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Graphic by Naseem ur Rehman

The Ahmadi question is upon us again. It refuses to leave; raises its head every now and then, in brazen attacks on a marginalised community in the form of broad day murders, in attacks on individuals and their businesses, in burning down its worship places. It happened this year in Sialkot in May when a mob attacked a historic worship place and in Faisalabad in August where scores were injured and another worship place razed.

It is futile to repeat what are now historical facts but just to brush up the collective memory, the anti-Ahmadi movement soon after partition and the subsequent simmering intolerance culminated in something unheard of — a constitutional amendment in 1974 declaring Ahmadis non-Muslims. And the irony of ironies, as noted many times before, a religious leader and member of parliament Shah Ahmad Noorani declared this amendment was meant to save Ahmadi lives.

What made life real hell for Ahmadis were the changes in the penal code by dictator Gen. Ziaul Haq in 1984. With this constitutional amendment and laws put in black and white, there now was a “state sanction” following which the discrimination against them was official and hence warranted.

No constitutional guarantees of equality were valid for this community which continues to suffer. The latest episode of world renowned economist Atif Mian being asked to leave the newly formed government’s Economic Advisory Council a few days after his nomination is, therefore, as much a moment of shame for this country as the Ahmadis’ consistent persecution in the last 71 years.

The Atif Mian episode has been and will continue to be used for political point-scoring, mainly by those who stand outside the political arena; because those who moved calling attention notices in both the houses of parliament, asking the government to oust him, belonged to parties across the spectrum, barring a few may be. To be honest, it exposed that the problem was not confined to the extreme religious lobby but also among, as I.A. Rehman, points out, “other people that are presumed to belong to educated and conscious sections of society”.

It is thus for the society to look at this whole incident with introspection. Yes the Second Amendment does exist in the constitution but what do we want to do with these fellow countrymen and women who rightly believe they have been given a rough deal. Is a rethink of some kind not in order?

Read also: Wages of appeasment

In an atmosphere of appeasement to extreme religious forces, this seems like a far-fetched idea but the state, constitution and laws after all are there to serve the people and not vice versa. Someone needs to take the first step forward. If not those who want to build a new Pakistan, then who?


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