On December 27, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto held a rally at Liaqat Bagh in Rawalpindi, the venue named after the country’s first Prime Minister, Liaqat Ali Khan, who was defeated at this very location during a rally in 1951.After an emotional speech, BB prepared to leave the venue, and emerged from her bomb-proof vehicle to wave to her supporters. Shots were fired at her, and a suicide bomb was detonated at once following the shooting. She was rushed to the hospital where she died.
She ascended to prominence after the execution of her father, ex-prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, at the hands of the brutal military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq. As an impassioned opponent of Zia’s regime, she was lionized as an emblem of Pakistan’s democratic struggle. Benazir Bhutto was a powerful symbol of feminine resistance and resilience. Her most important positive legacy was perhaps her strident opposition to the military rule of Zia-al-Haq and Pervez Musharraf. Her determination to return to face elections was a significant effort to strengthen the democratic forces in Pakistan. The decision proved to be fatal as it took her life, but if a democratic system consolidates and the military refrains from coups in the future, she could be claimed as one of the key leaders who made that possible.
Benazir Bhutto inherited a bitterly polarized Pakistan left by General Zia-ul-Haq. Nothing was served to remove the restrictions placed on the Ahmadi minority. She could not remove the sharia laws put forward by Zia’s regime, or the blasphemy law which hurts the minorities in Pakistan even today.
The Ahmadi community has long been persecuted in Pakistan. Since 1953, when the first post-independence anti-Ahmadi riots broke out, the relatively little number of Ahmadis in Pakistan have lived under threat. Between 1953 and 1973, this persecution was infrequent, but in 1974 a new wave of anti-Ahmadi disturbances spread across Pakistan. On September 6, 1974, a constitutional amendment came in to affect which explicitly deprived Ahmadis of their identity as Muslims.
In 1984, Pakistan amended its penal code, granting legal status to five ordinances that explicitly targeted religious minorities, including a law against blasphemy; a law punishing defiling the Quran; a prohibition against insulting the wives, family, or companions of the Prophet of Islam; and two laws specifically restricting the activities of Ahmadis. On April 26, 1984, General Zia-ul-Haq issued these last two laws as part of Martial Law Ordinance XX, which amended Pakistan’s Penal Code, sections 298-B and 298-C.
Ordinance XX undercut the natural actions of religious minorities generally, but struck at Ahmadis in particular by prohibiting them from indirectly or directly posing as a Muslim. In addition, Ordinance XX prohibited Ahmadis from declaring their faith publicly, propagating their faith, building mosques, or getting the call for Muslim prayer.
Elections held under Zia-ul-Haq in 1985 reversed universal voting rights and introduced a system of separate electorates that required non-Muslims to register as a separate category and vote for non-Muslim candidates. To vote, the Ahmadis had to file as non-Muslims. Since then, Ahmadis have in practice been denied the right to vote in local, provincial, and national elections.
In 2002, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf abolished the separate electorate system and restored the original joint electorate scheme with one major amendment. Through an executive order, he created a separate category for Ahmadis. Executive Order No. 15 states that elections for the members of the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies shall be declared on the basis of a joint electorate, but the status of Ahmadis was to remain unchanged. As a result, Pakistani citizens have been moved to a single electoral list, leaving only Ahmadis on a non-Muslim list. The new Election Act 2017 retains the provisions affecting the status of the Ahmadis. If anyone raises an objection against a particular voter identifying them as non-Muslim, the election commission can summon the individual and ask that they declare they are not Ahmadi or be put on a supplementary special voter list.It was reported in Human Rights Watch that an Ahmadi can only vote if he acknowledges that he is a non-Muslim, and that violates the very basic tenet of an Ahmadi’s faith.
The issue of abducting and forcefully converting Hindu girls in several districts of Sindh province was taken up in the Sindh Assembly, where a resolution was debated and unanimously passed after it was modified over objections of certain lawmakers that it should not be restricted to Hindu girls because, girls irrespective of their faiths should be protected from being kidnapped and forcibly converted in Sindh
Forced Conversion bill:Article 20 of the Constitution guarantees religious freedom.
On July 16, 2019, the issue of abducting and forcefully converting Hindu girls in several districts of Sindh province was taken up in the Sindh Assembly, where a resolution was debated and unanimously passed after it was modified over objections of certain lawmakers that it should not be restricted to Hindu girls because, girls irrespective of their faiths should be protected from being kidnapped and forcibly converted in Sindh.
However on October 8, 2019, the Provincial Assembly of Sindh rejected the bill criminalizing forced religious conversions. This was the second attempt at enacting an anti-conversion law in the Sindh province.In December 2016 the Provincial Assembly passed a similar bill, but on the insistence of the provincial government, the governor did not assent to it.
The governor Sindh reportedly returned the bill to the assembly, calling for them to revisit it. He had primarily raised objections over the clause that denounced the conversion of small girls and said the practice should be stopped, stating, when the fourth Caliph Ali Ibn e Abi Talib can convert to Islam at a young age, why can’t Hindu girls?
The governor’s criticisms refer to the “Age of Conversion,” which forbids children from converting to a different religion while they are minors. No individual shall be deemed to have changed their religion until they attain the age of majority, which is 18 years of age.
A request to the Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari
On the evening of the 12th death anniversary of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, I would like to request you to look into these very important issues which are related to the peace of the province and the country both. I would like to remind you that the honour killing bill was presented by PPP’s Sughra Imam in 2014 and passed unanimously from the parliament during PMLN’s last government. I hope Sindh province should hold the lead to create harmony between the majority Muslims and the minorities through legislation.
At a remembrance ceremony in London for Salman Taseer, the governor of the Punjab province who was killed by his own security guard, you said;
To the Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan, we will defend you. Those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first.
I hope Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s legacy flourishes, may you lead the provincial and federal parliaments for the rights of minorities.
Long live Pakistan.
The writer is a traveller and freelance writer based in UK