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Enlightened Musharraf
And Bigoted Masses

By Rehman Faiz

03 October, 2006

Religious 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 national identity.

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 nowhere.

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 law.

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 extremists.
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 1948.

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 2005.

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:

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