Rabwah sits it out
By Shehar Bano Khan
THE dusty, uneven and broken roads in Rabwah, a town at a distance of 150km from Lahore in the district of Jhang, are no different from those in other tehsils and zilas of the area. Its shared similarity of rustic ruralisation is also too strong to be ignored. But that is where the commonality ends between Rabwah, home to more than 65,000 Ahmadis, and the rest of Jhang.
Setting it apart from Jhang as well as from the rest of the country is the strange political dissociation from the Feb 18 general election. Unlike the adjoining town of Chiniot, where electioneering three days before the final showdown is straining to be politely reasonable, the streets in Rabwah bear no election symbols or life size portraits of political contenders. For the people of Rabwah, more than 96 per cent of whom are Ahmadis, it’s life as usual, making it the only town in Pakistan where people will not go to the polls.
The decision, not based on any demand for the restoration of the pre-November 3 judiciary or the boycott call of the APDM (All Parties Democratic Movement), shows the extent of disillusionment among the people of Rabwah.
This politically isolated town of 15,000 acres will not be sending any legislators to the national or provincial assembles. The Ahmadi community has decided to boycott the elections, once again, in keeping with the decision taken en masse since they were declared non-Muslims through an act of parliament in 1974.
“No political party has ever raised our concerns. Our children are afraid to attend schools because the buildings are falling. Last year the Government Girls High School’s roof fell. Go and take a look at the Government Nusrat Girls’ High School which is in bad shape and has been declared by the local government as a dangerous building,” says Rahmat, a shopkeeper selling DVDs and light weight electronics.
Derelict, rundown schools, non-availability of water, potable and otherwise, acute shortage of electricity, faulty telecommunications system and absence of development work are just some of the major problems faced by the Rabwah’s Ahmadis. Despite the renewal of a joint electorate system announced by President Pervez Musharraf in May 2002, a separate electoral list was made for the Ahmadis requiring them to sign a declaration about the Prophet’s (PBUH) finality. Upon refusal to sign the certificate their names were to be deleted from the joint electoral rolls and added to a supplementary list of voters in the same electoral area as non-Muslims.
The Chief Executive Order No 15 of 2002 — published in the Gazette of Pakistan, issued in Islamabad on June 17, 2002, and titled “Conduct of General Elections (Second Amendment) Order 2002” — created a separate supplementary list of voters in which Ahmadi voters were placed as non-Muslims.
“We wrote a letter to the prime minister and the Chief Election Commissioner hoping to draw their attention to the unfairness of disallowing us to participate in the general election by providing a separate electoral role for us. How can the government claim that it has scrapped the separate electorate system? Are we not part of this country and pay taxes? But nobody is interested in listening to us,” says Saleem-ud-din, director for public affairs for the Jamaat-i-Ahmadiyya.
“All minorities except Ahmadis are on the common list. The list was drawn especially for us. How could we participate in elections then?” Ensuring the “disenfranchisement” of 1.5 million Ahmadis living in Pakistan the Election Commission issued an order vide No F 1(6)/2001-Cord) of January 17, 2007.
“Even the forms kept for us in the 2002 elections had a different colour. We will keep boycotting till such time as we are recognised as equal citizens of this county. If you read the history of partition you will see our struggle for an independent Pakistan was no less than other communities. But since the time of Ziaul Haq laws, persecuting us has become part of this country’s Constitution,” says a high ranking Ahmadi on condition of anonymity.
Waqas — an active member of the Jamaat-i-Ahmadiyya, whose grandfather migrated in 1947 from Qadian in East Punjab to Rabwah and later to Rawalpindi — is not hopeful of better times. “There will never be a time when Ahmadis will become politically active in this country. The provision of a supplementary electoral list is designed to keep us out of the political process. That’s why I have shifted to Canada and there are several others like me who’ve left Pakistan for good. If we are denied enfranchisement why should we stay here for persecution? Anyway, I don’t think these elections are credible.”