One of the most urgent challenges confronting Naya Pakistan is the safeguarding of minorities; especially those from the Ahmadi community. A good place to start is offering demonstrations of solidarity that go beyond pledges of supporting rights for everyone. After all, the playing field in this regard is anything but level.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has dismissed the latest spate of violence involving this beleaguered group as not being religiously motivated. He may be partly right. For towards the end of last week, an incident that resulted in six Ahmadi youths being (non-fatally) shot began, by all accounts, as a petty dispute over a dead chicken.
Yet when it comes to Muslim and non-Muslim minorities here in Pakistan the threat of communal violence is never far away. Indeed, Thursday evening’s clashes ended with the burning down of an Ahmadi place of worship. And almost inevitably there were conflicting reports as to whether or not the police stood idly by as tensions escalated. Nevertheless, one positive development is that more than 100 people have since been booked on charges including: “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs” (295-A).
Be that as it may, the new government needs to stand up and speak out
against anti-Ahmadi violence; wherever it may occur and whatever the original trigger may be. After all, this persecuted group remains the most vulnerable to blasphemy allegations. According to a 2017 annual report compiled by the community itself, at least 77 of its members were picked up under discriminatory religious laws for that year. At the time of publication, nine remained in custody on faith-related charges while four were killed in hate crimes.
Washing collective hands of responsibility therefore will simply not do. It was uncalled for in the run-up to the elections when an Ahmadi place of worship was deliberately targeted by a PTI member, among others. Back then the party’s top leadership claimed to be unaware of the individual’s status. Fast-forward to the present and the PTI, now in government, is offering similar equivocations. Even as failure to denounce communal violence ultimately serves to legitimise it.
We therefore stand with all Pakistan’s minorities. In the sincere hope that Naya Pakistan will prove to be considerably more than the local equivalent of “all lives matter”. *
Published in Daily Times, August 26th 2018.