Tag Archives: Lahore

Pakistan's Constitution Must Be Amended To Remove Sectarian Clauses

The murders of over 90 Pakistani citizens last week because of their religious beliefs makes clear that Pakistan’s parliament must amend the Constitution to remove sectarian clauses that in part incite such violence.

Section 260(3) of Pakistan’s constitution defines whom the law considers a Muslim. This is exceedingly important because the constitution restricts certain government offices to Muslims. For example, Section 41(2) requires that the President be “a Muslim of not less than forty-five years of age.”

But more than simply disenfranchising some citizens, the sectarian clauses in the constitution have created second-class citizens of religious minorities, and given fodder for the hateful rhetoric of extremists that encourages such violence as was witnessed last Friday.

In fact, the massacre of the Ahmadis was not the first time that a religious minority has suffered violent attack in recent months. Last August, religious extremists attacked a community of Christians in Gojra, killing many and burning down several dozen homes.

Pakistan’s parliament and President Zardari were quick to condemn the attacks in Gojra and provide funding to compensate victims, but until the government purges the aberrant laws that extremists use to justify these attacks, future violence is all but inevitable.

Cornell doctoral student Basit Riaz Sheikh, agrees. Writing for English-language daily, Express Tribune, Sheikh notes that the sectarian tensions that increasingly flare up today are rooted in the regime of dictator Zia-ul-Haq.

Until 1977, when Bhutto’s government was toppled, Pakistan was free of any major sectarian and ethnic tensions. The ten years of Zia-ul-Haq’s dictatorial regime would transform Pakistan from a tolerant society into one marred with ethnic and sectarian divisions and hate-driven politics. He fully crippled the religious freedom of minorities by imposing draconian laws in the name of the Anti-Islamic-Activity Act. Zia vanished, but we continue to pay for his sins.

The remnants of his era, in the shape of many in our media now and others, continue to insinuate hatred against minorities, the West, and all others who disagree with them. It goes beyond my imagination that we let these hate-mongers freely express their extremist sentiments on TV channels under the pretext of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom to spread hate.

To build a stronger and a united Pakistan, we need to cleanse our constitution of the provisions that continue to divide us.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has recognized the Zardari government’s progress in the area of religious freedom in Pakistan, but points out that until discriminatory legislation promulgated by previous administrations is removed, religious minorities will continue to suffer.

The Zardari government has taken some positive steps regarding religious freedom. In November 2008, the government appointed prominent minority-rights advocate Shahbaz Bhatti as Federal Minister for Minorities with cabinet rank. Mr. Bhatti has publicly promised that the Zardari government will review Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and that the government is committed to protecting the rights of minority religious communities, including by implementing a five percent quota for religious minorities in federal government employment. In March 2009, the government appointed a Christian jurist as a judge in the Lahore High Court. It is not yet clear what impact these developments will have on religious freedom, which has been severely violated by successive Pakistani governments in the past. Discriminatory legislation, promulgated in previous decades and persistently enforced, has fostered an atmosphere of religious intolerance and eroded the social and legal status of members of religious minorities, including Shi’a Muslims, Ahmadis, Hindus, and Christians.*

Article 33 of Pakistan’s constitution requires the state to “discourage parochial, racial, tribal, sectarian and provincial prejudices among the citizens.” This vital mission of the government cannot be achieved while sectarian prejudice is codified in the nation’s laws. In order to protect the rights and the safety of all citizens, Pakistan’s Parliament should immediately move to amend the constitution by removing Section 260(3) and other sectarian laws.


*Emphasis added

Lahore Attack Rooted In Anti-Democratic Movement

The terrible attack on innocent Pakistanis in the midst of their Friday prayers is deeply rooted in anti-democratic movements of the past, and their ties to modern anti-democratic organizations today. Dr. Syed Mansoor Hussain, a Pakistani physician who has practiced and taught medicine in the US, writes for the English-language newspaper The Daily Times, that the dangerous sectarian attitudes are a political aberration in Pakistan, which can be traced back to opponents of the founding of the nation in 1947. His column is enlightening for Americans and young Pakistanis both, neither of whom may be aware of the history of struggle against such extremim in the nation.

After the Friday massacre in Lahore, I kept asking myself, how and why we have come to this point. I grew up in the Lahore of the late 50s and 60s. My family was not very religious but neither were they very liberal. I went through a typical upper middle class education for that time, English medium schools, followed by a couple of years in Government College (GC) and then five years in the King Edward (KE) Medical College.

During those years, I had of course heard about the Ahmedis and very probably had friends and classmates who were Ahmedi as there were Shias, Sunnis, and even some Christians, but never gave it a thought. The first time this sectarian anger against the Ahmedis came to the fore in my life was when as a second year student in KE, a classmate of ours died in a tragic swimming pool accident.

We decided to have a funeral prayer (namaaz-e-jinaza) for our classmate on the college campus. Suddenly out of nowhere appeared a bunch of students who belonged to the Islami Jamiat-i-Talaba (IJT) trying to convince us that the deceased was an Ahmedi and a funeral prayer should therefore not be held for him. Fortunately, a majority of students in our class ignored these IJT types and went ahead to offer the prayers.

My earliest memories of Lahore as a child were of processions, riots leading to curfews and eventually something called a Martial Law. Many years later when I went back and read about the early history of Pakistan, I realised that those riots were part of the anti-Ahmedi movement led by anti-Pakistan religious groups like the Ahrar and the Jamaat-e-Islami. Part of my reading included the ‘Munir Report’ written by Justices Munir and Kayani about those ‘disturbances’.

In that report I also found out that the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) government in Punjab led by Mian Mumtaz Daultana had aided and abetted this movement. Indeed that report was an eye-opener and is perhaps a great example of the erudition and the objectivity of the senior judiciary in Pakistan. In my opinion any serious student of the history of Pakistan must read that report.

The decade of the 60s ended with the fall of the military dictatorship of General and then Field Marshal Ayub Khan, leading to the second military dictatorship in the history of Pakistan led by General Yahya Khan. Whatever one might say about the 13 years under these two generals, Pakistan was very much a country infused by a pluralist religious ethos. Sectarianism existed but was very much in a muted and undercover form.

Towards the end of 1971 I left Pakistan for the US. When I left Pakistan it still had two wings, East and West Pakistan; however, soon the country went through a violent rupture. During the next decade, things changed a lot. The Ahmedis were declared non-Muslims by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB), their mosques became ‘prayer houses’ and they were forbidden to call themselves Muslims.

Then came the evil decade of Islamisation in which Pakistan changed entirely. Religiosity of an extreme sort became the accepted norm, and virtually all Muslims not subscribing to an extremist vision of Islam became pariahs. The Ahmedis were pushed into a corner and became completely ostracised. The 1953 agitation against them had finally succeeded. All members of religious minorities who could, fled the country including the Parsees, the Christians, Hindus, and the Ahmedis.

For three decades I lived and worked in the US. Other than the family members of the close friends I made during those years, half were probably Jewish and the rest divided between Christians of different denominations, Indians including Hindus, Sikhs and a couple of Jains, and some Muslims from Pakistan. For me religion became the least important barometer of friendship. Frankly, for most of my professional life in the US, if I had to depend on somebody, it was the Jews followed by the Indians with the Pakistani sorts being quite unreliable as a group.

When I returned to Pakistan some years ago, another General was in charge, and ‘enlightened moderation’ was the slogan being touted by the General and his acolytes. Sadly, whatever the facade was, the reality was that Talibanisation and religious extremism were being pushed by the ‘establishment’. All claims of enlightened moderation were completely exposed when the attempt to take off the ‘religion’ column in the Pakistani passports failed. Like ZAB, Musharraf might have been a religious moderate, but he also gave in to the religious extremists to save his job.

The last few years have seen an escalation of both religiosity as well as religiously-motivated terrorism in Pakistan. It is true that many external factors are stimulating the extremist revival, the most important being the US-led invasion and occupation of first Afghanistan and then Iraq. But that does not absolve us in Pakistan from the charge of letting this menace grow.

It happened due to the collusion of the people in power and flourished because many ordinary Pakistanis support the violent and extreme vision of Islam that is pushed by the Taliban and their ilk. Of course the new democratic governments both at the Centre as well as in Punjab have made appropriate noises but they just do not have the gumption to come out openly against religious extremism and those that pander to it. Unless the ordinary people rise up against this menace, it will never be checked.

As far as the attack on the Ahmedi places of worship (cannot call them ‘mosques’ because that is against the law) is concerned, that is particularly despicable. People aggregate to worship Allah, and they become victims of an attack by those that claim to serve Allah. As far as I know the Ahmedis have never done anything to harm Pakistan, and yet those that opposed the creation of Pakistan are at the forefront of accusing them of being anti-Pakistan.