A toxic sense of nationalism has taken over Pakistan. This sense dictates that all people, except the majority Sunnis, should enjoy rights and have privileges. It means if the Ahmadis cast their vote for the last time in 1977, around four decades back, so be it.
For Pakistan, democracy and the right to vote are occasions which happen but infrequently. When such occasions do arise, the Ahmadis cannot partake as they are non-Muslims. In a Sunni Pakistan, <a href="https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/04/30/religious-minister-opposes-inclusion-ahmadis-minority-commission/"><strong>non-Muslims cannot have rights</strong></a>. Democracy and dictatorships are equally bad for the non-Muslims.
In a recent report, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) says: "there have been horrific, religiously motivated attacks on the minority communities and any efforts towards eradicating the violence, prejudices, and inequalities have been virtually imperceptible."
The Ahmadis, followers of a Muslim sect, know this well. Just last year, their places of worship were desecrated in Punjab. As their mosques are not considered mosques, these are regularly destroyed and this community cannot call itself Muslim. This happened when the then Pakistani prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto ensured in 1974 that the Ahmadis were stripped of their Muslim identity and state protection, leading to their persecution. Facing attacks and killings, many have <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/06/28/pakistan-ensure-ahmadi-voting-rights"><strong>fled Pakistan for the West</strong></a>.
One of the most striking Ahmadi personalities to leave Pakistan was the country's only Nobel scientist Abdus Salam. He got the Nobel Prize in 1979 for Physics and contributed to the country's space and nuclear programmes. He left the country for the UK in 1974 after Bhutto introduced the constitutional amendment. His achievement did not stand in the way of humiliation, abuse and threats from the majority Sunni community.
This constant feeling of being attacked and being persecuted is an all too familiar feeling to the Christians and the Hindus. They have come to accept as a matter of routine the destruction of their holy places. Not only are churches and temples reducing in numbers but even the communities are dwindling so fast that they may cease to exist in the near future.
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Hindu and Christian girls are targeted for forced conversions. There are innumerable instances of girls as young as 14 who have been abducted, forcibly converted and coerced into marriage in both Punjab and Sindh. There was a time in 2015-2016 when the number of attacks on churches in Pakistan was more than the number of attacks on churches in the entire world.
The HRCP report says that Hindus are forced to learn Islamic studies in school and are denied basic rights such as cremation grounds. They have faced mob attacks over allegations of blasphemy—one of the most potent laws in Pakistan to intimidate and subjugate minorities.
This is a repeat of a story a few weeks back when radical Muslims attacked the Nankana Sahib Gurdwara to protest the arrest of a man who had kidnapped and converted a young Sikh girl to Islam. The family of the girl was able to free her from the clutches of her kidnapper but the latter’s family not just attacked the Gurdwara but also wanted to give it an Islamic name.
It is an all-pervasive feeling of helplessness that runs through minority communities in Pakistan. Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs are not alone. Their dwindling fate is matched by that of the Hazaras—people who are native to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Hazaras, who trace their ancestry to the Mongols and have a distinct resemblance to them, are the face of ethnic cleansing. This community was recently in the news as the Pakistani government chose to victimize them for spreading the coronavirus infection. As Shias, the Hazaras are not just at the receiving end of state-led discrimination but also face debilitating attacks from Pakistani terror organizations such as the Lashkar-e Jhangvi (LeJ) and even the global ISIS.
As per official data, more than 500 Hazaras have been killed and 627 injured in just five years. In pogroms over the years, irrespective of the governments in Islamabad, they have been massacred through series of bombings, suicide bombings and other attacks. Tens of thousands have fled the country. Unfortunately, as the attacks happen with informal state sanction, there are no investigations and security forces pay no heed to Hazara concerns.
The community has started hitting back. It has held massive public protests not just in Quetta, Balochistan, but also Karachi. There are calls for a separate state for the Hazaras and the community has found international support as well. US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher moved a resolution in the US House of Representatives in 2012 seeking the right to self-determination for Balochistan. Till that happens, <a href="https://www.refworld.org/docid/5ba0af627.html"><strong>the Hazaras</strong></a>, like the other minorities of Pakistan can only live a life of state-led persecution, violent attacks and declining fortunes.
The HRCP points out that the majoritarian Sunni community has ensured that members of the Zikri community in southern Balochistan are debarred from practicing their faith. They are increasingly finding it difficult to worship in their traditional ways.
The commission noted in its report that besides the atrocities on the minority religions, sectarianism is a homegrown problem in Pakistan due to a kind of “constitutional support given to narrow Sunni majoritarianism to the exclusion of all other modes of interpreting Islam."
Low on governance, the Imran Khan government aided by clerics, powered by the military and high on hate speech successfully pushes out its most vulnerable by stamping them as 'the other'..