Religious Persecution in Pakistan by Pervez Hoodbhoy

Source: View Point Online
Blaise Pascal, the famous 17th century philosopher and mathematician, observed that “men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it for religious conviction”. His words could apply to Muslim-killing Hindus of Gujarat, 2002. Or to today’s Pakistan, where your religious affiliation—whether by birth or conviction—can land you in your grave. The killers do their job fearlessly, frequently, and often claim credit. The police and army have little sympathy for those who, in principle, they are supposed to protect. Even as streams of venom directed against religious minorities pour out from a battery of powerful mosque loudspeakers, a desensitised Sunni-majority Pakistani public prefers to believe in the destabilizing “foreign hand”.
What has happened to Hindus and Christians in Pakistan is unsurprising. These communities were never enthused about India’s partition (even though some individuals still pretend that they were). Indeed, they were soon slapped with the Objectives Resolution of 1949 which termed them “minorities”, hence freaks and outcasts dispatched to the margins. Some accepted their fate, keeping a low profile. Others altered their names to more Muslim sounding ones. The better off, or more able ones, emigrated. They took valuable skills and capital along with them. The outflow has picked up again in past years.

Pakistan’s Hindu population stands at about 1.7 per cent of 200 million. It is steadily decreasing as families seek immigration to India. “Abduction, rape and coerced conversion of our daughters, extortion, blackmailing and kidnapping of businessmen for ransom” are some of the reasons given by former legislator and chairman of the Pakistan Hindu Council, Ramesh Kumar Vankwani. Additionally, workplace discrimination results in many well qualified young Hindu men being frustrated and jobless.

Pakistani Christians have a still tougher time. In March 2012 over 100 homes owned by Pakistani Christians, as well as two small churches, were set ablaze by thousands of angry Muslims in Lahore. Sanitary worker and Christian, SawanMasih, was accused of blasphemous remarks in the course of an argument with a Muslim friend. In 2009, a 20,000 strong mob, fired with the notion that some Christian man had destroyed a page of the Quran, burned down 50 Christian homes in the town of Gojra. The village of Shantinagar had been similarly destroyed in 1997.

In September 2013, the double suicide bombings at a Sunday mass at the century-old All Saints Church in Peshawar,left nearly 90 worshippers dead. Imran Khan, the cricketer turned politician and now a resolute defender of Taliban actions, offered condolences and a contorted explanation: it was America’s drone strikes on FATA that had brought about this calamity because the Taliban see all Christians as American agents.

But it is the Shi’ites and Ahmadis who have had a still rawer deal. They had been fully enthusiastic about Pakistan. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, born a Gujrati Shia Muslim, believed that Muslims and Hindus could never live together peacefully but, for some odd reason, thought that Muslims very well could. ChaudhriZafarullah Khan, an Ahmadi leader, was commended by Jinnah for having eloquently argued the Two-Nation theory, and then appointed by him in 1947 as Pakistan’s first foreign minister. Mr Jinnah died early, but Zafarullah Khan lived long enough to see disillusionment. The inevitable had happened: Once the partition was complete, the question of which version of Islam was correct became bitterly contentious. This irresolvable matter lies at the heart of the fratricide that is tearing Pakistan apart.

Until very recently, Pakistan’s Shi’ites did not have the self-image of a religious minority. They had joined Sunnis in supporting Mr Bhutto’s 1974 decision to declare Ahmadis as non-Muslim. But now they are deeply worried as voices from the extreme Sunni right shrilly demand that Shi’ites also be labelled kafirs and Pakistan be declared as a Sunni state headed by an amir-ul-momineen. Tribal areas are convulsed in sectarian warfare: Kurram, Parachinar, and Hangu are killing grounds for both Sunni and Shia, but with most casualties being Shia. Shi’ites, about 20 per cent of the population, have been selectively picked out—often in Gestapo style. In 2012, men in army uniforms stopped four buses bound from Rawalpindi to Gilgit, demanding that all 117 persons on board alight and show their national identification cards. Those with typical Shia names, like Abbas and Jafri, were separated. Minutes later 46 corpses lay on the ground; the earlier massacres of Hazara Shi’ites in Mastung and Quetta had been repeated.

Categories: Asia, Pakistan

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