The Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan is passing through a perilous period of attention and scorn. There is a relentless campaign by religious extremists harassing and targeting Ahmadis. This is not a new phenomenon for the Ahmadiyya Community, however, in the recent past this drive has intensified many fold.
Urdu newspaper Nawa-e-Waqt recently published a paid advertisement by the Ahmadiyya Community and later due to sheer bigotry and pressure by religious extreme elements published an apology for printing it. The advertisement was a customary 6th September – Martyrs Day – remembrance declaration commemorating recipients of Nishan-e-Haider besides various Ahmadi soldiers of the past. The advertisement was clearly a mark of respect and an attempt to show integration and ultimate contribution of Ahmadis in the past who sacrificed their lives for the cause and defence of Pakistan. The retraction by the Urdu paper is extremely demoralizing adding to the destructive mindset prevalent in society.
(میر تقی میر کا مصرعہ ہے: سبز ہے رونے سے میرے گوشہ گوشہ دشت کا)
There is a line from a couplet of Mir Taqi Mir’s Ghazal: “Every corner of the desert becomes green because of my wailing”. In Ghazal’s context, it plainly means my misery causes happiness. The hatred propagated against Ahmadis causing misery does satisfy many.
During the first few weeks of the PTI government it took some effort to take stock of the financial and economic situation of the country. While setting up the various teams and groups to address the core issues it was pleasing to note that a renowned Pakistani origin economist and academic Dr Atif Rehman Mian of Princeton University, New Jersey was included in the Economic Advisory Council. Besides him there were 17 other members chosen for the Council including two Pakistani origin economists associated with two premium institutions in the US and UK.
Dr Mian’s work focuses on the connections between finance and the macro economy, a desired policy area for Pakistan (Princeton University, 2017). The International Monetary Fund (IMF) identified Dr Mian as one of the 25 young economists who it expects will shape the world’s thinking about the global economy in the future, a great acclaim.
However, in his native Pakistan Dr Mian’s Ahmadi faith became a bizarre and yet understandable issue perpetuated by numerous religious parties including PTI’s own membership. Initially the Information Minister Mr Fawad Chaudhry admirably defended his selection and with seemingly clear conviction snubbed the religious bigotry. But this was short lived. Dr Mian was asked on the first day of the ECA meeting to relinquish his membership. This was another highly dispiriting and disheartening decision with deeper consequences which may not be apparent to the government as of now.
It is appalling that our current leadership and the religious clergy misinform public about Ahmadis. The laws do not permit for the Community to provide a rebuttal on all such allegations which are propagated every day to incite hatred. The learned scholars of Pakistan history know well about the contribution of Ahmadis in not only establishing Pakistan as a nation but also in science, technology, public service, medicine and other professions. Among them was another renowned Ahmadi with economics expertise, Mirza Muzaffar Ahmad, more well known as M. M. Ahmad. He was pivotal in negotiating the finances for both Mangla and Tarbela Dams. He ran one of the most successful 5-year plan in Pakistan’s history. He was a key player who provided opportunity for the US to establish relations with China by introducing Henry Kissinger to Chinese leadership. He had immense contributions in economic policy areas which had profound impact till this day.
The removal of Dr Atif Mian sets a prejudicial and harmful precedence where removing an Ahmadi from any government run institution based on his or her faith was made an example before the nation. The religious intolerance was given a new stage for people in position to act by firing any Ahmadi from their job at the mere reason of their faith. There is no other meaning to this action. This has many repercussions for both nation and the beleaguered Ahmadiyya Community of Pakistan.
The PTI government inadvertently or perhaps deliberately abandoned safeguarding the rights of Ahmadis who otherwise as citizens of the nation are guaranteed safeguards against discrimination through the article 27 of the constitution. This will lead to increased vigilante behaviour by countless intolerant sections of society and numerous extremist elements spread across the country. This may result in more murders, destruction of Ahmadi properties, businesses and worship places. The recent history is replete with such incidents. Such action will add to this fire of hatred. I assume PTI government may be more interested in political manoeuvring, appeasing its allied religious supporters to reclaim seats in the upcoming byelections. Nevertheless, it is regretful.
The government has also given unchecked space to the anarchist religious elements of society who propagate regressive, ignorant and downright violent philosophies in the name of Islam. The retraction of Dr Mian’s name will lead to more assertive conduct and control by religious parties and the extreme religious elements within PTI. This will lead to continued divisions and discord in Pakistan which is, as we know, a country of 220 million people with nearly 30 distinct languages and dozens of religious denominations and faiths. The majority denominations of Brelvis and Deobandis will compete for space with Shias and other smaller denominations. This competition is bound to result in violence especially when government also relinquishes its responsibility enforcing fairness among its citizens. Ahmadis have been on the receiving end of this violence for so long and are witness to its deep and profound impact. I can only suggest with sincere intentions that we must move away from such dangerous inclinations of religious hate and intolerance. Such behaviour is not part of the State of Medina rather it has parallels with the Nazi Germany. This is not just an Ahmadi issue and we must realise the ordinary Pakistanis will also see more violence to their detriment.
I do not despair for my fellow Ahmadis though as I know well that through our community’s spirit we will re-emerge more resilient. Ahmadis are almost 100% literate in Pakistan where overall literacy is barely 30%. Ahmadis have always put extraordinary emphasis in higher education over the past so many decades. Ahmadi youth will find their way despite persecution and hate. Educated youth, who are well guided, are bound to excel in their pursuits of learning various professions, though limited in positively contributing to nation’s progress in current atmosphere.
The narrative of rooting out corruption was a misguided priority as we are finding out. It is almost impossible to recover the stolen money except stopping further corruption by apprehending the corrupt politicians. The PTI leadership should rather return to its more idealistic policy priorities of fairness, equality and justice. It is our Prime Minister’s responsibility to show leadership and re-educate the masses who have been otherwise taught hatred.
Ahmadis will always remain loyal and committed to Pakistan’s progress. Dr Mian has also shown this sentiment in his statements after leaving the membership of the Economic Council. It is government’s responsibility to tackle religious extremism head on, and transform this miserable and vile atmosphere to a better one.
Despite the abysmal character shown by many politicians and their followers in the past few days it was delightful to observe other Pakistanis showing solidarity with Dr Atif Mian and the Community. Thus, displaying strong conscience, humanity and magnanimity of character. The American Civil rights activist Dr Martin Luther King Jr has reportedly said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that”. Let us seek this love for the sake of Pakistan. I hope and pray for the success of the Economic Council too. I expect it can fulfill its mandate ultimately materializing in a progressive Pakistan despite the removal of some eminent economists. Long live Pakistan.