Sidra Insar Chaudhary
Last month the government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) decided to include the Ahmadis, a constitutionally declared religious minority, in the National Commission for Minorities (NCM). Soon after the decision was announced, all hell broke loose. Religious political parties on the right started using it to gain political advantage by spreading false information regarding the decision.
The party of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Jamiat Ulma Islam Fazl (JUI-F) took the lead and started running vile trends against PTI and its leadership on social media sites. Sensing an opportunity to undermine their rival, soon other parties like PMLN, JI, and PPP also joined forces with Maulana and turned the heat on the controversy. For days, anti-PTI trends remained on top of social media sites with outrageous claims of declaring Imran Khan as a ‘pawn of Israel and Ahmadis’ who wants to ‘destroy Islam and Pakistan.’ Paid social media cells of political parties even attacked the family of PM Imran. A post on social media by a PMLN supporter asked, “how a person who cannot even make his own children Muslim going to make Pakistan a welfare Islamic state.”
It is important to know the origin of this absurd claim. It started in 2013 when, fearing a humiliating defeat by Imran Khan’s PTI in his native stronghold of KP province, Maulana issued a fatwa declaring it to be ‘haram’ to vote for Imran Khan or his party’s candidates. He called Imran Khan to be an “agent of the west, Jewish lobby, and Ahmadis.” When Maulana was asked for the rationale behind his fatwa, he said: “proof of Imran Khan being an agent of Jews is that I am saying so, I am a righteous person so whatever I say is true.” Last year as well, when Maulana held a failed sit-in against the PTI government, many followers of his repeated these same claims – often on loudspeakers.
JUI and other religious groups misinformed public that by inducted Ahmadis in NCM PTI is declaring them to be Muslims. Ahmadi issue first came to light in 1953 when anti-Ahmadi demonstrations spread across the province of Punjab supported by many religious groups. In 1974 again as a result of large-scale protests by Islamist parties, religious groups, and trade unions demanding Ahmadis to be declared non-Muslim, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto declared Ahmadi or Qadiyani community issue will be put before the National Assembly for debate. On 7th September 1974, as a result of the second constitutional amendment, the Ahmadis were declared a non-Muslim minority.
Therefore, it makes no sense that the constitution can be overturned by inclusion in a commission. In reality, the inclusion in the Commission for Minorities would’ve cemented the status of Ahmadis as non-Muslims and it would’ve helped Pakistan’s image in the international community as a country that considers and takes care of its minority citizens in the same way as it does for the majority. Ahmadis, as a non-Muslim minority, are the citizens of Pakistan and they enjoy the same rights as other citizens.
Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah famously said: “In any case, Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State — to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non- Muslims — Hindus, Christians, and Parsis — but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.” Hence the state must look after its minority citizens. How can it declare its citizens as traitors?
Ever since Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal, the use of social media to spread fake and misleading news and information for political gains has been under debate in intellectual circles of the developed world. However, this issue is much more severe in the developing world where there seem to be no barriers to stop false information. For Instance, in India during last year’s election, the ruling BJP party spread fake news on WhatsApp against Muslims. In consequence, many Muslims were lynched and burnt alive. Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, announced special features to combat hate speech and fake news. Time has shown that the measures announced at the time are indeed of little use in countries like Pakistan and India where religious fanatics can spread hate with ease.
As per the latest news, the PTI government has succumbed to the political pressure and reversed its decision to include Ahmadis in National Commission for Minorities. The real tragedy here is that even the non-religious parties like PPP and the PMLN who have announced not to use religion for political gains have gone back from their promise. Both parties also supported Maulana in his religiously motivated sit-in against Imran khan where he demanded the resignation of the PM because he was not a Muslim anymore. Pakistan cannot fight religious bigotry and become a truly inclusive country unless non-religious parties stop using religion against political rivals. Religious groups in Pakistan have always taken advantage of emotions and ideological sentiments in their battle against rationality and most of the time they have won. As US senator Susan Collins said that “we must always remember that when passions are most inflamed, that fairness is most in jeopardy.”