And Bigoted Masses
By Rehman Faiz
03 October, 2006
minorities are awfully discriminated in Pakistan and a wave of religious
extremism is all embracing across the land that is evident by the repeated
acts of violence, discrimination and extremism against the people belonging
to religious minorities. The year 2005 proved to be the worst period
as far as the incidents of violence against religious minorities are
concerned. According to various reports prepared by the renowned Human
Rights organizations, during the year 2005, the country’s record
for the rights of religious communities had been the worst in a period
of the last 5 years.
While analysing the situation we can take this condition as a reaction
to Musharraf’s decision of being partner in the war against terror.
In February this year when the protests against the Danish cartoons
exploded in violence for the first time, it was difficult in any conversation
to avoid an angry discourse on blasphemy. And that was a point to really
understanding the psychological backing of religious sentiments in Pakistani
Why the Pervez government couldn’t really implent its agenda of
the ‘enlightened moderation’?
A simple analysis reveals that days after the dramatic if bloodless
coup that brought him to power in 1999, the general posed for the cameras
in a Hello-style shoot on the lawns of his Rawalpindi home. Cradling
his Pekinese dogs Dot and Buddy, and making the right noises about democracy,
the army chief cut a reassuring figure for the West. Six years on, Gen
Pervez Musharraf proved simply to be another army Genral in Pakistan
who is doing anthing to prolong his regime as an army ruler. Musharraf's
relationship with America in the "war on terror" is his lifeline
(billions of dollars in aid have flowed from it) and the backbone of
his prolonged regime. He has suited America's interests but caught on
the tightrope of meeting their demands while trying to cope with the
religious right, he is politically paralysed and has taken Pakistan
When President Musharraf seized power in 1999, he enjoyed popular support
at home but was rejected abroad. Following six years of his rule, the
General gained the approval of the international community while he
lost much of his domestic backing. Because the objectives of his two
main allies – the religious groups and the United States –
are impossible to reconcile, any move to please one of them signifies
putting the other at a disadvantage. The alliance forged between Islamabad
and Washington led to an increase in anti-American sentiment in Pakistan,
of which the domestic religious groups are the principal beneficiaries.
By exaggerating the threat posed to his regime by Islamic extremist
movements, Musharraf succeeded in presenting himself as the best suited
man to hold the country together. While he has tried his best to maintain
the equilibrium between the requests of religious groups and those of
the Western world, the General’s policies are based on the suppression
of other domestic political forces. Hence, it is only by excluding those
parties from the political arena constituting a real threat to his regime
that President Musharraf is able to remain in power. Therefore, the
balancing act the General is performing between the Mullahs and the
United States is itself a result of the manipulation of the political
scene in Pakistan.
What has been ignored during maintaining the fine balance between the
western interests and the demands of the religious extremists is the
issue of minorities’ rights.
Until the past year, the minority Christian community continued to be
subject to extremist and mob violence. In November 2005, a mob of over
1,500 persons, incited by local Muslim clerics on the basis of a false
accusation of blasphemy against a local Christian man, set fire to and
destroyed several churches, schools, and homes of Christian families
in the town of Sangla Hill, in the province of Punjab. In January 2006,
the blasphemy charge was dropped. In February 2006, in the furor that
erupted in Pakistan after the publication of highly controversial cartoons
in the Danish press, mobs threatened Christian communities in a number
of areas in Pakistan. In the town of Sukkur, in Sindh province, a crowd
of Muslims burned down two churches, an attack that was triggered in
part by rumors that a Christian man committed blasphemy. Provincial
authorities ordered an investigation into the incident and reportedly
a number of people have been arrested.
Ahmadis, who number between 3 and 4 million in Pakistan, are prevented
by law from engaging in the full practice of their faith. Pakistan’s
constitution declares members of the Ahmadi religious community to be
“non-Muslims,” despite their insistence to the contrary.
Barred by law from “posing” as Muslims, Ahmadis may not
call their places of worship “mosques,” worship in non-Ahmadi
mosques or public prayer rooms which are otherwise open to all Muslims,
perform the Muslim call to prayer, use the traditional Islamic greeting
in public, publicly quote from the Quran, or display the basic affirmation
of the Muslim faith. It is also illegal for Ahmadis to preach in public,
to seek converts, or to produce, publish, and disseminate their religious
materials. In August 2005, Pakistani authorities banned 16 Ahmadi-run
publications in the Punjab province. Most of those Ahmadis have been
arrested—two persons were arrested as a result of the previously
mentioned action in the Punjab—and imprisoned for terms of up
to three years for all of the above acts, and they are reportedly subject
to ill treatment from prison authorities and fellow prisoners.
Because they are required to register to vote as non-Muslims, a policy
that was reaffirmed by Pakistani government officials in February 2004,
Ahmadis who refuse to disavow their claim to being Muslims are effectively
disenfranchised. The one potentially positive development, the December
2004 abolition of the religion column in Pakistani passports, which,
among other advances, enabled Ahmadis to participate in the hajj, was
derailed in March 2005, when members of a government ministerial committee
restored the column, reportedly in response to pressure from militant
religious parties. There is no indication that the current government
intends to institute any reforms to the anti-Ahmadi laws. In this way
the Ahmadi case is unique in the history of the civilized world in terms
of freedom of religious expression and practice. This is the only community
in the world which has been forced to hide its faith and identity by
Although the law states that adequate provisions shall be made for minorities
to profess and practice their religions freely yet the system limits
freedom of religion. Islam is the state religion, and the constitution
requires that laws be consistent with Islam. All citizens are subjected
to certain provisions of Shari'a, such as the blasphemy laws. Reprisals
and threats of reprisals against suspected converts from Islam occurred.
Members of religious minorities are subjected to violence and harassment,
and police at times refuse to prevent such actions or charge persons
who commit them. The president and the prime minister must be Muslim.
The prime minister, federal ministers, and ministers of state, as well
as elected members of the senate ansd national assembly (including non-Muslims),
must take an oath to "strive to preserve the Islamic ideology,
which is the basis for the creation of Pakistan"
1) From May 2005 till now, below are given the hints of the main incidents
took place against religious minorities in Pakistan by the religious
A mob set ablaze a temple of Hindu and destructed housing locality of
minority communities. The incident followed a dubious allegation of
desecration of the Holy Quran, leveled against Yousaf Masih (60), in
June 2005 at Nowshera, a district of North West Frontier Province.
2) The police raided the
Catholic Sisters' bookshop (Daughters of St. Paul) at Karachi in June
2005, for allegedly issuing literature or materials which hurts the
feelings or belief of other religion. Daughters of St. Paul (the nuns)
has been selling CDs, videos and Christian literature and offering faith-enriching
material about Christian religion and moral teachings at Karachi since
3) In September 2005, the
buses bringing the pilgrims (Christians) were stopped by armed men at
Mariamabad and the passengers were robbed of their cash and valuables.
The next day dozens of police cadets were found present in the compound
reserved for the fair. They reportedly harassed people by unlawful body
search and forced individuals to give bribe to them. An annual pilgrimage
is held at this village named after Mother Mary, at district Nankana
Sahib since 1949, to pay homage to her.
4) Mr. Chaman Lal and his
wife Krishna, a Hindu couple, was charged under blasphemy laws, for
allegedly desecrating the Holy Quran. Their house was attacked and destroyed
by an Islamic group in September 2005, at Swabi, a district of North
West Frontier Province. They lost their property and were forced to
migrate to another place.
5) Several houses of Christian
minority were destroyed and looted by the Islamic zealots at Lahore,
after a blasphemy allegation against a Christian, Younis Masih, in September
6) Eight Ahmadis were killed
and 14 others wounded at Mandi Bahauddin near Lahore in October 2005,
by unknown gunmen in motorbikes while the Ahmadis were reciting prayers
in their place of worship.
7) A mob attacked and destroyed
3 Churches (Catholic, Salvation Army and United Presbyterian), a Sisters'
Convent, St. Anthony's School building, a girl's Hostel, a dispensary
and a Pastor's house at Sangla Hills on 12 November 2005. About 450
Christian families living in Sangla Hills left their homes. The incident
took place after an alleged desecration of Holy Quran by Yousaf Masih,
a Christian. The allegations were motivated for settling scores regarding
some money dispute between the accusers and the accused and had nothing
to do with the alleged desecration.
8) A Catholic Church was
attacked at Kawanlit, district Sialkot on 3 February 2006. The furniture,
windows and religious books were destroyed. There was a dispute between
local Christians and Muslims on a piece of land. The court issued the
orders in favor of the Christians and upon return from the Court's judgment,
the Church was attacked by the local Muslims. In this attack two elderly
women were badly injured. 70-year old Ms. Veero suffered multiple fractures
on both legs.
9) On 15 February 2006, St.
Michael's Convent School, Elizabeth Girls High School and Edward Boys
College were attacked and damaged by the religious zealots during protests
at Peshawar, capital of North West Frontier Province. 3 mission hospitals
at Peshawar, Bannu and Mardan, were also pelted with stones.
10) On 18 February 2006,
an award winning Christian singer Mr. A Nayyar was stopped by a few
young men in the midnight in an apparent robbery bid. When they recognized
him, he was beaten, humiliated and asked to recite Kalama-Tayyaba (Islamic
proclamation of faith).
11) On 19 February, a mob
attacked St. Mary's Church, St. Xavier's Church and St. Mary's School
at Sukkar (built in 1889). They stole valuable articles and set the
Churches and vehicles on fire, damaged a school hall and totally destroyed
a pastor's house. The attacks resulted from an abuse of blasphemy laws
as Mr. Irfan, a Muslim convert, tried to implicate his Christian father-in-law,
Mr. Saleem, in burning a copy of Holy Quran. After the investigation,
Mr. Irfan, who set the ploy, confessed that he was blameworthy instead
of his Christian father-in-law. Mr. Irfan is in police custody.
12) Some unidentified men
set fire to a Church in Sargodha on 28 Febuary. The fire damaged the
main entrance of the church.
13) on 24th June, during
an attack on Ahmadiyya community in Jhandu Sahi (Sialkot District) a
mob of extremist Muslims set two shops and 3 homes on fire with looting,
torture and humiliation of the whole Ahmadiyya population in the town
14) On 9th September 2006,
a mob of religious extremists raided the center of Ahmadiyya community
at Chenab Nagar (old Rabwa) including the offices and library, picked
up Qasim Ahmad and Abdus Sattar and took them to the police station.
Police locked them up without any bail until now.
15) The human rights groups
in Pakistan have organized the fact finding missions to make the realistic
reports, have sent those reports to the higher authorities including
the president Gen Pervez Musharraf and have repeatedly sent reminders
to seek justice but hardly any appeal resulted in a reply or action
by the government. Still the human rights organizations in Pakistan
hope that a fine day will come when the religious communities and groups
would be given their fundamental rights as the equal Pakistani citizens.
Rehman Faiz is the President of Amnesty International
Pakistan and lives in Lahore. He can be reached at: email@example.com
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