June 10, 2016

Can Pakistan Reform? 

By Athar Ahmad Bajwa, UK

Many countries of the world claim to represent democratic ideals, where the Government exists to serve the people and grant their citizens universally agreed rights and freedoms, including religious freedom. But the reality is that such claims are more fiction than fact.

In context of the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims, Pakistan fares the worst. I have lived more than twenty years of my life in Pakistan and I know first-hand the extreme circumstances of daily life simply on grounds of my beliefs as an Ahmadi Muslim.

Most worrying is the widespread acceptance, as a result of hate campaigns by religious clerics (Mullahs), that to persecute Ahmadis is a religious duty. The issue is made worse by the constitution and laws that directly target Ahmadis to deny them their human rights and in this regard Pakistan is the only country in the world that has declared a group of its own citizens as non-Muslims.

I often wonder if all the energy and planning that has gone into persecuting religious communities in Pakistan could have been used for positive action then what a great country Pakistan could have been. It certainly has the potential but sadly it is on a very slippery slope and from what I have seen things are getting worse each day. People live in the shadow of persecution, from school to college, college to your professional career and from mosque to graveyard it is everywhere. Mosques of Ahmadi Muslims are being demolished, graveyards are being desecrated, Ahmadis are denied the right to vote and children are taught that Ahmadis are infidels who are liable to be killed. That the authorities signal tacit support or simply turn a blind eye means that extremists act with impunity. Just last month, on 4 May, a mosque in Chakwal was attacked by religious extremists, and with the help of law enforcement agencies it had its minarets torn down, because the law does not allow Ahmadi Muslims mosques to be called mosques or for Ahmadis to ‘pose as Muslims’. With such blatant disregard for human rights it is the law that needs to be torn down, not our minarets.

This year the authorities again sought to ban Ahmadi publications. One must ask what is it about the books of the Ahmadi community – books that extol the promotion of loyalty, freedom and peace –  that religious clerics and the authorities deem problematic, especially when many of the Mullah’s own publications openly promote hate? The wider persecution of Christians, Shias, Hindus of others only adds to the terrible state of affairs.

Pakistan, my homeland, has so much to offer the world. It faces challenges no doubt but in such situations you need to harness your talent and empower your best and brightest to serve the country. To truly flourish it must have faith in rather than determine the faith of its citizens. That is vision that Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, had for the country and it is high time that its leaders move beyond lip service to make that vision a reality for all Pakistanis.

Athar was born in Pakistan completed his education in Lahore where he won 2012 award for emerging journalist of the year at Daily Nai Baat (presented by the late Majeeed Nizami, Chief Editor Daily Nawae Waqt). Athar now resides in the UK and writes on contemporary issues, primarily for Urdu media.