Z.A. Bhutto wanted to take the people out of the gloom that had developed after the Indian nuclear test. He was sure he would be able to raise the morale of the people. However, at times various problems at the national level forced him to change his priorities.
This time it was the Ahmadi issue. In April 1974, an incident in Rabwah, the Ahmadi headquarters in Punjab, created a law and order situation. Bhutto was aware of the serious nature of the incident, therefore he did not want to take a stern action as it could spread throughout the country.
The Ahmadi issue was not a new one in Pakistan. Way back in February 1953, the country was gripped in a frenzy of rumours that Ahmadis were wooing Muslims to convert, especially those occupying important official positions. The religio-political parties including Jamaat-i-Isami, Majlis-i-Ahrarul Islam, Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan took up the issue. At that time, the Basic Principle Committee was in the process of preparing a report to be presented before the Constituent Assembly.
The West Pakistan members of the committee had prepared the report, which showed that 40 per cent share should go to Punjab. This irritated the East Pakistan members and the committee’s meeting was postponed for three months. This created a knotty situation for Prime Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin, who, being a Bengali, thought that he should protect the rights of the Bengalis.
Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan, the foreign minister, in one of his speeches expressed his point of view which caused commotion and riots all over Lahore and parts of Punjab. Chaudhry Zafarullah was an Ahmadi and held an office of the organisation. People protesting against Ahmadis took to the streets causing much damage. Ahmadis’ houses were attacked and many lives were lost.
An action committee (Majlis-i-Amal) was formed by the religious parties pressing the prime minister that Ahmadis should immediately be declared non-Muslim and if that demand was not met the Majlis-i-Amal would resort to direct action.
Khwaja Nazimuddin met the committee members and discussed various issues and demands. Of the three demands, i.e., removal of Zafarullah from the government and removal of Ahmadis from important government positions were met; however, the third demand of declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslim minority was deferred, which resulted in widespread violence in Punjab. The prime minister sensing more violence promulgated Martial Law in Lahore on March 8 and appointed General Azam Khan its administrator. The martial law authorities, on May 7, sentenced Maulana Abdus Sattar Niazi and, on May 11, Maulana Maudoodi to death; the sentences were later revoked.
Five years later General Azam became minister for rehabilitation in the martial law government led by General Ayub Khan. Bringing the army into a civilian issue was a grave mistake which in the following years brought the army into the political sphere, paving way for a greater intervention in October 1958.
A committee under the president-ship of Justice Muhammad Munir with Justice M.R. Kayani was formed which, after making intensive investigations in the issue presented a comprehensive report comprising 387 pages, recalling the evolution of Islamic system during the past 1,000 years and recorded evidence on the rise of religious factionalism.
In his conclusion, Justice Munir said that it was not the issue of Qadiani and non-Qadiani friction or of law and order but the evolution of political idealism. The issue of law and order is always based on the country’s democratic system, which in our country is full of fearful nightmares. This was a very important decision and if it had been followed judiciously, sectarianism would have never raised its head in Pakistan.
With the Rabwah incident in April 1974, the trouble re-surfaced. Bhutto announced that the issue would be referred to the National Assembly. On June 4, the Speaker placed the issue before the Assembly, which was also seized with the issue of the Indian nuclear blast.
Majlis Tahafuz-i-Khatme-Nabuwat, an alliance of 18 religio-political parties accused Bhutto of partisanship and demanded his resignation if the problem was not resolved. The committee set up by the Speaker recommended suitable amendments in the constitution so that Ahmadis be declared non-Muslims. The resolution in this regard was placed before the Assembly which was passed almost unanimously. An amendment called the Second Amendment was brought out and on September 7, 1974, Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims. For the first time the parliament passed Judgement on the beliefs of a community and declared it non-Muslim.