Laws that stoke violence

by Kunwar Idris for Dawn.com

The 1971 war is a sad chapter in Pakistan’s history which every citizen and soldier would like to forget. But not the children of Maj-Gen Nasir Chaudhry. They recall with some pride that their father was the only general seriously wounded on the frontline.

Now, 40 years later, they mourn his death at the age of 90 and in a hail of bullets and grenades fired by his own countrymen. The invading Indians gave him a chance to fight back and live, the sneaking fanatics of his own country did not. They killed him while he kneeled in prayer.

Also falling victim to two murderous assaults in Lahore on Friday, May 28 were Munir Sheikh, an incorruptible accountability judge, barrister Ejaz Nasrullah and advocate Hafeez Chaudhry. Almost all of the 100 or more Ahmadi shot dead at prayers on that day were productive and peaceable citizens who did no harm to anyone.

Rubbing salt into the wounds of the grief-stricken Ahmadis have been the expressions of sympathy for them and condemnation of killers coming from some religious leaders who have been incessantly preaching hatred and, of late, inciting violence against them through a section of the press and TV talk shows. It is hard to deny where lies the responsibility and with whom for the ever-increasing targeted killings of Ahmadis that culminated in the Lahore carnage. The government looked on as anchormen and muftis debated death as the only penalty for their heresy.

Looking for a foreign hand, as most among us tend to do, is only to confuse the public and leave the criminals free to strike again. Of all people, the Lahore commissioner Khusro Pervez should not have been heard instantly blaming India’s RAW to divert attention from his administrative incompetence.

The home-grown sectarian killers are an older breed distinct from the latter-day world terrorists — Al Qaeda, its regional sub-variant the Taliban and Indian agents provocateur.

To deal with terrorism may be beyond the skill and resources of the central and provincial governments but both surely can with the sectarian sipahs and lashkars. But they do not consider it politically expedient. They would rather use them to further their political ends.

Sectarianism as a creed is sustained by the laws and policies of the state or, as some would say, by the ideology of Pakistan. Not Ahmadis alone, every sect of Islam including the majority Sunni has been the victim of sectarian fanatics. And they will keep growing in numbers and getting deadlier in their strikes unless some basic changes are made in the principles underlying the state policy.

The first in order should be to shift the emphasis from religious ideology to fundamental rights of individuals and political rights of the constituent units of the federation. The religious belief of a person or a community should in no manner impair their rights as those of Ahmadis indeed have been drastically — both in law and practice.

Likewise, the political power of a province should not be curtailed because its leadership is considered more defiant and demanding as Balochistan’s has been visibly. The leader of no other province could have been bombed to death as was Akbar Bugti nor would his sons and loyalists been driven to the hills.

Secondly, the loyalty of a person or a party to the country should not be called into question only because of their political orientation before independence. Parties like Jamaat-i-Islami and various groups of the Jamiat-i-Ulema who had undeniably opposed Jinnah’s concept of Pakistan now put all the emphasis on its Islamic identity which inevitably stokes fires of sectarian hatred. Any party which restricts its membership to a particular religious denomination should be barred from taking part in national polls and denied representation in parliament.

Thirdly, the state must not legislate in matters of faith. No modern democracy does. All differences were freely debated till the time the National Assembly determined in 1975 that Ahmadis were not Muslims.

Ten years later, Gen Ziaul Haq enacted laws to punish Ahmadis if they “directly or indirectly” posed as Muslim or if any one from among them “in any manner whatsoever outrages the religious feelings of Muslims”. Not to be found wanting in zeal, Nawaz Sharif then decreed to abrogate the name of the Ahmadi headquarter town — Rabwah — drawn from the Holy Quran.

Since then the Ahmadis have been a target of discrimination by the state and violence by orthodox groups whom neither the government nor the religious leaders nor civil society can tame though all may be condemning.

Only reverting to the Pakistan of Jinnah’s conception will end this. Ironically, the first departure was made by Liaquat Ali Khan who, though fully sharing Jinnah’s outlook, had the Objectives Resolution passed by the constituent assembly requiring the state to enable the Muslims “to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah”.

A greater irony was that the resolution found its most forceful spokesman in the foreign minister, Zafrulla Khan, whose community in later years became its chief victim. Gen Ziaul Haq incorporated the resolution in the constitution to legitimise his own rule. The violent legacy he handed down is being exploited fully by his successors in politics. The final answer to sectarian terror may have to be found in constitutional reforms. The 18th Amendment hasn’t gone beyond issues of political power.

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