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— Illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan/
— Illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan/

With the Sharifs now in power, much is being said and written about the main issues PML-N needs to address after taking over the reins. Militancy, a failing economy and the energy crisis remain on top of the agenda, followed by issues like development projects, health and education.

But then, there are issues stacked up on the shelves unattended, which face reluctance and hesitance on part of politicians – and on top of that list are the issues faced by religious minorities.

The Ahmadi community decided to boycott the elections citing reasons of unequal treatment as citizens of Pakistan in the polling process. This meant that around 200,000 members of the community from across the country refused to support any party. In the meantime, while much was being promised in the campaigns of election favourites, neither camp spoke for the Ahmadi community, or for the 200,000 votes that went in the bin.

“It was really sad to see that the politicians didn’t bother to ask us for voting for them, we are Pakistanis after all. We want to be part of the community; we wanted to participate in this process, we participated in the Pakistan movement. How does it feel when you become an alien within your society; I can’t explain this,” said Saleemuddin, the spokesman for the Jamaat-i-Ahmadiyya.

“We were discriminated against by the making of separate voter lists for us. This is not in the Constitution; this was made through an executive order. We want equal laws for all citizens,” he added.

The Ahmadi community in Pakistan has been under constant threat from militant organisations – it is argued that the two parties which have done rather well in the May 11 polls – Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) – would have faced the wrath of these organisations if they had worked on securing these ‘200,000 votes’.

The problem faced by religious minorities is not limited to the Ahmadi community only. Political ignorance and ineffectiveness has led to the rise of discrimination against and insecurity of other religious minorities across the country.

Parties that were ostensibly secular were punished for their vocal stance on issues relating to religious minorities. While PML-N and PTI became front-runners in the election race, the campaigns of Pakistan Peoples Party, Awami National Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement were systematically targeted by militants.

Arguably, the two parties did not speak out in defence of the parties that were targeted. “Politicians will always think pragmatically, some do think about their legacy apart from their political interests, in order to be remembered by people for doing some good and useful work. But the price of democracy is eternal vigilance,” says Wajahat Ali, a media and research consultant based in Islamabad.

Violence primarily hit Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkwa before the elections and with campaigning taking place in full swing in Punjab, it seemed that the province was like a different country, suggests Ali. Punjab holds the maximum number of seats in the National Assembly.

“Whatever happened to ANP, MQM and PPP before the elections, in the shorter run, it has given a political edge to PTI and PML-N, but in the longer run all political parties will be in trouble,” warns Ali.

The problem, however, has been constant. Sectarian violence against Christians in Gojra and Lahore’s Badami Bagh and various incidents where members of the community were accused of committing blasphemy have occurred during the tenure of the PPP-led government from 2008-2013. Former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated for taking a stand. He did not receive praise from either the PPP, or the state, for his efforts to raise his voice against a hateful, sectarian mindset.

For the Christian community at least, it appears that international pressure serves as primary support for its protection. The Pakistani government and politicians react promptly when violence is carried out against the community. The Badami Bagh incident where the construction of houses started within a few days of the attack is one such example, and so is the case of Rimsha Masih.

On the other hand, attacks on the Shia community have worsened during recent years. Hundreds have lost their lives in attacks on the Hazara community in Balochistan and in densely populated areas of the community, such as in Karachi’s Abbas town.

“The government’s reaction to the Hazara victims was as shocking as the event. It was a peaceful demonstration in a civilised country but you don’t let bodies (stay unburied) for three days. It was sheer incompetence by political parties, especially the manner in which the incident was dealt with,” criticised Ali.

Ali believes that there is a problem with the mindset of the people due to the absence of institutions where people’s perception can be changed about religion and religious minorities. For that, the government needs to sort out the education system in the country. Religious minorities believe that the syllabus is full of content that is against anyone who is not considered a Muslim.

“Course books have hate speeches against non-Muslims, and our children feel a lot of discomfort in schools. We are not looked upon respectfully,” said Guru Sukh Dayjee, an official of the Guru Gorakh nath Shera Mandal Pakistan, a religious NGO.

The problems for minorities don’t end there. Guru Sukh Dayjee says Hindu girls are forcefully made to convert to Islam and the local police don’t take any action, especially if the complaint is against any Muslim.

“No leader seems to have the courage to face the pressure of “Mullah culture”; even Imran Khan was clarifying himself in every jalsa before elections that he had no links with us. Everyone should keep in mind that today we are the target, but tomorrow some other community will be under attack,” Saleemuddin pointed out.

He adds: “We could be helpful in every department as the literacy rate is high in our community. Although we are already working in some departments, but if given equal opportunity regardless of religion, we can be more helpful. We are citizens of this country, we are tax payers, we have done a lot for this country.”

It remains to be seen whether the newly-elected government will decide to prioritise minority issues or turn a blind eye.

Comments (18) Closed

Md Imran May 22, 2013 07:58pm

PML-N should make sure that the minorities are protected. Nobody should feel unsafe because of their religion. Having said that, i think it is about time the Govt of Pakistan enters into an agreement with foreign governments to provide a safe sanctuary to minorities who want to immigrate . How about entering into an agreement with Tajaks or even China to provide some land and infrastrucutre to the minorities ? Then there won't be any violence or attacks based on faiths.

babar May 22, 2013 08:23pm

Your information is incorrect. There are 4 million Ahmadies living in Pakistan and not just 200,000. Majority of them are not registered with Nadra a Ahmadies due to fear thattheir names and addresses can be provided(sold) to any fanatical group who can target them. None of these 4 million Ahmadies voted. PTI was the hypocritical party that the masses will soon learn. Imran Khan has no guts to speak honestly. When confronted by his adversaries regarding Ahmadi votes, he belittled them instead of stating like a statesman that he seeks the vote of all Pakistanis. I am not an Ahmadi but I am an educated person whho knows the truth about this community and how much they have contributed to Pakistan. Unfortunately, Imran Khan is a weaking and defintely not a statesman. He will not be the respected politician that I had assumed earlier. And by the way, I changed my vote from PTI to a secular party just on the eve of elections.

misbah shaikh May 22, 2013 08:28pm

its insult to say some one even that u are minority. pakistan have minorities who should deserve equal rights but our bad governance unfortunately neglect them we people to go little bit secular n concern these issue because every state posses some minorities.

Milind May 22, 2013 11:45pm

It is amazing to read that after 5 years of PPP rule, school books have hate speech against minorities. Failure to rescind the blasphemy law is another huge failure of the PPP government. If Pakistan does not put up a liberal, accommodating face, there will be repercussions in India, where hardliners seem to be gaining public support.

Deep May 23, 2013 06:40am

@Md Imran: And please take all the Sunni Muslims from other Non-Muslim countries. There are over 150 million in India alone ! Please do it at the earliest. India will be too happy to accomodate 2 odd million Hindus.

Naseer May 23, 2013 09:10am

@Md Imran: This is an interesting idea. But there is one problem, after all the non muslims, all the ahmedis, all the shia's have left Pakistan. Wouldn't Taliban then ask the Barelvi's also to leave. That would mean about half of the country's population. Who would then have to leave, Taliban or the Barelvi's?

Daniyal May 23, 2013 10:47am

@babar: 200,000 are registered voters according to the spokesman. I didn't mention the exact population. Voters were the focus

M Imtiaz May 23, 2013 12:24pm

@Md Imran: With your ideas and a worryingly 'high' IQ, I think you should become a federal minister of some sort. With a soaring population of Pakistan, why don't you make a deal so that the surplus Pakistanis (including yourself) are sent away to Siberia or the North Pole?

My own grandparents amongst others put in an unrelenting effort for the creation of Pakistan and now people like you have the cheek to be so insulting to us.

peace May 23, 2013 01:46pm

@Md Imran: You mean what govt cannot do, it should invite foreigners to do for it. It is akin to army cannot protect its frontiers govt should invite Chinese and Tajik armies for that.... good suggestion. Protection of its citizen is the first and foremost responsibility of a State. Oh, yes we are talking about a State :-(

Agha Ata May 23, 2013 06:03pm

@M Imtiaz: Mr. Imtiaz, you seem to have no imtiaz between a logical statement and and an irrational suggestion! Sorry.

Naeem May 23, 2013 09:15pm

@Md Imran: Shame on you Md Imran!!! Instaed of improving your attitude , you want to send in exile pakistanis who do not want to beleieve what you wish to beleive? You can beleive that the moon is your God but do not force me to do the same!!! I am as much a Pakistani as you and my grandparrents fought as hard for this country as yours did. There is a similar movement in the West - they want to get rid of all Muslims and send them back top their country of orign!!! Can you guess why others find it so difficult to live with Muslsims like you?

John May 24, 2013 01:17am

A state which always assumes it's right to interfere into the internal affairs of other countries citing issues of local Muslim population should learn to treat it's own Muslim population the right way. Forget the minorities - in next few years they will be forcefully converted anyway.

Silajit May 24, 2013 02:29am

The Ahmadiyas, Hindus, Shias, Christians should be allowed to secede and form their own countries. Not to worry, once the majority Sufi muslims are oppressed, they too should get their own country.

After all, Pakistan seceded because Jinnah felt that Muslim rights as minorities would not be respected in a united country. That was based on the mere "possibility" that such a thing "might" happen. In this case, it is already happening.

Anybody see any contradictions there?

Akil AKhtar May 24, 2013 04:45am

@Milind: can someone show us the text from school books with hate speech....

Akil AKhtar May 24, 2013 04:47am

@Md Imran: Are they safe in india......minorities are not safe anywhere in the world and they are openly discriminated everywhere. That is a truth which needs to be realised.

deskchair May 24, 2013 10:55am

@Akil AKhtar: My text books growing up regularly added words like "untrustworthy" whenever mentioning any Hindu historical figures like the Rajput allies of Akbar. It was almost a joke, if there was a non-Muslim mentioned he/she would be called untrustworthy.

deskchair May 24, 2013 11:00am

@Akil AKhtar: Minorities don't live for fear of their lives in Turkey or Canada or Vietnam or Kazakhstan. Here in Pakistan religious minorities regularly see their places of worship looted and know that they can be spuriously charged with blasphemy thus ruining their lives. In India a Muslim can be President and a Sikh can be Prime Minister. Our constitution mandates that both be Muslim. So any non-Muslim child that is born in Pakistan is told from birth that he/she is a second rate citizen who is not trusted for our highest office. How would we Pakistanis feel if Canada or America or Tunisia had a rule saying people of Pakistani heritage cannot be trusted for their highest office? Pakistan needs full equality for all citizens and all religious meddling in the law needs to be removed. Who can argue that any good has come from the move to Islmaize our government? We are the corruptest, most illiterate, most violent prone nation our size. Maybe we should focus on basic good governance before claiming that we can somehow create an impose "Islamic governance".

deskchair May 24, 2013 11:02am

@Md Imran: Do you also believe that Muslims should be offered this sort of deportation service from China, Russia, France, the UK, America, Canada, South Africa, Nigeria, India? Do you not see that the mentality of assuming that the only way to stop violence against minorities is to get rid of them is one of the reasons Pakistan is so insanely backwards?