Pakistan’s appointment of new Military Chief sparks religious controversy

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.

Reacting to the claims, Oscar-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, criticized people for dragging religion into a system that is based on merit.

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.

While, several others relayed the fact that in the past countless Ahmadi officers have served in Pakistan’s top military positions.

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:

On Saturday Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced the appointment of General Qamar Bajwa as new Army Chief despite the controversy surrounding his faith.