Religious denominations in majority will continue to encroach upon the rights of smaller denominations. This competition is bound to result in violence, especially when the government seems to have relinquished its responsibility of enforcing fairness among its citizens.

Ahmadis have been on the receiving end of violence for long enough, and are witness to its deep and profound impact. I can only suggest with sincere intentions that we must move away from such dangerous inclinations of religious hate and intolerance. Such behaviour is not a part of the State of Madinah rather it has parallels with the Nazi Germany. This is not just an Ahmadi issue and we must realise that ordinary Pakistanis will also witness that violence is detrimental for them.

I do not despair for my fellow Ahmadis, as I know well that through our community’s spirit we will re-emerge as more resilient. Ahmadis are almost 100 percent literate in Pakistan, where overall literacy is barely 30 percent. Ahmadis have always put extraordinary emphasis on higher education over the past decades. Ahmadi youth, will find their way despite persecution and hatred. Educated youth, who are well guided, are bound to excel in their pursuit of learning, even though they are limited in positively contributing to the nation’s progress in the current atmosphere.

The narrative of rooting out corruption was a misguided priority, as we are finding out. It is almost impossible to recover the stolen money; the only thing possible is stopping further corruption by apprehending corrupt politicians. The PTI leadership should return to its more idealistic policy of prioritising fairness, equality and justice. It is our Prime Minister’s responsibility to show leadership and re-educate the masses who, have been otherwise taught only hatred.

Ahmadis will always remain loyal and committed to Pakistan’s progress. Dr Mian has also shown this sentiment in his statements after leaving the membership of the EAC. It is the government’s responsibility to tackle religious extremism head on, and transform this miserable and vile atmosphere to a more conducive one.

Despite the abysmal character shown by many politicians and their followers in the past few days, the solidarity that other Pakistanis showed with Dr Atif Mian was heart-warming. They displayed a strong conscience, humanity and magnanimity of character; which the current leadership unfortunately lacks.

The American Civil rights activist Dr Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that”. Let us seek this love, for the sake of Pakistan. I hope and pray, for the success of the Economic Council too. I have no doubt it can fulfil its mandate, and ultimately materialise a progressive Pakistan, despite the removal of an eminent economist. Long live Pakistan.

The writer holds the degree in engineering from NED University. He can be reached at @imranahsanmirza

Published in Daily Times, September 12th 2018.