By Khaled Ahmed
June 4, 2016
Pakistan was created in the name of Islam because all Muslims in south Asia presumably felt like a nation. No one bothered to check if there were any footnotes to this feeling. But soon after they got Pakistan, Muslims started feeling odd living together. The first “exception” were the Ahmadis: the “nation” felt like expelling them from its common Muslim identity.
The Ahmadi exclusion is in the Constitution in the shape of its Second Amendment, which is a blot because it apostatises a community and forces it to give up its religious rituals or face prison.
The government that did this horrible deed in 1974 belonged to the “liberal” Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), headed by a charismatic secular leader, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. So out of character was the act of excluding the Ahmadis through an amendment of the Constitution, that most PPP liberals are embarrassed by it to this day. One thought that no self-respecting PPP leader today would boast about this evil deed, but one was wrong.
On April 29 in Azad Kashmir, a semi-literate ex-prime minister Raja Parvez Ashraf, a PPP stalwart, delivered the following message, expecting kudos: “No one has been able to compete with Pakistan People’s Party. If someone has served Islam, only the government of ‘martyr’ Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto has. It solved the 90-year-old problem, the problem of Qadianis [Ahmadis] who challenged the Prophethood of Prophet Muhammad PBUH. The PPP shut them up, broke their neck and buried the [Ahmadi] problem.” Ashraf enjoyed one of the briefest prime ministership before he was dismissed for contempt by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Nobody reacted unfavourably to Ashraf’s “neck-breaking” statement, but one PPP ex-MNA, Farahnaz Ispahani, has tried to unravel the mystery of her party’s descent into evil in her book, Purifying the Land of the Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities (2016). She delves into the complicated personality of PPP’s charismatic founder and describes how the party decided to punish the Ahmadis for being Ahmadis. The violence of the “piety” of the Second Amendment continues in 2016, but the “pious” man who committed this violence was hanged in 1979 by another extremely “pious” General Zia-ul-Haq, with the approval of a Supreme Court manned by “pious” judges. The vicious circle of piety was broken when someone killed Zia by bringing down his aircraft in 1988.
Why did Bhutto do it? Farahnaz tells us that in 1968, a year after he formed the PPP, only 30 per cent of university students in West Pakistan favoured Islam or Sharia (Today, the figure is steadily above 90 per cent). Bhutto became conscious about being labelled secular in a religious state. Rafi Raza, friend and minister, thought Bhutto “was conscious of the need not to appear too secular” and didn’t want to be seen as “the leader of a socialist party in an Islamic state”. He was also not sure about his slogan of Islamic socialism. Shias, Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus had voted for him and given him two-thirds majority in the parliament in West Pakistan to pass amendments as he saw fit — and the second addition to the Constitution he made apostatised the Ahmadis.
He assembled scholars and soon learned that they all wanted Islam and not his idea of a pluralist nationalism. His belief in earlier ideas wobbled and he plumped for being in power with the approval of Muslims only, and “adapted some of the Islamic rhetoric in defining Pakistani nationalism.” Then, in May 1974, a fight occurred at Rabwah, the Ahmadi city, between local students and a travelling Jamaat-e-Islami group, and that triggered riots.
As Farahnaz tells it, “On 3 June 1974, Bhutto accused his opponents of manufacturing the controversy against Ahmadis. The next day, the Speaker of the National Assembly ruled out a debate on the Ahmadi issue, saying that the Constitution already defined religious minorities. Then again, on 13 June, Bhutto changed his position and declared that he would ask parliament to debate and vote on whether Ahmadis were Muslim.” Ironies dog Pakistan and author Ispahani, who has joined a small group of good Pakistanis in standing by the country’s minorities, must have been put off by Raja Parvez Ashraf’s statement in Azad Kashmir.