Pakistan: Massacres of Ahmadis in Lahore & their ‘non-Muslim’ status


A freebee giveaway Harkatul Ansar clock : hands are a Kalshnikov, four of the five pillars of Islam mark the quarter hour points. The fifth pillar, Tauheed, replaced by Jehad. There was a front page photograph the day after the Lahore massacres, of an elderly Ahmedi with a cap and small white beard, hands ‘clasped together in a prayer of sorts’ as Dawn captioned it. ‘Of sorts’. Even Dawn did not want to risk calling it prayer. The photo reminded me of the iconic picture taken during the Gujarat carnage in India, 2002, in which a Muslim man, hands clasped, pleads for his life.

The ‘non-Muslim’ status of the Ahmedis and the laws that criminalise any reference to their using Muslim religious symbols leads the media in Pakistan to steer clear of controversy. Everyone in public routinely refers to their places of worship as ‘mosque’ or their prayers as ‘namaz’. Failure to do so could earn you three years rigorous imprisonment or a mob lynching. In this age of 24/7 television, I felt almost apologetic confessing that I wasn’t watching the drama unfold on live TV. I was out and about, started getting the news much later. Just as well. Dr Haroon Ahmed, the well known psychiatrist, says he wanted to throw up, watching the gory scenes on TV. That’s another issue – the violence brought into our homes through blow-by-blow accounts on TV and the “oxygen of publicity” (as Bharat Bhushan, editor of Mail Today put it) it gives these murderers.

The attacks, conducted almost simultaneously on two Friday congregations of Ahmedis worshippers in Lahore on May 28th, were cold-blooded, well planned events, conducted by trained gunmen with suicide vests (reminiscent of those who attacked Mumbai in Nov 2008). Only one was caught alive. Late at night on Jun 1, armed militants, in a bid to rescue or kill him, burst into the public hospital where he lay injured (not severely), chained to a bed. A quick-thinking nurse switched off the main lights plunging the building into darkness and preventing them from finding their wounded fellow. Luckily they did not hear him screaming from his hospital bed (in some other language according to reports) because the ICU where he was kept is almost soundproof. (He has since been transferred to prison)

Where do these people get the guts to operate so brazenly? Perhaps because the administration turns a blind eye to their displaying banners like the one photographed recently on Mall Road outside Lahore High Court that reads: 'Yahudi, Isai, Mirzai Islam ke dushman haiN’ (Jews, Christians, Ahmedis, are enemies of Islam).

Then there are the freebee giveaways by banned outfits like Harkatul Ansar – like this clock, photographed at a ‘parchoon’ shop in Karachi’s Delhi Colony. The hands are a Kalshnikov, four of the five pillars of Islam, Namaz, Zakat, Haj and Roza (prayer, charity, pilgrimage and fasting) mark the quarter hour points. The fifth pillar, Tauheed (belief in the singularity of the Almighty), has been replaced by Jehad (holy war), the word placed right in the centre. Jehad is not one of Islam's five pillars. But of course, no one is going to proceed against them for misrepresenting, some would say defiling, the religion.

Those who raise a voice against these issues find themselves threatened with legal action or worse. A case in point is Malik Rashid’s article ‘Faithful Killers, Fatal Worship’ (Ibrahim Sajid Malick’s blog) about the massacre of Ahmedis in Lahore on May 28. In the comments section, a reader threatened legal action against Malik Rashid for referring to ‘Ahmedi mosques’. The fellow even provided his name, address and phone number (the number proved erroneous when a doctor in the US attempted to call it).

The massacre of Ahmedis in Lahore was not an isolated incident. Other mosques have been attacked at times of prayer, like the attack on the Rawalpindi army mosque last December that claimed over forty lives. Such incidents underline how various strains come together that have been tearing apart Pakistan in the bloodiest way. Several other recent incidents are part of this continuum, all of which have claimed many innocent lives, like Gojra, the Christian village accused of `blasphemy’ (and earlier, Shantinagar), Marriot Hotel in Islamabad, Sri Lanka’s cricket team and police academy in Lahore, the Ashura Moharram procession followed by widespread arson and later the blast that killed Shi’a mourners in a bus in Karachi.

Each of these attacks, and more, are seared into our consciousness. There are many other incidents, at places where the TV cameras did not reach in time, like the mosque bombed at the frontier, the girls’ schools blown up in the tribal areas. And of course the target killings and attacks on women teachers, journalists, politicians, Ahmedi and Shi’a doctors… Not to mention all those murdered for alleged ‘blasphemy’ (as well as the robbers lynched for stealing)… The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has for years been documenting these violations, demanding legal action, and warning of threats, including to the Ahmedi mosque in Model Town, which was provided no police protection.

Friday, May 28th, had already begun with bad news: the Maoist attack in West Bengal that derailed a passenger express train. Some 80 innocent people lost their lives in that attack. Rajdeep Sardesai tweeted about the ‘red terror’ issue that he was planned to focus on in his show that night. My response: “Terror has no colour. Red terror, green terror, saffron terror – basically they are all criminals & should be dealt with as such.”

The Ahmediyya community has blamed Pakistan’s policies for the attack. They could as well add the US and Saudi Arabia to the list of those responsible. This trajectory of violence fuelled by religious bigotry took a life of its own when all these countries used religion as a tool against communism after having drawn the Soviets into Afghanistan.

Perhaps in the same way India’s policies can be blamed for the Maoist attack. But in the end, the responsibility for the attacks lies with those perpetrating the violence, whether state or non-state actors.

There are those who justify the Taliban’s violence as a reaction to America’s drone attacks. They say everything will be fine once America leaves the region. Sorry, no. The intensity and scale of violence is certainly linked to the American presence but the extremists’ agenda was always clear – they were target killing Ahmedis, Shi’as, blowing up girls’ schools, attacking music shops, de-facing billboards with women on them, long before America returned to the region in the wake of 9-11.

Others remain in denial about the ‘Muslim involvement’ – “They can’t be Muslims, they can’t be Pakistanis”. Theoretically, yes, they are not Muslims because Islam means `peace’ and its followers should adhere to the belief that to kill a human being is to kill all humanity – but they consider themselves to be Muslims. For those who say that the perpetrators were RAW agents – that’s some zeal being exhibited by employees of an intelligence agency, to blow themselves up in their government’s service.

For years we have treated the Ahmedis as non-citizens, even non-humans. I remember my shock at the discrimination they faced when I moved from Karachi to Lahore in 1988 (the community does not live in Karachi in large numbers and it was never an issue there). I wrote a long, researched piece about the discrimination but no one would publish it. ”First make it part of a series,” the editor of a then newly launched weekly magazine told me.

I had an argument with another former editor, an otherwise reasonable senior journalist who had become religious. His reaction to the Ahmedi issue was visceral: he thought they deserved no rights because they were “imposters”. That’s what differentiates them from other religious minorities – they claim to be Muslim, have Muslim names, observe Muslim rituals, but are not recognised as Muslims, according to Pakistan’s constitution – thanks to Z.A. Bhutto and his disastrous policy of appeasing the right-wing as his power faltered.

Ziaul Haq further institutionalised the discrimination against Ahmedis. A religion column was inserted in the passport application form, solely to distinguish ‘Muslims’ from Ahmedis – you tick on the religion box, and if you’re Muslim you have to sign a declaration saying that you believe Mirza Ghulam Ahmed (the Ahmedis’ spiritual head) was an imposter. The only person I know who got away with not signing this was Dr Eqbal Ahmad when he was applying for his passport in New York after the ‘return of democracy’ – he threatened to hold a press conference and make a big noise about it. (there is a similar requirement you obtain your national identity card)

These bigoted views are now entrenched into many psyches. “I had a customer come in, the TV was on showing these attacks,” my DVD wala told me the day after the attacks. “He said, `They (the attackers) are doing the right thing’. I was stunned, but we can’t argue with customers. I just turned the TV off. What kind of beast can justify the killing of innocent people, that too during prayer?”

I hope and believe that most people share the DVD wala’s views more than his customer’s but I don’t know.

By Beena Sarwar