by Qasim Rashid
March 18, 2021
Last year the U.S. State Department labeled Pakistan a country of particular concern over its increasing persecution of religious minorities.
This label is the State Department’s strongest condemnation under the International Religious Freedom Act, and normally mandates sanctions for the designated country. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo intervened, however, with a presidential waiver to avoid such punishment.
The alliance between the two nations has sent $70 billion in economic and military aid to Pakistan since Pakistan’s founding. If not for the sake of sheer justice, then at least for the sake of protecting American interests, President Joe Biden must hold U.S. ally Pakistan accountable to repeal its discriminatory anti-Ahmadi legislation and actions. While the legislation particularly targets Ahmadi Muslims, it tragically also enables societal discrimination and violence against Pakistan’s Christian, Sikh, Hindu, and Shia communities.
Most recently, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) has intensified the government’s decades-long violent persecution of religious minorities — particularly that of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. For the first time, the PTA has filed a lawsuit against two American citizens who belong to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, seeking to shut down a U.S. based website, trueislam.com. The PTA argues that because Ahmadis built the U.S.-based website, it violates Pakistan’s anti-Ahmadi laws. The PTA applied the same convoluted logic to order Google to remove any app built by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community from the tech giant’s Play store.
Google has, sadly, capitulated to the draconian demands. Sam Brownback, the former U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, has compared Pakistan’s persecution of Ahmadi Muslims to the Chinese dictatorship, exclaiming, “[This is] Pakistan following in the China model.”
A Brief History of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was founded in 1889 by a man named Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who claimed to be the awaited Messiah to reform Muslims, peacefully revive Islam, and reject all forms of religious violence. Despite suffering decades of violent religious persecution, it is well documented that Ahmadi Muslims have maintained their position against all forms of religious violence. Pakistan’s persecution of Ahmadis escalated in 1974, when, in an unprecedented vote, the General Assembly amended the country’s Constitution to formally declare the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community ‘outside the fold of Islam.’
Imagine, for a moment, if the United States passed a constitutional amendment declaring Catholics outside the fold of Christianity? Notwithstanding this absurd amendment, in 1984 Pakistan added Ordinance XX to its penal code, criminalizing any Ahmadi Muslim who proclaims to be a Muslim with arrest and fine. By 1986, Pakistan added Section 295-C, mandating up to and including the death penalty for Ahmadi Muslims.
These draconian laws have predictably left Ahmadi Muslims to languish in apartheid conditions. All books, literature, events, speech, and websites belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Pakistan are criminalized. Pakistan denies Ahmadis free and fair voting and forces Ahmadi Muslims to declare their faith on their passports as a means to prevent them from performing the Hajj pilgrimage. To perform Hajj, a Pakistani citizen must have “Muslim” on their passport for religious affiliation. To obtain a passport with “Muslim” as the religious affiliation, Pakistan requires applicants to complete a form declaring Ahmadi Muslims as “non-Muslim.” Since Ahmadis refuse to declare themselves non-Muslim, they are identified as “Ahmadis,” and thus denied the ability to perform Hajj. In other words, Pakistan’s government has created special ID cards to single out Ahmadis.
These apartheid conditions have led to systemic persecution of Ahmadi Muslims, including mass murder, grave desecration, expulsion of school children for their faith, and a complete lockdown of all religious practice. Pakistan has faced repeated condemnation from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) for its incessant violation of religious freedom, yet the discriminatory laws remain.
The U.S. Must Demand Justice for Ahmadi Muslims
When President Biden repealed the ‘Muslim Ban’ his first day in office, he condemned the ban as “contravening our values, undermin[ing] our national security, jeopardiz[ing] our global network of alliances and partnerships and a moral blight that has dulled the power of our example the world over.” Indeed, we cannot ignore the connection between persecution of religious minorities and collapse of national and economic security. Look no further than the last four years in the United States. The United States has seen historic highs in hate crimes targeting American Muslims, Jews, and Black, Indigenous, and persons of color (BIPOC) individuals — all of which has undermined American national security.
Pakistan’s government has traversed this dangerous road for several decades, suffocating its own national security, and becoming “a safe haven for certain regionally focused terrorist groups,” according to the State Department. Pakistan’s economy also suffers as a consequence. For example, in the 1960s—prior to enacting discriminatory legislation—Pakistan’s economy grew at a rate of 6% per year, double neighboring India’s growth. By the 1990s, as Pakistan was in full swing of enforcing discriminatory legislation and implicitly legitimizing extremist groups, India surpassed Pakistan’s growth, and has never looked back. Major U.S.-based companies have already threatened to leave Pakistan due to its censorship laws.
The persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan is increasing, with yet another innocent Ahmadi gunned down last month in a spate of targeted murders. The U.S.-Pakistan alliance should continue. However, it should not be indiscriminate. If we do not emphatically demand justice of Pakistan’s government to its own citizens, we give a greenlight to not only continue that violent persecution, but also escalate in targeting American citizens. Advancing the U.S.-Pakistan alliance on the principles of justice and protecting religious minorities is imperative for a just, prosperous, and secure future.
Image: LAHORE, PAKISTAN – JULY 16, 2010: Two months after gunmen attacked several Ahmadiyya mosques during prayers, killing 93 people and injuring more than 100 more, an Ahmadi man looks nervously over his shoulder as members of the persecuted Ahmadiyya community listen to the sermon during Friday prayers at the Garhi Shahu mosque on July 16, 2010 in Lahore, Pakistan. The Pakistani Ahmadis, who define themselves as Muslim but could face years in prison if they openly declare or practice their faith, have suffered persecution and discrimination in this country for decades. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)