On December 12, an enraged mob attacked an Ahmadi place of worship in the Chakwal district of Pakistan’s Punjab province.
Last week, the province’s Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) raided the community’s headquarters in Rabwah, Punjab, and reportedly arrested four Ahmadi workers on charges of printing and distributing prohibited material that propagates hate speech.
However, there is no truth to this claim: the hate material that the community is accused of printing only deals with work and ideas that the community organizes in Pakistan and abroad.
The incidents have taken place in the wake of the Pakistani prime minister’s announcement renaming a major university’s physics department after Dr. Abdul Salam, the country’s first Nobel laureate who belongs to the persecuted Ahmadiyya Muslim community.
The decision has drawn swift criticism from Islamist parties and other fundamentalist groups. The head of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), Maulana Mohammad Khan Sherani, criticized the decision by saying that such proposals do not set the right precedents.
In 1974, the National Assembly of Pakistan, in a constitutional amendment, declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. Later on, an ordinance declared the Ahmadis infidels and barred them from propagating their faith publicly, which in a way mandated the active persecution of the community.
The decision of declaring Ahmadis as apostates was, by and large, taken to appease the country’s clergy, much like other constitutional amendments that took place before and after this, including amendments related to the controversial blasphemy laws.
On November 24, Sindh’s provincial government passed into law the Protection of Minorities Bill in an effort to criminalize and stop forced religious conversions. Numbers of religious parties have declared the law to be un-Islamic while threatening to lay siege to the Sindh assembly if the government didn’t revoke the law.
On the other hand, last week, the victory of Masroor Haq Nawaz Jhangvi in the Punjab provincial assembly’s by-elections sent shock waves across the country. Jhangvi is the son of Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, who founded Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (now active under different names and affiliations), a sectarian militant organization blamed for the death of thousands of Shias in Pakistan.
During the election campaign, Jhangvi was supported by the leadership of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), a proscribed group that has openly targeted the Shia minority community. In the weeks leading up to the by-election, videos recordings of Jhangvi openly propagating violence against Shias were accessible all over the internet.
To everyone’s surprise, not only was Jhangvi able to win the court’s verdict to contest the elections, but he also conveniently evaded the government’s action dealing with hate speech, which falls under terrorism clauses according to the country’s National Action Plan (NAP) against militancy.
Meanwhile, Punjab’s law minister, in an interview with a local news channel, legitimized Jhangvi’s victory by saying that the candidate won because of the religious following in the area rather than addressing the fact that a majority of his religious following remained subjected to sectarian indoctrination.
Moreover, the law minister didn’t address how a candidate who openly defied all clauses of the NAP by overtly preaching violence and bloodshed throughout his election campaign was able to contest elections.
The developments mentioned above reflect Pakistan’s ongoing dilemma in dealing with its home grown militancy: In the case of Dr. Abdul Salam’s recognition and the Minority Protection Act, the state is trying to move away from its long-held policy of accommodating the country’s conservative religious lobbies.
Meanwhile, the elevation of Jhangvi as the member of a legislative assembly highlights the state’s handicap, where it may have the will to act against radical leaders and groups – such as Jhangvi and ASWJ – but its capacity to act in this regard is limited due to the prevailing public support for these groups. For instance, more than 48000 people who voted for Jhangvi were convinced and believed that his sectarian campaign – which candidly labeled Shia’s as kafirs (infidels) – was true in one form or the other.
In the coming weeks and months, the military and civilian leadership in Pakistan will have to grapple with the increasingly difficult task of pushing forward the ongoing anti-terror campaign, which demands a complete shutdown of all sorts of radical elements including the ones with mass public support.
Above all, the mainstreaming of radical thought and various levels of religious indoctrination will continue to hamper the Pakistani state’s efforts to deal with militancy in the coming years.