Pakistan’s Original Sin

FP Asia:  The fields of Hampshire are usually associated with blazing crops of rapeseed and fragrant lavender. But on the final weekend of August, over 30,000 Ahmadi Muslims from all over the world converged on Oakland Farm in East Worldham to attend Jalsa Salana, the biggest Islamic convention in the United Kingdom. Abid Khan, the press secretary of the Ahmadi community, said by phone that the purpose of the gathering is “the promotion of peace, tolerance, brotherhood, and advancing true Islamic ideals.” The conviviality of proceedings and numerous banners emblazoned with the community’s motto (love for all, hatred for none) epitomized this sentiment.

Meanwhile, scenes of a very different nature were playing out in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, as the country plunged deeper into its latest crisis. Anti-government protestors, led by firebrand cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri and cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan, stormed the headquarters of the national television channel, PTV, causing it to be taken off the air. After a fortnight of political deadlock in which demonstrators demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over allegations of election fraud, things escalated dramatically with the attack on the state broadcaster and a march on Sharif’s residence, resulting in fierce clashes with police. With neither side willing to compromise, the present turmoil shows no signs of abating.

Just over 40 years ago, in the second constitutional amendment, the government of then-Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. It was a moment of great significance in the history of the country, and it led Pakistan and the community it has long sought to ostracize down divergent paths. It also set off a chain of events that continue to shape the political and social landscape of the nation to this day.

The founding members of Pakistan, led by their quaid, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, were secularists in their principles and ideals, yet throughout the independence movement their chief rallying cry was that of Islam. Religion was the common thread by which they were able to unite Muslims of different ethnicities, provincial lines, languages, and cultures. It also augmented the two-nation theory advanced by Jinnah to the British, by which he argued that the chasm between the Muslims and Hindus of the subcontinent was so vast that they could not feasibly be expected to live together. As soon as the country was formed, the role of Islam in the new polity assumed a prominent position in the national debate, and religious groups like the Jamaat-e-Islami, which had originally opposed its creation, seized the opportunity to advance their own theocratic version of statehood. A symbolic victory was struck as early as 1949, when the Objectives Resolution — a preamble to Pakistan’s first constitution — admitted certain religious concessions.

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