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.
It then went on to dismiss Daultana. The demand to throw the Ahmadis out of the fold of Islam was rejected.
_________________________________After the failure and crushing of the 1953 movement, the anti-Ahmadi sentiment receded to the fringes.
However, some religious parties like the JI tried to reignite it many years later during the campaigning of the 1970 election. But there were no takers and the initiative quickly dissolved.
In his book, ‘Bhutto, Zia & Islam,’ Syed Mujawar Shah suggests that JI’s move during the 1970 election was related to the overwhelming support the Ahmadi community had exhibited for Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in West Pakistan – a party that was being labelled by the JI as ‘atheistic’.
Almost all religious parties and even old conservative outfits such as the many factions of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) faced rousing defeats during the 1970 election.
But in 1973, fearing marginalisation and a possible exit from the political process, these parties once again decided to repose the ‘Ahmadi question.’
The first shots in this regard were fired in the Azad Jamua Kashmir Assembly in April 1973 when some right-wing members of the Assembly floated a resolution to declare the Ahmadis as non-Muslims.
The resolution did not carry much weight.
Undeterred, the same year religious party members and those belonging to PML floated similar resolutions in the Punjab and Sindh assemblies but these too were shot down by the PPP MPAs who were in the majority in the two assemblies.
Then, when Bhutto was about to host a mammoth summit of Muslim heads of state and government in Lahore, he was approached by Ahmadi religious leader, Mirza Tahir, who told him that religious parties were planning to use the Summit to demonise the Ahmadi community.
Bhutto assured Tahir that nothing of the sort would happen.
A month after the Summit, an organisation called the Rabita Alam-i-Islami that was founded in Saudi Arabia in 1962, passed a resolution declaring the Ahmadis as non-Muslim.
Having the backing of the Saudi monarchy, the resolution also stressed that people of the Ahmadi faith not be allowed to enter Saudi Arabia.
A delegation of Pakistan had also become a member of this organisation and it did not hesitate to sign on the resolution. Bhutto did not think much of it, though.
Unable to make a dent in the assemblies, the religious parties decided to pour out onto the streets.
In 1974 they launched a full-fledged campaign against the Ahmadis. Once again Punjab was the main battleground as the anti-Ahmadi sentiment remained weak in the other three provinces of the country.
The religious parties even managed to obtain fatwas from some well known Saudi Arabian clerics to back their demands to excommunicate the Ahmadis.
He suggested that since from 1974 onwards Bhutto had begun to push Pakistan closer to oil-rich Arab monarchies, he largely remained silent on the issue.
Cheered on by the ‘ulema’, mobs in many cities of the Punjab began attacking Ahmadis and their property.
Eight religious parties led by the JI, including the Deobandi Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI) and the Barelvi Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP), and the conservative Pakistan Democratic Party (of Nawabzada Nasarullah) and PML factions, formed an organisation called the Qadiyani Muhasbah Committee (Committee for Exposition of Qadyanism).
The organisation vehemently criticised the Bhutto government for ignoring ‘the aspirations of the people’ by not heeding to the calls of the ulema.
The ‘people’ in this case, of course, were the raging mobs led by local clerics and student-wings of the religious parties rampaging across the streets in the Punjab committing murder and arson.
Shaken by the sudden, but well orchestrated violence of the mobs, in June 1974, 37 MNAs in the National Assembly moved a resolution demanding the excommunication of the Ahmadis from Islam.
It should also be kept in mind that the Punjab in the 1970s held the PPP’s largest vote bank and support base.
Prime Minister Bhutto soon broke his silence and decided to allow the National Assembly to debate the issue.
At the same time a government delegation led by Kausar Niazi, held a series of meetings with the ulema belonging to Sunni (both Deobandi and Barelvi) sub-sects, and the Shia sect.
The parliamentary committee that came into being after the talks agreed to listen to the leaders of the Ahmadi community who wanted the committee to hear their side of the argument as well.
Bhutto’s hand in this context was also influenced by the fact that by 1974 his regime had begun to forge a series of economic and political links with oil-rich Arab monarchies.
These monarchies had begun to assert themselves with the help of the rise and pouring in of ‘Petro-Dollars’ after the 1973 Arab-Israel War and the oil crises that followed.
After going through the report on the meetings the government’s team had had with the Sunni and Shia ulema, Bhutto finally gave the green light to the PPP majority in the National Assembly to approve the passage of the anti-Ahmadi resolution.
Soon, the excommunication of the Ahmadis became part of the 1973 constitution (Second Amendment).
The Ahmadi community that had overwhelmingly supported the PPP was shocked.
Though the violence stopped after the passage of the resolution, a large number of Ahmadis who were actively involved in the fields of business, science, teaching and the civil service began to move out of Pakistan, leaving behind the less well-to-do members of the community who till this day face regular bouts of violence and harassment.
In another series of ironies, in 1977, the parties that had rejoiced the introduction of the Second Amendment were out on the streets again – this time agitating against the very government and man who had agreed to accept their most assertive demand.
In the final act of this irony, in April 1979 the same man was sent to the gallows (through a sham trial) by the military dictatorship of Ziaul Haq, who decided to stay on to ‘turn Pakistan into a true Islamic republic,’ and would go on to explain how Bhutto had become ‘a danger to both Islam and Pakistan.’
In 1984 the Zia dictatorship further consolidated the state of Pakistan’s stand against the Ahmadis by issuing an ordinance (Ordinance XX), which prohibited Ahmadis from preaching or professing their beliefs.
The ordinance that was enacted to suppress ‘anti-Islamic activities,’ forbids Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim or to pose as Muslims. Their places of worships cannot be called mosques and Ahmadis are barred from performing the Muslim call to prayer, using the traditional Islamic greeting in public, publicly quoting from the Qur'an, preaching in public, seeking converts, or producing, publishing, and disseminating their religious materials. These acts are punishable by imprisonment of up to three years.
_________________________________As a new generation of Pakistanis is growing up amidst the still on-going violence against the Ahmadi community, many of them have emerged with a number of questions, especially on social media.
The following are some of the questions being asked: How exactly was Islam and Pakistan saved by what happened in 1974? How did all this help Pakistan become a better place and a more robust democracy? And are not the Muslim sects and sub-sects who all joined in to throw the Ahmadis out of the fold of Islam now trying to do the same with each another?
But to me the most pertinent question remains, what were all the revolutionary leftists, secular liberals and progressive Muslims up to when all this was going on?
One must remember that till the late 1970s, the left and the liberal in Pakistan had far more influence in educational institutions, political parties, the media, and the bureaucracy, even in the armed forces than ever.
The Muslim League and the generation of Pakistani leaders and the military that took the reigns of the country soon after its creation in 1947, were steeped in the ‘modernistic and progressive Islam’ of scholars like Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Alama Iqbal (The Aligarh Generation).
They might have been vehemently opposed to leftist ideologies, multi-party democracy and multiculturalism; they were equally suspicious of the more radical strains of both political and social Islam.
That’s why its response to the 1953 Anti-Ahmadi riots is now a well documented (and quotable) part of history.
Not only did the government and the military crush the riots, it sent the main perpetrators packing.
Some of them were even given death sentences, including JI’s Abul Ala Maududi (though he was later pardoned).
Then to determine the claims of the anti-Ahmadi clergy and scholarship, the government chose a respected, learned and neutral judge to hear them out, Chief Justice Munir.
After hours and hours of holding interviews with a number of Sunni and Shia ulema, Justice Munir concluded that each one of his interviewees had their own, unique interpretation of who or what a good Muslim was.
The ulemas’ demand to declare the Ahmadi community as non-Muslim was rejected on the findings of the lengthy report that Munir produced from these interviews (called the Justice Munir Report).
This might be explained as the liberal response to the issue. But what was the left’s response?
The left in Pakistan that would reach a peak in the late 1960s, and was fond of understanding politics and society based on thorough Marxist analysis, failed to gage the impact the religious parties would go on to have in the coming political struggles in the country.
The focus of the Pakistani left at the time remained to be the elimination of feudalism in Pakistan by infiltrating left-liberal bourgeoisie parties that would then be ideologically redirected and used to overthrow the resultant capitalist order with a communist revolution.
In fact it was in the late 1960s that the Pakistani left for the first time got down to also seriously analyse the role of the religious parties in its study of class struggle in Pakistan.
The trigger in this respect was the appearance of anti-left literature bundled out by the fundamentalist JI.
The JI had declared socialism to be ‘an atheistic conspiracy against Pakistan and Islam’
Leftist intellectuals like Safdar Mir and Hanif Ramay while writing for progressive Urdu weekly, ‘Nusrat,’, retaliated by describing the religious right in Pakistan as being ‘agents of imperialist forces (the US)’ and ‘lackeys of feudal lords, military generals and capitalist exploiters.’
‘Nusrat’ also reproduced old articles written by Maududi in which he had attacked Jinnah and denounced the creation of Pakistan.
Then in 1969 famous leftist poet and author, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, took the Pakistani left’s analysis of religion a step further by writing a fluent treatise on the culture of Pakistan.
He dismissed the religious right’s wish to turn Pakistan into ‘an abode of Islam,’ and also its claim that ‘secularism was like the Trojan horse from which anti-Islam forces wanted to infiltrate Pakistan and break it.’
Faiz suggested that Pakistan did not have a monopoly to define Islam.
In his paper he insisted that Pakistani culture was not just Islamic, but a mixture of many ethnic, sectarian, religious and western cultures that it had inherited after 1947.
Nevertheless, by the early 1970s much of the affective political and intellectual left had been co-opted by the PPP.
So when in 1974 Bhutto began to concede vital ground to the religious right, many leftists mostly remained quiet (sectioning their leader’s so-called pragmatic manoeuvres).
Those who opposed him (like Meraj Muhammad Khan and J A. Rahim were beaten, arrested and thrown into jails), while others had become just to fragmented due to the petty ideological battles between the Stalinists, Maoists, Trotskyites, Leninists, etc. This was a petty display of leftist sectarianism.
By the time Zia issued his Ordinance XX in 1984, both the left and the liberal were too embroiled in fighting the dictatorship on many fronts.
And anyway, his Ordinance seemed softer compared to the laws he would go on to enact in the name of Islam.
But one can’t really separate all these laws. They are eventually a legacy of the 1974 move.
They are sides of the same coin. A coin that has only grown in value and currency, sapping the genius and energy from things like democracy, pluralism and multiculturalism can infuse in a society.
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