In his oft-quoted speech of 11 August 1947, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah famously said, ‘Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal, and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus, and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.’ Nearly 70 years later, that ideal is not only further than ever from realisation, we may actually be in a period in which religious intolerance threatens to alienate millions of people, and possibly the nation’s very future.
In 1974, the Second Amendment to the Constitution declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims. In doing so, it relegated them to a position of second-class citizens. Gen Zia’s Ordinance XX outlawed Ahmadi practices, essentially rendering them enemies of the state by nature of their religious beliefs. As a result, the 2 to 5 million Ahmadis in Pakistan continue to endure harassment, arrest, and persecution with no hope of protection from the state.
While not as hated as Ahmadis, around 2 million Christians in Pakistan also have an especially vulnerable existence. Four years after anti-Christian rioters in Gojra killed 8 innocent people, including children, and burned dozens of Christian homes, no one has ever been brought to justice. Blasphemy laws are used to target Christians, even children, and defending them can be deadly. The threat against Christians seems to be getting worse, as 85 innocents were killed in a suicide attack targeting a Christian Church in Peshawar last September.
More than Ahmadis and Christians combined, Hindus account for nearly 7 millions in Pakistan. Despite being Pakistan’s largest minority, Hindus increasingly find themselves as victims also. In 2010, Human Rights Commission Pakistan reported that 25 Hindu girls are abducted in Karachi every month. Just recently, a yoga centre in Bani Gala was attacked after Arshad Sharif accused it of being a threat to national security. During the weekend, a Hindu temple was attacked by a mob of hundreds who set it on fire, and colored acid was thrown on Hindus celebrating Holi in Karachi.
But it’s not just minorities who are targeted in Pakistan today. Even Muslims are persecuted if they do not belong to the right sect. In 2012, at least 325 Shia were killed in targeted attacks. That number increased in 2013 as sectarian attacks skyrocketed, killing over 650 and injuring thousands. Attacks targeting Shia have continued in 2014, even prompting Iran to warn Pakistan to take stop sectarian groups or face the consequences. in addition to violence, anti-Shia groups are now threatening to add legal attacks also by passing anti-Shia laws in parliament, coming close to declaring Shia as non-Muslims just like was done to Ahmadis 40 years before.
The issue is larger than one of communalism. It gets to the very core of what it means to be Pakistani. If Pakistan is a land only for Muslims, and not only Muslims, but only the right kind of Muslims, what does that mean for the existence of those millions of Pakistanis who do not adhere to an approved religion? And once those millions of people living here have ceased to be Pakistanis, what can be the future of Pakistan?