It is believed that Pakistan’s descent into the quagmire of violence, partaken in the name of religion has its roots in 1974 when the otherwise ‘secular’ government of Z A. Bhutto declared (through legislation) the Ahmadi community as a religious minority.
Many Pakistani political historians have also correctly pointed out that the Bhutto government’s move in this regard set off various other scenarios that set the scene for its own dramatic downfall in 1977.
Without getting into the theological debate of whether the Ahmadi community deserved excommunication from the fold of Islam in Pakistan or not, one can, however, reach a political conclusion that this issue has triggered the demise of democratic and non-religious forces that sided with those who originally initiated legislative action against the Ahmadis.
The following examples in this context should also be taken as a warning by democratic parties on both sides of the ideological divide that their ‘pragmatic’ association with fundamentalist and sectarian outfits is akin to digging a hole for themselves.
For example, in hindsight one can suggest the Bhutto regime deluded itself by believing that ousting the Ahmadis from the fold of Islam would appease the religious parties that were constantly criticising the government of being ‘un-Islamic.’
The Ahmadis’ ouster saw the Bhutto government increasingly cornering itself and offering more and more concessions to the religious parties in spite of the fact that most of these parties had been routed in the 1970 general election.
Simply put, parties that were rejected by the electorate in 1970 were actually strengthened by Bhutto’s policy of appeasement; a policy he thought was a clever and pragmatic ploy on his part to co-opt them.
This unwitting and unintentional strengthening of the religious parties by Bhutto was one of the main reasons why these parties managed to unite on a single platform during the 1977 election and then, rather ironically, unleash a violent protest movement against his government that culminated in the declaration of Martial Law by General Ziaul Haq.
What is also ironic is the fact that Zia’s aggressive ‘Islamisation’ process throughout the 1980s was largely built around the unsuspecting blueprint of Political Islam that the Bhutto regime had begun to outline from 1974 onwards.
But before we set out to find exactly what happened in 1974, it would also help to reanalyse the first major movement against the Ahmadi community in 1953.
_________________________________In one of the most thorough books written on the rise of religious radicalism in Pakistan - ‘Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism,’ - author Hassan Abbas has painstakingly researched and detailed the 1953 incident.
At the time of the creation of Pakistan in 1947, fundamentalist outfits such as the Jamat-i-Islami (JI) and the Ahrar had been discredited and sidelined due to their stand against Jinnah and the creation of Pakistan (both had labeled Jinnah as ‘Kafir-i-Azam’ or the leader of infidels).
But in spite of this, both the parties’ main leadership had decided to migrate to Pakistan.
In 1951 due to a failed ‘communist coup’ attempt by some left-wing military men in league with the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) and a group of progressive intellectuals initiated an intense governmental crackdown and bans against left-leaning officers in the military, the CPP and affiliated trade and labour unions.
This created just enough of a void for some radical rightist forces to seep in.
This opportunity was further widened by the disintegration of the ruling Muslim League (ML) that was by then plagued with in-fighting, corruption and myopic and exhaustive power struggles among its top leadership.
In 1953-54 after smelling an opportunity to reinstate their political credentials, the JI and the Ahrar gladly played into the hands of the then Chief Minister of Punjab and veteran Muslim Leaguer, Mian Mumtaz Daultana, who was plotting the downfall of his own party’s prime minster, Khuwaja Nizamuddin.
With a burning ambition to become the Prime Minister after former Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan’s enigmatic assassination in 1951, Daultana was bypassed when the ML government chose the Bengali Nizamuddin as PM whom Daultana considered to be incompetent.
As Chief Minister of Punjab, Daultana was being criticised for the rising rate of unemployment and food shortages in the province.
Anticipating protests against his provincial government’s failure to rectify the economic crises in Punjab, Daultana began to allude that economic crises in the Punjab were mainly the doing of the Ahmadi community.
The Ahmadis had played a leading role in the creation of Pakistan and were placed in important positions in the military, the bureaucracy, the government and within the country’s still nascent industrial classes.
Daultana did not accuse the Ahmadis directly. Instead, he purposefully ignored and even gave tact support to JI and Ahrar who decided to use the crises in the Punjab by beginning a campaign against the Ahmadi community and demand their excommunication from the fold of Islam.
As JI and Ahrar members went on a rampage destroying Ahmadi property and personnel in Lahore, Daultana was able to shift the media’s and the nation’s attention away from his provincial government’s economic failures.
But his ‘victory’ was short-lived. The Nizamuddin government with the help of the military crushed the movement and rounded up JI and Ahrar leaders.