February 4, 2024

By Xari Jalil


LAHORE

“The last time any Ahmadi took part in the elections was over 50 years ago,” says lawyer Mahmood Iftikhar Zufar. “Since 1974 – ever since they were declared non-Muslims by the Constitution of 1973 – the Ahmadi community has distanced itself from taking part in elections.”

In the election of 1970, many from the Ahmadi community had campaigned hard for Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto – only to be shocked later when the Constitution was made. “It was like a stab in the back, but more than that we felt that the parliament did not have the right to declare us Muslim or non-Muslim,” says Zufar who is also a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). “Throughout the history of this country, discriminatory laws have pushed Ahmadis against the wall, as their basic rights are taken away, which are otherwise guaranteed to every citizen under the Constitution. This is also according to Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Pakistan is a signatory.”

Trajectory Rooted in Discrimination

In 2002, General Musharraf re-introduced joint electorates through the Conduct of General Elections Order 2002 which did not sit well with the others. To quell the backlash, Musharraf issued the Conduct of General Elections (Second Amendment) Order, 2002, which was a chief executive order. A separate ‘Supplementary List of Voters’ was made in which Ahmadi voters were placed as ‘non-Muslim’.

The voter list where Ahmadis are put on a separate list from others with complete details including home addresses.

Ahmadis did not participate in any following elections however after the 2013 elections, a revision of election laws was undertaken by the PML-N-dominated parliament. In October 2017, the parliament passed the Elections Act (2017).

According to this new law, Ahmadis could vote as they were no longer required to fill in application forms to register as voters, says Zufar. They were to be placed on joint lists prepared by NADRA. But this did not sit well with the hardliners, and they began to agitate, basing their protests on the doctrine of Finality of Prophethood.

To quell the backlash, the ruling party incorporated Articles 7B and 7C in the Election Act 2017.

“Under these articles, a procedure was added where Muslim voters were required to sign a declaration of the finality of Prophethood,” Zufar told Voicepk. “Those who were to refuse to sign the certificate would have to be deleted from the joint electoral rolls and added to a supplementary list of voters in the same electoral area as non-Muslims.”

A parliamentary committee undertook some revision of the main Electorate Rolls Act, 1974 and on October 2, 2017, the parliament passed the Election Act 2017. According to the new law, Ahmadis could vote as they were no longer required to fill in application forms to register as voters and were to be placed on joint lists prepared by NADRA. The Election Act also required every candidate who claims to be a Muslim to make a declaration of belief on oath.

Once again, Ahmadis were again denied their right of vote.

Voter Lists

The publication of a separate electoral list solely for Ahmadis, complete with personal details like names and addresses, has put the community in danger. This discriminatory practice lays bare their identities, making them sitting ducks for harassment, intimidation, and violence, particularly in remote areas where their numbers are scarce.

For Ahmadis, the chilling reality is living in constant fear, knowing their information is readily available to others, especially in remote communities where their vulnerability is amplified by their smaller populations. The separate list acts as a roadmap for hate, putting them at increased risk of targeted attacks that aim to silence and suppress them.

This blatant violation of the right to privacy is not just a bureaucratic oversight; it’s a recipe for discrimination and persecution. It creates a climate of fear that chills their ability to participate freely in society, further marginalizing an already vulnerable community.

The question remains: for how long will this discriminatory practice be allowed to endanger the lives and well-being of Ahmadis? Their right to safety and security deserves immediate attention and decisive action.

At present, there is a voter list that includes everyone together, regardless of religion – including Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Sikhs. Under the Election Act 2017, under Sections 48A1 and A2, there are no express directions to form any lists only where Ahmadis are included.

“There are voter lists which may be divided into ‘Muslim’ and ‘non-Muslim’, but then all non-Muslims are added to that list. Here the division revolves around Ahmadi and non-Ahmadi,” says Zufar. “Also do other non-Muslims have to take the khatm-e-nabuwat oath too?”

In the case of Ahmadis, a separate voter list is prepared bearing the titles “Qadiani Men/Women’’.

“The entire country has been put down under the same list,” says H*, a student from the Ahmadi community. “But Ahmadis have been listed in a separate list. Is this not discrimination? We have been alienated from everyone else. This is one reason why we have announced dissociation from the elections again.”

H* says that even if they did not dissociate from elections and voted, who could they possibly vote for? “Almost everyone is using the religious card against Ahmadis, or some of them been directly involved in violence against Ahmadis. This has been a demoralizing situation in any case. No manifestos talk about giving Ahmadis any kind of space.”

Today voter lists that have been taken out have separate pages describing the area, district, etc, but two separate pages are listed with forms for ‘Qadiyani male’ or ‘Qadiyani female’.

“They do not even bother referring to us correctly,” says Zufar. “They call us ‘Qadiyani’ or ‘Mirzai’.

But the major concern that lies with the community is the public access to their bio-data – details of their names, CNIC number, age, and home addresses is provided in the voter list which is a public document.

TLP manifesto regarding minorities

One of the political parties that have been seen gaining strength and power is Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan –  a Barelvi-based religio-political party, whose members openly talk against Ahmadis. And Ahmadi community members say that as TLP is rising, attacks against them are becoming more and more frequent.

For instance, TLP has more than often made statements regarding Ahmadis being heretical, many times at private gatherings. They consider Ahmadi structures such as minarets anti-Islamic. As a result of this narrative, several incidents have taken place where minarets at Ahmadi places of worship have been demolished.

The TLP manifesto’s second point says that the curriculum must include lessons on the Finality of Prophethood and that future generations must be protected against evils such as “Qadiayaniat” (derogatory) and atheism.

In this context, the Amir of TLP Lahore, Usman Muzafar Naqshbandi, spoke to Voicepk about the issue.

“Regarding minorities, we have no issue at all; we have the strongest minority wing,” he says adding that they had just recently held a rally in Youhanabad. “As far as the Ahmadis are concerned, they should either declare themselves Muslims, or as non-Muslims. How can they be believed to be Muslims if they don’t even declare the finality of Prophethood? And if they don’t want to, then they should say we are non-Muslims. But they can’t have it both ways.”

Naqshbandi says that the law has highlighted that Ahmadis cannot use Muslim symbols. “They cannot write the Prophet’s name outside their shops and homes. They cannot write ‘Bismillah. if we come to power, we will of course not mistreat them, and they will have a quota in the parliament, but they should not call themselves Muslims – they will never be accepted. You can’t wear a mask, and be someone else inside. The society we live in, there are dozens of Qadianis, and we can’t just go around finishing them off.”

When asked why the TLP is often associated with a rise in attacks, Naqshbandi says it is not because of the TLP, it is because people realize that these things are a violation of law and they begin acting on their own. “Woh qanoon haath main le lete hain‘ (They take the  law in their hands).”

It was the TLP who has always held protests and given the strongest backlash each time there was a blasphemy-related incident such as the release of Asiya Bibi. (Even in Jaranwala incident where 21 churches were burnt, it was TLP who was involved.) But at other times, mobs who have been allegedly supported by TLP, have acted on their own.

 

For example,  on January 28, when Ahmadi community member, Fazal Karim died, arrangements were made for his burial. A grave was dug in the communal graveyard in Sehwala, district Sheikhupura. But even before his burial, the funeral procession was brought to a halt.  The incident took place in Sehwala, Sheikhpura.  later, the family resorted to burying him 150 kilometers away in Darboh. The reason? The deceased Fazal Karim was of the Ahmadi community. The graveyard has one kanal land allotted to Ahmadis by the Punjab Government and two other Ahmadis were also buried here. Some people from the procession were also beaten up. Goons came carrying axes, sticks, and even guns. The extremists also beat and abused the non-Ahmadis who were digging the grave, breaking the digging tools and slabs, and trying to ‘bury’ them in the grave itself.

Upon receiving the information, the police also arrived in 4 vehicles. The civil society especially HRCP immediately condemned the desecration of the Ahmadi grave in Sahwala village, Sheikhupura, that eventually forced the family to bury the deceased somewhere. The incident, also closely followed two other attacks on Ahmadi graves that had taken place on 24 January in Daska and Bharoke.

“HRCP has repeatedly demanded that the state intervene to hold perpetrators of anti-Ahmadi violence accountable, but the impunity with which these incidents recur, that too with increasing brutality, is deplorable. The fundamental rights of the Ahmadi community must be protected, including their right to bury their loved ones in peace and with dignity,” said the commission’s statement.

Meanwhile spokesperson from the Ahmadi community, Amir Mehmood said that the separate lists of the Ahmadi community have forced the community to distance itself from the democratic process. “We want to be part of the democratic process but based on equality,” he said. “We feel strongly that a Pakistani Ahmadi must be treated equally to any other Pakistani. We are not demanding anything special, but we do expect equal treatment from the State.”

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