“It seems like time has stopped. I never thought I would bury my grandson, the same child who held my fingers as a toddler and learnt to walk,” said Nizam*.
An elderly gentleman, Nizam survived one of the deadliest attacks on minorities in Pakistan three years ago.
The attack, carried out in Lahore’s Model Town and Garhi Shahu localities simultaneously on May 28, 2010 against a group of unarmed Pakistanis, left 86 dead and over 150 men and children injured. The Punjabi Taliban took responsibility for the attacks.
And what exactly was the fault of the dead? They were Ahmadis.
Having been deemed ‘wajib-ul-qatl’ (deserving of death) by many in the country, Ahmadis are the only minority in Pakistan who have been hounded for their faith, with the laws of the land strengthening this discrimination.
“It was my grandson who held my hand and walked me through the gates that Friday. He got me water and then sat beside me praying,” Nizam recalled.
An elderly man, his frail hands shook heavily, more due to anxiety than old age, as he shared details of the day when all hell broke loose.
“Everything seemed peaceful and serene. Then I heard a loud bang and people screaming around me. I woke up in the hospital, only to find out that my grandson was killed along with many others,” he recalled.
As the nation celebrates the 15th Yaum-i-Takbir (Day of Greatness) and hails Pakistan’s nuclear assets, the contrasts are clear.
The same prime minister who gave Pakistan a nuclear bomb, the Oxford-educated Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, also bowed to the whims of hardliners by declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims during his premiership in 1974.
Not one to be left far behind, General Ziaul Haq made sure that he proved to be a worthy guard of this legislation.
His infamous anti-Ahmadiyya Ordinance XX in 1984 added Sections 298-B and 298-C to the Pakistan Penal Code. The Ordinance prohibits Ahmadis from proselytising and explicitly forbids them from certain religious practices and usage of Islamic terminology.
Given this scenario, the notion of ‘justice’ seems far fetched, at least to those who have been at the receiving end.
Blanking out for a while, Nizam composed himself and went on add: “I have lost all hope. I grew up being taunted by kids in my village near Narowal. “Mirzai”, “Qadiani”, “Kafir” “Murtad”, I have heard it all. ‘Grin and bear it’ is what I told my children and grandchildren. But I can’t anymore.”
When asked if he expects justice, he says: “Is dunya to mein to bilkul bhi nahi, akhrat mein zaroor!” (Not in this life time but surely in the afterlife).
Gone and forgotten
Though the 2010 Lahore massacre made headlines all over the world, it failed to mobilise people to speak up for Ahmadis.
Given the culture of impunity, no one seems to be bothered about delivering justice.
“The 2010 Lahore incident is the only terrorist attack where the attackers were apprehended by the worshippers and handed over to the police,” said Saleemuddin, spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Jamaat Pakistan.
In a polite but jaded tone he said the attackers were presented in an anti-terrorism court but nothing came of it.
Yet another community member says that asking for justice only means ‘more deaths’.
The hopelessness of Nizam, Saleem and others is not unfounded.
Over the years, case after case has come out where religious minorities have been put on trial or targeted for their beliefs. Adding to this bleak outlook are the blasphemy laws.
On its part, the state has made little effort to ensure the safety of the persecuted. During the five year tenure of the previous government, a surge in human rights violations, including religious and sectarian violence, was observed. The cases of Asiya Bibi and Rimsha Masih, Joseph Colony attack and targeted killings of Hazara Shias are just a few examples. Not satisfied with harming the living, even the dead have not been spared, with over 100 Ahmadi graves vandalised in Lahore, with the local administration playing the role of silent spectator.
However, the National Report submitted by Pakistan for the 14th Universal Periodic Review (UPR) downplayed violence on minorities and made no mention of the persecution of Ahmadis.
At the UPR session of Pakistan in Geneva last year, the then foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar gave an impressive speech on the situation of human rights in the country. Sadly, on the subject of minorities, she too failed to mention the word ‘Ahmadi’ throughout the discussion on religious minorities in the country.
‘We don’t exist’
“I don’t expect justice,” says Kanwal*, a young Ahmadi woman.
She lost her brother in the Lahore attacks.
“If he had been given timely medical attention he would have been alive. So would be many others. The attackers did their job but the medical staff on its part delayed treatment,” she alleged.
Narrating how the 2010 incident shattered her family and others in the community, she says she is waiting for the day when Pakistanis will stand up for Ahmadis.
“At times I feel suicidal. Maybe ending my life would end this pain and misery but then I think about my parents, my bhabi and the kids. They have been through a lot,” she says.
Her voice filled with desperation, she aptly sums up the ordeal of minorities in Pakistan: “Maybe I won’t get to see that day. We don’t count because we don’t exist. Neither as Muslims, nor as humans!”
- Names have been changed to protect the identity of persons involved.