The sufferings of the Ahmadis are not confined to killings and destruction of their property. Whole generations of their young men and women have been forced to stay imprisoned within their mental recesses
Forty years ago Zulfikar Ali Bhutto claimed credit for solving the 90-year-old problem relating to the status of the Ahmadiya community. History has not ruled in his favour, for the constitutional amendment adopted by parliament on September 7, 1974, declaring the Ahmadis to be outside the fold of Islam, only aggravated the problem.
Time has also proved wrong the late Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani who had declared, on the eve of the parliament’s session that adopted the Second Amendment to the Constitution of 1973, that the Ahmadis were being declared non-Muslim to save their lives. From the day the amendment was passed the Ahmadis have been becoming more and more vulnerable. Regardless of the identity of the men who have killed hundreds of Ahmadis since 1974, the state’s culpability cannot be denied.
The agitation against the Ahmadis started soon after Mirza Ghulam Ahmad had formulated his creed and the killing of Ahmadis was reported not only in India but also in Afghanistan in the 1920s. However, the campaign against the Ahmadis was confined largely to Punjab -- the Ahmadis’ main recruiting ground -- and where Ahmadi landlords/farmers attracted the hostility of their fellow agriculturists and similar was the outcome of the scramble for the few jobs available in government services. Every economic gain by the Ahmadis was attributed to British patronage and the campaign against them was given an anti-colonial flavour.
However, anti-Ahmadi feelings were limited to small religious groups, the Ahrars being the most prominent and consistent Ahmadi-baiters. When an Ahmadi was executed in Kabul the incident was denounced from the Muslim League platform. It was possible for Allama Iqbal to accept the head of the Ahmadiya community as an associate in the committee formed to help the Kashmiri Muslims against the Dogra atrocities. And Sheikh Abdullah saw no harm in finding solace in an Ahmadi-dominated mosque in Srinagar when the keepers of the main mosque did not like to welcome him.
Subsequently, the Allama ended his relations with the Ahmadis and denounced them in strong terms but nothing prevented him from appointing his Ahmadi nephew as a guardian to his small son. In 1931, the All-India Muslim League invited Ch. Zafarullah Khan to preside over its annual session and though a few agitators staged a demonstration against him outside the pandal the participants of the meeting were not bothered. Right up to the partition, the Muslim League overlooked divisions within the Muslim population and Ahmadis contributed to its human and material resources. The main thing is that the Ahmadis were not prevented from joining mainstream parties, nor were they barred from social intercourse with the major Muslim groups or family-to-family contacts.
The Ahrars, who had had a love-hate relationship with the Muslim League, did not reconcile themselves to their complete ouster from the political stage during 1945-47. In the early years of independence, they tried to mend their fences with some League leaders, if not with the party. In the 1951 election in Punjab, they offered to support the Muslim League candidates, except for the Ahmadis among them. They continued to be friendly with the Muslim League leaders after the polls as, it is said, no Ahmadi had been elected on the League ticket.
These contacts came handy to Mumtaz Daultana when he decided to challenge the Nazimuddin government by whipping up anti-Ahmadi sentiment in 1953. The Ahrars were only too ready to beat the Muslim League with the stick (religious frenzy) that the latter had used for pushing them into wilderness, as Syed Ataullah Shah Bukhari himself put it.
The result was not only the army’s awakening to the possibilities of military rule in the country, the affair marked a second crucial step, after the adoption of the Objectives Resolution, towards turning Pakistan into a theocracy.
Even before the 1953 riots, the campaign against the Ahmadis was taking a rising toll of their lives. The government was, however, not unmindful of its obligation to stop the attacks on Ahmadis and the hate campaign against them, especially against the holders of high offices. It was possible for the Punjab governor, Sirdar Abdur Rab Nishtar, to tell the administration in 1950:
"Previous warnings have not proved effective. A stern warning should be given to the fellows (the Ahrar leaders) and they should be told that provocative speeches against a group or an individual, particularly when the individuals concerned are distinguished public servants and are performing important State duties, cannot be tolerated. If the Ahrar do not desist from it, the government shall be forced to take action against them."
Since hate preaching and violence against the Ahmadis continued, the Punjab Home Secretary was constrained to observe in 1951:
"The policy of the present government has been made known, but it is now for the leaders of public opinion to take effective steps to check religious fanaticism of this sort. We have far more important things at our hands and certainly will not allow people to ruin themselves in religious squabbles. What is happening now seems almost a writing on the wall and God help us if we do not stop these ignorant people from cutting each other’s throat and thus bringing comfort and cheer to our enemies." (Emphasis added).
The failure to "stop these ignorant people from cutting each other’s throat" inevitably led to the 1953 riots. The army’s resolute action won the government some respite and then the government and the people were caught in palace intrigues -- the sacking of Nazimuddin Ministry, the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, the rise of the Iskander Mirza -- Ayub Khan duo, and finally the Martial Law curtain-raiser on October 7, 1958 and the real recipe a fortnight or so later. Nobody had time to stoke the sectarian fires though the Shia community was given a grievance when new Islamiyat textbooks were introduced.
During its first seven years the Ayub regime maintained its secular façade, continued its skirmishes with the clergy, especially Jamaat-i-Islami, but at the same time it helped the clerics to occupy the space the political parties had been forced to vacate. Overall, the Ahmadis were left in peace during the decade-long regime and when the time for 1970 election came they had clawed their way back into mainstream politics. It is no secret that they offered considerable support to the PPP in the general election of 1970 -- with votes and money both.
What happened during 1970-1974 that Bhutto, a secular person except for use of religion in party slogans, much in the tradition of the Muslim League, chose to hurriedly "solve" the 90-year-old problem?
Solid evidence of actions and motives of actors in those days is scarce but there is quite a bit of circumstantial evidence that cannot be discounted. During 1972-73 the Bhutto government lived literally on cash grants from Muslim countries and while it saw possibility of surviving without American aid it created opportunities for the religious lobby at home.
The declaration of Islam as the state religion in the 1973 Constitution helped the religious opposition more than it did the government. Then there was the Islamic Summit of 1974, and Pakistan was drawn, wittingly or unwittingly, into King Faisal’s grand design to replace non-denominational nationalism with what was called Islamic nationalism.
The little that Pakistan has gained from the institutions created in the name of religious solidarity -- from Islamic news service to the OIC -- bears no comparison with the price it has paid for the Second Constitution Amendment of 1974. Gen. Zia found a ready platform to launch the Ahmadi-specific changes in the Penal Code that have been causing havoc to this day.
The combined effect of the 1974 amendment and the Zia amendments is a radical transformation of the campaign against the Ahmadis. Ahmadis had been targets of violence even earlier but these amendments gave such violence a semblance of state sanction. Earlier on, the police could be expected to save an Ahmadi from rioters’ violence; after these amendments the policemen were seen as part of the violent mob. The subordinate judiciary lost the capacity to give an Ahmadi the due protection of law. And it is doubtful if the troops today can emulate Gen. Azam’s 1953 march to the Wazir Khan mosque.
If before 1974 an ordinary Muslim at worst condoned somebody else’s mortal attack on an Ahmadi, after 1974 it was possible to describe Ahmadi killing not only as a religious call but also a duty enjoined by the state. The sufferings of the Ahmadis are not confined to killings and destruction of their property. Whole generations of their young men and women have been forced to stay imprisoned within their mental recesses.
There is also need to explore the link between the killing of Ahmadis by declaring them guilty of apostasy and the killing of Shias through similar reasoning, a transference of hate from one target to another. In a way, the Ahmadis formed the first line of victims of religious intolerance but they are not the last ones as nobody in authority is trying to close the floodgates of intolerance.
Today, Pakistan is reaping the bitter harvest of state’s recklessness in making not only politics subject to belief but law as well. And no one is around to join the Punjab Home Secretary of 1951 in saying "God help us if we do not stop these ignorant people from cutting each other’s throat."