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POSTCARD USA: Rabwah: a place for martyrs—Khalid Hasan
The time has come to fight openly and frontally these ignorant and deluded men and their dangerous and utterly un-Islamic conduct and ideas. A country of 150 million essentially decent and tolerant people cannot be allowed to go over the abyss towards which it is being pushed
The British Parliamentary Human Rights Commission led by that old campaigner Lord Avebury, who has never failed to back and fight on behalf of the world’s good causes, has just this week issued an indictment of Pakistan for its deplorable treatment of the Ahmadiyya community. After reading the report of the three-member delegation that went to Pakistan late last year for an on-spot investigation, no one can possibly take General Pervez Musharraf’s claims of “enlightened moderation” too seriously. After all, what the report lists is happening under the General’s nose though, I believe, not at his instance. But since he is Mr Pakistan, and plans to remain that till the cows come home, the responsibility for what the report lists in some detail is his and on one else’s.
Last year Lord Avebury, who is the vice chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group (PHRG), organised a three-member mission to Pakistan which visited Rabwah, met government officials in Islamabad and recorded testimony. The ensuing report should make us feel ashamed of the direction in which a compliant or complicit, but certainly an uncaring government has allowed the country to go. Our image today is that of an intolerant society, where the radicals have a free run and where civilised people are afraid to speak up for fear of reprisals. Jihadist Islam has hijacked Jinnah’s Pakistan. The time has, thus, come to fight openly and frontally these ignorant and deluded men and their dangerous and utterly un-Islamic conduct and ideas. A country of 150 million essentially decent and tolerant people cannot be allowed to go over the abyss towards which it is being pushed.
In a foreword Lord Avebury writes that PHRG has observed with concern the rising tide of intolerance and fanaticism in Pakistan, and its dire effects on the rights and freedoms of the Ahmadiyya community. He recalls that in the early days of independence, it was possible for talented Ahmadis like Sir Zafrulla Khan, Pakistan’s first Foreign Minister, or Professor Abdus Salam, the Nobel Prizewinning physicist, to rise to the top of their professions. But today they face multiple threats to life and property, are effectively disfranchised and prevented from holding public gatherings, denied access to higher education and barred from entry to public employment except at the lowest levels. He recalls attending the launch of President Musharraf’s human rights programme in Islamabad, and expressing satisfaction on hearing of his intention to mitigate the worst effects of the blasphemy law, but this “signal of reform was greeted by an outburst of hostile invective from the small but vociferous anti-Ahmadi lobby, and the concession was withdrawn.” There has been no let-up since on the progressive tightening of the screws, or any mitigation in the flood of hate speech directed against the Ahmadis by fanatic groups.
The report notes that out of a total of 60 blasphemy FIRs recorded in 2005 against Ahmadis, 25 were in Rabwah alone, indicating that the misuse of the law is as severe in Rabwah as in the rest of Pakistan. Evidence was seen by the mission that the Ministry of Interior caused local police to issue proceedings against Ahmadis in Rabwah, as elsewhere, for action, including distribution of literature, propagation of their faith, and collection of funds. The principal newspaper published by the community was closed down. The community also suffers more severely in Rabwah because of the presence of a Khatme Nabuwwat mosque and a madrassa, which regularly incite hatred against the Ahmadis, leading to systematic intimidation and violence. The mullah who runs these two outfits, acknowledged to the three-member team that his followers chanted ‘Death to the Ahmadis!’, but pretended that the attack was on beliefs not persons.
Clearly, since Ahmadis are unable to vote — and are not even registered since that would mean that they deny their faith — they play no part in the local government of Rabwah, but neither are they to be found among local police or officials. The evidence shows that hardly anything is spent on public services in the town, though Ahmadis themselves club together to repair roads and drains. In Rabwah, as elsewhere, schools were nationalised by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. They were denationalised in 1996, but in Rabwah, although the Ahmadis bought the schools back, they remain in government ownership and in a derelict and dangerous state.
Lord Avebury writes, “This report makes clear the precariousness of life for Ahmadis in Rabwah, starved of opportunities for education and employment, menaced by the Khatme Nabuwwat and their rent-a crowd mobs bussed in from miles around, prevented from buying land in the town they developed. They are deprived of the right to manifest their religion in worship, observance, practice and teaching, as laid down in the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and they are constantly under threat of prosecution under the infamous blasphemy laws. This place is not a safe haven for Ahmadis fleeing persecution elsewhere in Pakistan; it is a ghetto, at the mercy of hostile sectarian forces whipped up by hate-filled mullahs and most of the Urdu media. The authors of this report expose the reality of a dead-end, to which even more victims should not be exiled.”
To get an idea of the cooperation received from government, the report says, “Pakistan Ministry of the Interior rebuffed repeated requests for an interview. Requests were made in the weeks before travelling to Pakistan and whilst the mission were travelling.” The report does not say this, but I know that had it not been for High Commissioner Maleeha Lodhi in London, no visas would have been issued to the three-member Group. The report notes that popular sentiment in Pakistan has become increasingly hostile to Ahmadis. A senior government adviser, who did not wish to be named, explained how the population of Pakistan has become sensitised to Ahmadis since a spate of anti-Ahmadi violence in 1953. The Group was told of the vernacular press as having become virulently anti-Ahmadi. State television contains broadcasts of anti-Ahmadi rhetoric, including phrases such as “Ahmadis deserve to die.” Even in the traditionally liberal English language press, religious freedom is becoming harder to defend as journalists increasingly fear attack if they defend Ahmadis.
The report says the government has done little to alleviate the problems faced by Ahmadis: it would be ‘political suicide’ to deal with the Ahmadi problem directly and politicians will not use the example of the Ahmadis to make the case for religious tolerance. The nameless government spokesman quoted earlier told the Group that it is now beyond the power of government to reverse the situation for Ahmadis. The result is that there is no party or institution prepared to lead the debate on Ahmadis in Pakistan and, therefore, a change in public attitude is not anticipated in the near future. Nothing is more indicative of the government’s double-facedness than that it first demanded and received Ra. 1.5 crore from the Ahmadiyya community for the return of its nationalised institutions and then neither returned them to their true owners nor refunded the money.
So much for President Musharraf’s “enlightened moderation” then.
Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is khasan2 6 cox.net