The 1974 ouster of the ‘heretics’: What really happened?

Ex. Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto


By Nadeem F Paracha

The sole culprit? 

The legacy of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, is a mixed bag of praise, platitudes and panning.

Where, on the one hand, he is hailed as being perhaps the sharpest and most dazzling politicians ever to grace the country’s political landscape, he is also panned for being a megalomaniac and a demagogue, readily willing to sideline his democratic principles in pursuit to retain political power.

Applauded for successfully regenerating a demoralised and fractured country’s pride (after the 1971 East Pakistan debacle), and igniting within the working classes a sudden sense of political consciousness, Bhutto is also remembered as the man who (to remain in power) continued to play footsie with reactionary political outfits and (thus) ultimately betraying his own party’s largely secular, democratic and socialist credentials.

Not only did he attract fierce opposition from the right-wing Islamic parties, over the decades, the left and liberal sections of the Pakistani intelligentsia have also come down hard on him for capitulating to the demands of right-wing parties on certain theological and legislative issues that eventually (and ironically) set the tenor and the tone of a reactionary General (Ziaul Haq) who toppled his regime.

With the ever-increasing problem of religious bigotry and violence that Pakistan has been facing ever since the 1980s, many intellectuals, authors and political historians in the country have blamed the Bhutto government’s 1974 act of constitutionally redefining the status of the Ahmadiyya, formerly recognised as a Muslim sect, as the starting point of what began to mutate into a sectarian and religious monstrosity in the next three decades.

The Ahmadiyya community was (almost overnight) turned into a non-Muslim minority in Pakistan.

Many observers correctly point out that by surrendering to the demands of the religious parties in this context (especially after they had resorted to violence), Bhutto unwittingly restored their confidence and status that was badly battered during the 1970 election.

But I believe panning Bhutto for introducing legislative and constitutional expressions of bigotry has become too much of a cliché. It’s become a somewhat knee-jerk reaction, and an exercise in which the details of the 1974 event have gotten lost and ignored in the excitement of repeatedly pointing out the starling irony of a left-liberal government passing a controversial theological edict.

I will not get into the theological aspects of what was then called ‘the Ahmadiyya question,’ because I’m not academically qualified to do so.

Nevertheless, it is important that one attempts to objectively piece together the events that led to the final act. Events that seem to have gotten buried underneath the thick layers of polemical theological diatribes exchanged between orthodox Muslim scholars and those associated with the Ahmadiyya community; and also due to the somewhat intellectual laziness of the secular intelligentsia that has exhibited a rather myopic understanding and judgment of and on Bhutto’s role in the episode.

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Categories: Ahmadiyyat: True Islam, Asia, Pakistan

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9 replies

  1. What is missing in all these discussions is ‘the Saudi connection’. It may be recalled that around that time King Feisal was contemplating to see how he could be installed as ‘Khalifa’. Naturally he did not want another ‘Khalifa’ around in the Muslim world.

  2. Before King Feisal was assassinated I recall that in ‘The Journal’ of the Muslim World League a question was raised to the readers: “What do you think about the re-introduction of Khilafat?” As the Saudis usually know everything better it was strange that they should pose such a question to the readers. Well, Allah seemed to have other plans ….

  3. The article and the above comments nicely high light the political aspects of this wrong done to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and how it has led to the Talibanization and fragmentation of the Pakistani society.

    I also hope that some of the members of our community will also discuss here the theological ramifications of this wrong.

  4. I went through the article rather quickly for shortage of time…two things bothered me a bit too much so left the following comment on the linked website:

    Informative overview, but with some inaccuracies passed on with certainty. First of all, Jamaat Ahmadiyya does not say that those who do no believe in Mirza Ghulam Ahmad are not Muslims. What Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad instead said was, that those who pass fatwas of kufr on him and his followers come under the same fatwah themselves according to the saying of Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that one who calls a Muslim kafir is himself a kafir. Ahmadies only say such Muslims are kafir (non believers) of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, which simply holds true by definition.

    Secondly, the author conveniently stated about 1974 incident at Rabwah train station that the same Nishtar Medical college students who had taken the trouble to come out of the train chanting insults against the Ahmadiyya founder when stopping by the first time, sat peacefully on their way back and the Ahmadi youth attacked them per their leader’s command? While the latter part of the assertion is an unfounded insinuation casually written as factual, the former about the students not provoking the second time, is simply unrealistic. The quoted observer did have a point that someone wanted it to happen…both times the Nishtar college students taunted and hurled insults to evoke a physical response…it worked the second time around with less mature youth…as it would have with any youth in any part of the country.

  5. Nadeem F. Paracha says that he will not get into the theological aspects of the issue, still, the following lines are his third attempt to get into the theological aspect:

    “But even though the report that was prepared by the committee was never made public, parts of it were leaked to the legislators and the report allegedly recorded the head of the Ahmadiyya community telling the committee that he only considered those who were Ahmadiyya as Muslims.”

    Is it objectivity to use the word ‘non-Muslim’ instead of ‘not Muslim’?

  6. A very interesting article but with my limited knowledge on the subject I think there are a few inaccuracies.But i still enjoyed reading it.

  7. What really happened? He asks! That 1974 incident gave Mullah the sense of power he had not enjoyed in a long while. Coupled with the ignorance of the masses it developed into Mullahs getting away with murder, first of Ahmadis and then with that of those Officially Muslim folks who did not please the Mullah. Some of the consequences of the 1974 folly were noted in:

  8. I ahd replied to NF Pracha article, a few days back. It got lost in the new posts. I post it here again for readers and I shall add a fe wlines at the end to improve the subject matter, Insha Allah:
    Bhutto was in the hands of powerful persons before he came to power. He was being guided. He did what he was told to do because it appears that it was part of his plan to brng down the Jama’at Ahmadiyah.
    That is noticeable in the 1973 constitution. He had friends who supported him in that direction against the jama’at Ahmadiyah.

    It is a joke that he did something to please the Mullas. Quaid e Azam never succumbed to the wishes of Maulvis in the 1940′s. The greatest ooponents of the Jama’at ahmadiyah maulvis had requested Jinnah sahib that they will clean the boots of Jinnah sahib with their beard if he threw out the Ahmadis from the Muslim league.
    Jinnah sahib did not agree to their demand. It was foolish of Bhutto (and his friends) to agree to please the maulvis in 1974. The same maulvis agitated against Bhutto sahib in 1977 and brought him down. It was the united effort of the maulvis that weakened the position of Bhutto. America was against Bhutto. General Zia overtook Bhutto easily, and eventually, Bhutto was hanged to death at the age of 52. (KLB= Kalab prophesy.)

    Like Hitler, Bhutto was not a good leader. He tried to be smart but no use. Hitler also tried to bring down the British Cabinet of Sir Winston Churchill (1939), by making a no war pact with Russia, just before attacking Poland.
    The Ministry of Sir Churchill survived by just one vote in parliament. And Hitler went to his bad end because of his wrong (bad) policies.
    23 November: I have noted that Paracha sahib called the Ahmadis as heretics and the maulvis as orthodox? But Paracha sahib did not (seek) dwell into the reality. According to the general meaning of the words Heretic and Orthodox, the prophet Muhammad would be according to Paracha sahib a heretic. It was no use writing the article if NFP did not know abc of religion.

    In his article, NFP has been excusing Bhutto sahib and his party of any wrong in the matter of bad legislation. I believe that it was a big blunder of Bhutto sahib, not to control the maulvis who were at fault.

    NFP sahib has wrongly reported the incident of Rabwah railway station. He did not even write the names of important persons correctly. He seems to be leaning on the enemy side, trying to give them an up lift. There were so many pseudo reformers and philosophers in India trying to be good for the Ummah. But they were nothing more than those described in the very firt 17 verses of Chapter 2 of Quran. They had never been guided. (Wa Maa kanoo muhtadeen.)
    Dawn has not done well to ignore the replies sent to DAWN about the article of Paracha sahib. Then what was the need to print the article of Paracha sahib? That article was wrongly touching on the most important mistake of the Pakistan People Party /history.
    ikhan and Qudsia have informed us very well about this matter. Thanks to them.

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