Appointment of a new military chief in the largely Muslim country of Pakistan has sparked a religious controversy. The new chief, Lieutenant General Qamar Javed Bajwa who is replacing General Raheel Sharif, has been labeled an ‘Ahmadi’ by the country’s right-wing religious nationalists.
The controversy began on November 22nd, when Pakistani Senator, Sajid Meer, published a video on facebook in which he suggested that one of the four Generals being considered for the position of Army Chief had Ahmadi family members.
Ahmadis are followers of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, which is considered heretic by mainstream Muslims. In 1974 Pakistan passed a constitutional amendment declaring Ahmadis a ‘non-Muslim’ minority. In 1984 Pakistan passed another law which made it a criminal act for Ahmadis to identify as Muslims.
Pakistan’s conservative religious and political circles were sent abuzz over the claims and many demanded that the General’s name be taken off the list. Tahir Ashrafi of Pakistan’s Ulema Council repeated the demand made by Senator Meer.
— H M Tahirashrafi (@TahirAshrafi) November 22, 2016
Reacting to the claims, Oscar-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, criticized people for dragging religion into a system that is based on merit.
— Sharmeen Obaid (@sharmeenochinoy) November 25, 2016
Many of Pakistan’s prominent rights activists also took to social media to express their dismay over misuse of religion as a tool of discrimination.
So PML-N senator Sajid Mir, trying to divide the army on sectarian basis, says that one among the top 4-5 generals is an Ahmadi by faith.
— Ali Salman Alvi (@alisalmanalvi) November 23, 2016
Where does it say that the Chief of Army Staff cannot be an Ahmadi? Are Ahmadis not Pakistani? Is Pakistan Army not a national army?
— Jinnah's Republic (@theRealYLH) November 23, 2016
Sad as it may be, the outrage over a potential Ahmadi COAS misses a basic pt – he got to three stars with the same background.
— cyril almeida (@cyalm) November 24, 2016
Wonder why mullahs are given such agency. And such power that they dictate everything. From foreign policy to COAS appointment. Scary.
— Marvi Sirmed (@marvisirmed) November 25, 2016
Give me an Ahmedi COAS any day, and twice on Friday's.
— Shaan Taseer (@ShaanTaseer) November 23, 2016
While, several others relayed the fact that in the past countless Ahmadi officers have served in Pakistan’s top military positions.
LTG Qamar Bajwa is NOT Ahmadi. but wait. let's suppose he were. so FUCKING what. MJ Akhtar Malik/Abdul Ali Malik were. great officers, both.
— EH (@ejazhaider) November 23, 2016
On November 23rd, within 24 hours of the first video, Senator Meer published another video in which he claimed that he had been assured by civil and military sources that the concerned General, his family and his wife’s family had no Ahmadi relatives.
Since then, Meer’s second claim has been questioned by several Journalists and independent researchers, who maintain that even though General Bajwa himself is not an Ahmadi, his father-in-law is:
@cyalm Not he, but his father in law, is an ahmadi. (Shouldn't matter if he is). What matters is that he is known as a great commander.
— Farhat Javed Rabani (@Farhat_Javed) November 24, 2016
Sajid Mir called Gen Bajwa an Ahmadi because he is married to the niece of Maj Gen Iftikhar Janua Shaheed, hero of Chamb & he was an Ahmadi.
— Shakil Dregoon (@ShakilDregoon) November 26, 2016
On Saturday Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced the appointment of General Qamar Bajwa as new Army Chief despite the controversy surrounding his faith.
Important also to note Nawaz Sharif picked Gen Qamar Bajwa despite vicious campaign over his family's alleged "Ahmedi" connection.
— Shekhar Gupta (@ShekharGupta) November 26, 2016