Prof Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s only Nobel Laureate, travelled to Pakistan to meet her. He hoped to bring cutting edge science to his country, which was denied to him by the previous regime. But she refused to meet him. Salam was an Ahmadi Muslim and Bhutto couldn’t afford to invite the ire of the Pakistani clergy by meeting him.
In April 1989, in the small town of Nankana Sahib in Pakistani Punjab, a cousin of Prof Salam, Malik Saleem Lateef lost his home and all his possessions in a mob attack. This was also a historic year for Malik Saleem Lateef and his community. The Ahmadis of Pakistan were celebrating the centenary year of their Islamic reform movement, which began 100 years ago in Qadian, India. The community celebrated in private as any public expression of jubilation would have landed the perpetrator in prison for at least three years. In Zia’s Pakistan, being an Ahmadi Muslim was a crime. In Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan, things were not going to change for them either. With this mob attack, Nankana Sahib’s Ahmadis were the first Ahmadi community to have suffered persecution at the dawn of their movement’s second century.
Bhutto, the first woman Prime Minister of any Muslim nation, had inherited a dilapidated Pakistan from her arch-nemesis and the dictator, General Zia. Zia had utterly mangled the ideology of Pakistan and deformed society beyond recognition. Her father, the charismatic and mercurial Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had done no favours to Pakistan by amending the Constitution to declare Ahmadis as non-Muslims. The Ahmadis, now deprived of their civil liberties, had to live a clandestine religious existence.
Malik Saleem Lateef was the president of the local Ahmadi community. On this fateful day in April 1989, the mob had destroyed and looted many Ahmadi houses, including his. The townspeople of Nankana Sahib were told through the mosque loudspeakers that the Ahmadis had committed blasphemy. The truth was that the clerics were warning the Benazir Bhutto government to forget about any reversal of Zia’s Islamisation. Malik Saleem and his community paid the price. He kept his people out of harm’s way and as it is the Ahmadi tradition, there was no retaliation or violence in return.
The main outfit behind most anti-Ahmadi violence in Pakistan is the Aalmi Majlise Tahaffuze Khatme Nabuwwat (AMTKN). Various AMTKN publications reveal how much this organisation and its various allies were historically involved in the so-called Afghan “jihad”. Their current focus, in addition to their bread and butter anti-Ahmadi propaganda, is targeting of the secular thought leaders in Pakistan. Clerics associated with AMTKN travel all over Pakistan and even overseas to mobilise their followers against the Ahmadis. In dozens of mob attacks in recent years, AMTKN affiliated clerics have taken active part in criminal activities against the community.
The sequence of events is quite predictable from now onward. The murderer will gain cult following in Punjab. Judges will hesitate to pass the maximum sentence for his crime. The victim and his community will be slandered and abused in the media to gain the maximum benefit for this criminal and his facilitators, the clerics.
The main outfit behind most anti-Ahmadi violence in Pakistan is the Aalmi Majlise Tahaffuze Khatme Nabuwwat (AMTKN). Various AMTKN publications reveal how much this organisation and its various allies were historically involved in the so-called Afghan “jihad”. Their current focus, in addition to their bread and butter anti-Ahmadi propaganda, is targeting of the secular thought leaders in Pakistan.
Soon after her first election in 1988, Benazir Bhutto visited the Saudi king, assuring him of her allegiance to the Kingdom. A daughter of a Shia mother from Iran, Benazir had to establish her credibility as a legitimate leader of a majority Sunni state. She continued with the Zia doctrine of pro-jihad policy in exchange for Saudi economic support.
Just like Malik Saleem, Benazir was also assassinated by a religious fanatic. Her political career now defined not only by her appeasement of the clergy, but by also by her unfortunate demise by the very forces she helped nurture during her rule.
It is common knowledge that not all Saudi money was coming through proper channels. A lot of it was donated directly to various religious outfits to train the Mujahideen and promote Wahhabi puritanism in Pakistan. Along with a host of other anti-Shia organisations, AMTKN has been a beneficiary of this funding. Clerics associated with AMTKN travel all over Pakistan and even overseas to mobilise their followers against the Ahmadis. In dozens of mob attacks in recent years, AMTKN affiliated clerics have taken active part in criminal activities against the community.
But when it comes to murders, both the target killings and vigilante actions are commonly attributed to the more militant organisations like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, named after Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, a notorious anti-Shia cleric. It seems to be the main group responsible for Ahmadi and Shia killings across Pakistan. There is a whole spectrum of Deobandi groups, ranging from hard-line Taliban to the Punjab based Ahle-Sunnat-wal-Jamaat (ASWJ) which are known to have instigated or perpetrated violence against Ahmadis on a regular basis.
Even the less puritanical Barelvi sect is no stranger to anti-Ahmadi violence. In fact, the mob violence against Ahmadis is usually instigated in rural Punjab by Barelvi clerics. Nankana Sahib hosted a major Barelvi anti-Ahmadi conference a few years ago. Guest speakers included a retired high court judge, who called for the implementation of death penalty for apostasy. Speeches were made by the representatives of major Sufi shrines from across the region, all of whom vowed to persecute the Ahmadis until their last breath. What hope is there if all Sunni denominations in Pakistan are hell-bent on making life as miserable for Ahmadis as possible? The government has always been a willing ally of the clerics against the Ahmadis. Add to the mix the resurgent blasphemy focused groups, Ahmadis in Pakistan are in even greater danger now than ever before.
Lutful Islam is a pharmaceutical development scientist by profession, and blogs about Pakistan, history and Islam in Europe. His Twitter handle is @lutfislam.