People, parliament and distraction from one family’s corruption
- “Not just Ahmadis, Ahrar launched a vilification campaign against Muhammad Ali Jinnah and also tried to revive Shi’a-Sunni controversy in 1945”
- “Two features of NAP pertaining to sectarian discord are: measures will be taken to stop religious extremism and to protect minorities; print and electronic media will not be allowed to give any space to terrorists”
The National Assembly last Tuesday echoed with a factually incorrect diatribe of Captain (r) Muhammad Safdar, a PML-N lawmaker and son-in-law of Nawaz Sharif.
Amid applause and indifference, he invited fellow parliamentarians to “earn heaven” by acting against the Ahmadiyya community while also calling Ahmadis a British and Israeli conspiracy.
In 2012, Safdar termed Sir Zafarullah Khan’s election as foreign minister a conspiracy against Pakistan — the man chosen by Jinnah himself — and later endorsed Mumtaz Qadri, who was hanged in Salman Taseer murder case.
His current speech comes amid a National Accountability Bureau (NAB) reference filed against him and his wife, along with references against his in-laws.
Anti-Ahmadiyya problem goes back to pre-partition Punjab with its roots in ‘Ahrar-Ahmadi controversy’. Prominent Muslims of India, including Ahmadiyya community head Mirza Basheerud Din Ahmad, formed All India Kashmir Committee in 1931 to advocate the rights of oppressed Kashmiri Muslims. This committee included Dr Mohammad Iqbal who would also become its president later. The committee was termed an ‘organised rebellion’ by the pro-Congress press. However, the committee’s appeal was damaged by pro-Congress Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam (hereafter Ahrar) and Congress itself. Subsequently the Conference, rife with internal dissent, dispersed.
Ahrar, during the period, was at odds with Mirza Basheer and his community owing to difference in their religious beliefs; to put in Pakistan’s second chief justice Muhammad Munir’s words: “Ahrar took birth in the hatred of Ahmadis.” And not just Ahmadis, Ahrar launched a vilification campaign against Muhammad Ali Jinnah and also tried to revive Shi’a-Sunni controversy in 1945.
After partition, Ahrar’s political career was in jeopardy because of its anti-Muslim League politics. But after a brief hibernation, the party was revived in December 1947 and its first conference reeked of anti-Ahmadiyya sentiments, along with affirmation of their patriotism. So, politically dead Ahrar tried to revive itself at the cost of the country’s harmony and safety.
Ahrar ceased functioning as a political entity in 1949, choosing to follow the Muslim League, while announcing that it would focus on religion only. In the absence of strong political base and narrative, it kept espousing hatred against the Ahmadiyya community, especially Zafarullah Khan. The party held ‘Tableegh Conferences’ across Pakistan and in one of its Rawalpindi meetings, the group demanded the exclusion of Ahmadis from Islam, reiterated on many occasion afterwards. The Ahrar, Jamaat-e-Islami and other religio-political parties’ campaign resulted in Lahore Riots in 1953 which claimed at least “200 to 10,000 lives” according to a book, Pakistan: A Country Study.
The rioters demanded the declaration of Ahmadis as heretics, removal of Ahmadis from key positions, including Foreign Minister Sir Zafarullah Khan. The riots were however quelled when a three-month martial law was imposed in Lahore.
The government refused to declare Ahmadis non-Muslims after these riots; however, in 1974, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto excluded them from the fold of Islam, blatantly ignoring Justice Munir Commission Report that noted if the state adopts the definition of Muslim in compliance with one particular sect then others would automatically be declared kafirs.
In 1984, Ziaul Haq introduced Ordinance XX that penalises Ahmadis if they pronounce themselves as Muslims or adhere to the basic practices of Islam.
CaptainSafdar’s speech, in this context, invokes decades-old hatred against a particular sect. Ahrar was also the precursor of Shi’a-Sunni riots along with anti-Ahmadiyya agitation in the country.
Safdar not only used the platform of parliament but he also undermined the idea of national integration. However, Ernest Renan writes in What is Nation that a nation is not based on dynasty, language and religion, rather “nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute this soul or spiritual principle. One lies in the past, one in the present… desire to live together, the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage.” He further says that a nation is a large-scale solidarity reaffirmed daily.
Moreover, Safdar singled out the minority, saying they don’t believe in the concept of jihad; therefore, they shouldn’t be inducted in the army. Safdar, being an ex-army official, had forgotten that modern armies are built on the concept of comradeship rather than religion. An army is a homogenous group of all the ethnic, religious and linguistic groups but when they don a certain uniform, they enter a bond exceeding all these barriers. The ISPR also claims army as a homogenous institution, but adds that Muslims have to sign a form to affirm their belief in the finality of prophethood before joining the army.
Safdar tried to instil discord within an institution by saying that a particular sect is a threat to its integrity and should not be allowed to join. Ironically, a person whose morality itself is in question is judging a community for its patriotism.
Pakistan is fighting a war on two fronts: a war on terror against global terror outfits and against home-grown militancy. In order to combat terrorism, a comprehensive National Action Plan was constituted in the aftermath of 2014 APS incident. Two features of NAP pertaining to sectarian discord are: measures will be taken to stop religious extremism and to protect minorities; print and electronic media will not be allowed to give any space to terrorists. Despite NAP’s relative success, Pakistan lacks a strong counter-narrative, which should be inclusive irrespective of sect, ethnicity or faith; force alone cannot wipe out the propaganda done by sectarian outfits and their passive support throughout the country — due to ignorance mainly.
Justice Munir report says “death follows hard on the heels of denunciation” but the government remained oblivious to this warning since 1953. No one questioned Safdar for his remarks except modest rebukes from the prime minister and the interior minister. While Punjab Law Minister Sanaullah, apparently scared for his life, says that if Ahmadis want constitutional protection they should accept they are non-Muslims. The silence of government and such actions legitimise the actions of mob—Mashaal Khan, Chitral incident, etc—and faith-based target killings. The state remains impotent to protect its citizens after all these years and now it is sad to see that once again parliament is being used for persecution of people for mere distraction from a family’s corruption.