Sayyedwala: Sunday August 26, 2001: An Ahmadiyya Mosque in town Sayyedwala, District Sheikhupura, about 100 Km west of Lahore, was attacked and destroyed by a violent mob of Hundreds of Orthodox Muslims. The incident occurred during the evening when Ahmadis were watching the live Satellite transmission of their annual convention held in Germany. The mob surrounded the two houses where Ahmadis gathered and started chanting anti-Ahmadiyya slogans full of abuses. Soon some of them headed toward the Ahmadiyya Mosque, ransacked and destroyed it completely, and set it on fire.
Instead of providing protection to small number of Ahmadis in town, police locked them up in the name of protective custody and did nothing to disperse the mob.
The situation remained tense for two days before returning to so-called normal but Ahmadis of Sayyedwala are still under great stress and fear. It is still unclear if a case has been registered or not against the attackers or the mullahs who instigated the mob.
Excerpts from media about the incident are reproduced below:
Ahamdis' place of worship set on fire
LAHORE, Aug 27: Villagers allegedly ransacked a worship place of Ahmadis and set some of its parts on fire in Syedwala, Sheikhupura, about 50km from here, on Sunday night.
Punjab Constabulary deployed in Syedwala: Attack on Ahmadis
LAHORE, Aug 28: Punjab Constabulary was called out in Syedwala, Sheikhupura, on Tuesday to defuse tension that arose after villagers allegedly ransacked a worship place of the Ahmadis on Monday.
Another day, another atrocity
Earlier this week, this newspaper reported yet another atrocity against Ahmadis. A mob of zealots in Sheikhupura district had been goaded by mullahs from the Sipah-i-Sahaba and the Khatm-i-Nabuwat parties to attack a peaceful group of Ahmadis watching a religious TV transmission in their place of worship which was burned down by the frenzied mob.
As usually happens in such cases, those locked up (in protective custody) were the victims, not the criminals. In fact, it is still not clear whether the police have even registered a criminal case against those instigating the fanatics and those who participated in the attack. Apparently, what infuriated the worthies of Syedwalla village was the fact that the Ahmadis were watching the televized address of their spiritual leader, Mirza Tahir.
Ironically, the same issue of this newspaper carried a clarification relating to the system of separate electorates: according to a spokesman of the law ministry, no summary proposing that the system of joint electorates be restored was being moved as had been reported in a section of the press. In fact, I had read this bit of happy news just a day earlier, and was preparing to write a column welcoming this development. In my naivete, I had assumed that this government was following up on its banning of a couple of extremist religious parties by finally enfranchizing our minorities who had been so cruelly marginalized by Zia and his pernicious separation of the minorities from the mainstream.
Incidents like the recent one in Syedwalla are commonplace, and invariably the perpetrators are never touched; indeed, they are regarded as heroes protecting the faith. It is fortunate that none of those attacked was killed; but even if there had been a fatality, one can be sure the murderer would not have been arrested by the police. Such is the state of security for our persecuted minorities.
In the recently concluded local bodies elections, apart from the blatant pressure tactics used by the establishment to ensure positive results in certain constituencies, we had the odd situation where minority candidates could not contest the seats of nazim and naib nazim even in areas where they are in a majority. Thus, Muslims will be running local governments in the few pockets where Hindus or Christians outnumber them. The basis of this travesty is the system of separate electorates.
I was shocked and saddened that Omar Asghar Khan, the minister for local bodies, who supposedly presided over this exercise, did not raise a finger to correct this gross injustice. I have long respected him for his strong advocacy of the underprivileged, and had welcomed his appointment. Alas, power seems to have diluted his sense of justice, and he has opted to take the path of least resistance.
And what shall we say about Shahida Jamil, the minister for law and justice? If her ministry has not moved a summary proposing the end of the separate electorate system, should it not have done so? As the minister for justice, should not Ms Jamil be concerned about the deplorable state of our minorities, and do something to improve it? At the end of the day, it is far easier to strike liberal postures on Islamabad's cocktail circuit than in cabinet meetings.
I have long maintained that by disenfranchizing the minorities, we have effectively removed whatever feeble protection the state of Pakistan provides the disadvantaged. Since non-Muslims are barred from voting for mainstream candidates and parties, they are in turn ignored and neglected by them. And as the local MPs (and now the local governments) see no electoral benefit in interceding with the police and other minions of the state on behalf of the minorities, this reality inevitably weakens their position in society.
Ahmadis are possibly in an even less enviable position than Hindu, Christian and other non-Muslim citizens because they consider themselves Muslims. Without wishing to get into the rights and wrongs of this debate, I can only express my outrage over the fact that these unfortunate people are legally persecuted even for reciting verses or phrases from the Holy Book. Ironically, we are delighted when a (white) foreigner is able to say Assalam Walaikum. Scores of Ahmadis are rotting in jails around the country for having committed this crime.
Our record for human rights, never very bright, has been further tarnished because of our inhumane treatment of the Ahmadis of which the recent violence in syedwalla is only one relatively mild example. Organizations like Amnesty International and the Human rights Commissions regularly document and highlight these transgressions against internationally accepted norms.
Earlier in its tenure, this government had made some refreshingly liberal noises that led the optimists among us to assume that it meant what it said, and that religious extremism would no longer be officially encouraged. But a spate of sectarian killings soon belied this expectation. Even the recent arrests of activists from extremist parties proved to be no more than a stage-managed showpiece as most of them were soon released.
Similarly, the ban on fund-raising by jihadi outfits was illusory as these groups have openly defied this edict. It is this kind of backtracking that has emboldened these small but well-organized and armed gangs. Both politicians and generals have repeatedly demonstrated a distinct yellow streak when it comes to facing their responsibility and putting a stop to the sectarian violence that is destabilizing the country. The basic problem, of course, is that these very armed and dangerous groups are being used to further the establishment's agendas in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
Our rulers refuse to comprehend the basic truth that religious extremism is not divisible: we cannot have sectarian peace and quiet at home while exporting violence beyond our borders. By permitting training camps to function, millions to be collected and volunteers to cross our borders, the government is viewed - both internally and externally - as encouraging and strengthening extremist elements. Whether the activities of these groups is called terrorism or jihad is a matter of semantics: it matters little to the families of those killed and wounded by their actions.
It is high time our rulers and our citizens understood that until we draw a line and take tough action against those persecuting Ahmadis, those gunning down Shias in Pakistan or Hindus in Kashmir, all of us are at risk from the growing menace of intolerance and sectarian violence. General Musharraf has shown that he can talk the talk. But he has yet to demonstrate that he can walk the walk.
Appeasing the fanatics
District administration officials under the new devolution plan who failed to prevent a mob from attacking a place of worship belonging to the Ahmadis in Syedwala, Sheikhupura, last Sunday are now claiming credit for arranging a patch-up between the attackers and the victims.
None of these officials have been reprimanded by higher authorities for their failure to prevent some 400-500 villagers from besieging the baituzzikr where some Ahmadis had gathered to watch a satellite television transmission from Germany. The furious villagers belonging to a majority community who acted at the instigation of two religious leaders from a village mosque ransacked the baituzzikr and set parts of its belongings on fire. The illegal assembly took six hours to carry out its wanton destruction. Mercifully no one died and the minority community people were saved by police.
When some Ahmadis fleeing from their place of worship took refuge in the house of Basharat Ahmad, a community leader, the mob attacked it, too. The harassed families were later taken to Syedwala police station and lodged there in protective custody. The tension created by the mob fury against a handful of Ahmadi families lasted until Monday when the administration started negotiations with the two communities to restore a semblance of peace in the area.
The administration had all the potential to arrest the attackers as it was aided by police and reinforcements from other agencies. It chose to placate the militants instead of following the normal course of law.
Coming as it does in the wake of President Gen Pervez Musharraf's warning to two religious groups suspected of sponsoring sectarian violence, the Syedwala incident mocks the government's avowed commitment to curb fanaticism at all costs. Neither tehsil Nazim nor the administration officials seem to honour the president's pledge. The military government which reversed its decision to bring in a procedural change in the application of the blasphemy law should have done better than just appease a culprit party which took law into its hands to persecute a minority community.
The policy of appeasement has only emboldened the fanatics to have their way in implementing their violent agenda. It should not be helpful in curbing sectarian or communal violence in times to come. Our newspapers and state-controlled electronic media strongly criticized the Indian government when militant Hindus attacked some churches in India some time ago. Those who took India to task for persecuting Christians were of the view that the Indian minorities were under threat from the Hindu majority. How do we compare our performance with that of India vis-a-vis the minorities?
Any objective comparison would show that we, too, are not very tolerant of minorities. Having seen people in mosque congregations being mowed down by Kalashinkov fire a number of times we are in no position to claim a higher pedestal in terms of tolerance.
You are free to go to your temples and mosques... This was the firm pledge held out to us by the Quaid-i-Azam in his inaugural address to the constituent assembly. How well have we translated his words into reality?
Those who were free to go to their places of worship then are certainly not as free and safe as they gather for prayers. We have had situations where Muslims felt unsafe in their mosques and we have had occasions when a minority community was barred from worship by members of the majority community in a show of force.
We blame the West for branding us an intolerant society. Do we believe no one is watching us when we indulge in orgies of violence against our brethren in faith and peaceful citizens belonging to minority communities?
Syedwala incident: role of the police
Thank you very much for a comprehensive and objective coverage of the Syedwala incident in which an Ahmadiya Baituzikar was demolished and partly torched without any provocation whatsoever. Mr. Irfan Husain also deserves our gratitude for reminding the authorities of the duties which they owe to all citizens of Pakistan, irrespective of their faith or creed (Another day, another atrocity. Dawn Sept 1).
As has been pointed out in your coverage of the incident, it could have been very easily prevented if the police had wished to do so. The rioting mob did not come out of the blue. The police came to the Ahmadiya Baituzikar and warned the Ahmadis that their lives were in danger. It got them to vacate it. Then the maulvis started announcing over the loudspeakers of the village mosque, asking the people to form a procession and commit violence against the Ahmadis. If the police had simply stopped these provocative announcements, most probably no mob would have gathered, and the incident would not have taken place.
When the mob reached the Ahmadiya Baituzikar, even then the police remained silent spectators, and allowed the miscreants to tear it down brick by brick and loot and carry away ceiling fans, girders, T-irons and other fixtures they could lay their hands on without let or hindrance.After it demolished the Baituzikar a part of the mob reached a shop owned by an Ahmadi.
Here, too, it was accompanied by the police. The mob was intent on looting the shop. But in that street, there was a non-Ahmadi watchman hired by the people of the locality. He stood up to the crowd and said that as long as he was on guard duty there, he would not allow them to do any looting. The officer in charge of the police party went up to him and advised him not to be a fool and let the crowd do whatever it liked to do, and warned him that the crowd would lynch him if he stood in their way. The brave man refused to accept the police advice and said that he had been engaged to protect property and not to allow it to be looted. And he said that he had a gun and some cartridges with him and he would use all of them if he was obliged to do so. The miscreants realized that discretion was the better part of 'valour' and dispersed peacefully.
It is simply beyond understanding how the courage of a single brave man could achieve what the might and power of the renowned police of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan could not.