As analysts begin to try and make some sense of the extraordinary year that 2020 was, in Pakistan one domestic flashpoint seems to have passed into anonymity. In May of last year, the government extended an invitation to the Ahmadi Community to take up membership of the newly constituted National Commission for Minorities before promptly rescinding the offer following a public outcry and condemnation from their own ministers. Ahmadis could not be considered legitimate stakeholders in the social contract because they do not accept the constitution of Pakistan, or so the howls of indignation went, and to recognise them as such would be against the national interest of the country and an affront to its honour and prestige.
But rather than being set aside as a mere footnote, this latest disavowal of the country’s most vulnerable community should chill the blood as it is yet another grotesque marker of Pakistan’s descent into fascism and its becoming of a fertile ground for genocide.
Surely fascism and genocide are words too strong to use, deliberately provocative, but not reflective of any kind of reality, dangerous even, in so much as if or when they ever do take root here, we will no longer have the language to warn against them. But scratch a little beneath the surface and all the signs are there. What we have right now is not the fascism of the Blackshirts or the Nazis, but it is a difference of degree not of type, and nowhere is it more nakedly on display than in the treatment of the country’s Ahmadi population.
When the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto passed the second constitutional amendment which declared Ahmadis non-Muslim, he spoke of it as the final resolution to a 90-year-old problem that had plagued the Muslims of the region. But in truth, rather than it closing the chapter on the issue, it simply marked the beginning of an endlessly recurring process of de-humanisation. It wasn’t enough that Ahmadis be declared non-Muslim, there also needed to be legislation which curbed their private and civic activities. This General Zia ul Haq dutifully provided, but even the laws against them were insufficient. Over time, these institutional reconfigurations stoked further resentment towards the community to the point where the most fervent, committed and effective form of political mobilisation in the country was organised around curtailing every aspect of Ahmadi life in Pakistan.
Now something has changed again. By walking back on their decision to include Ahmadis in the National Commission for Minorities, the government has ratified the increasingly prevalent belief that the place of Ahmadis in Pakistan is provisional, that they are not welcome and that they will always be treated as outsiders. They are neither Muslim nor a minority, but something else, something other, something so unworthy it is difficult to prescribe it a name. All that is left is a loathsome game of fill in the blanks to decide what Ahmadis are, and the answers that have so far been forthcoming — wajibul qatal, badtareen kafir, laanati ghadaar — presage a deeply unsettling future.
The National Commission for Minorities is not a particularly significant or effective body, and as self-identifying Muslims, the community was never going to take up their designated seats out of a principle stance. In the minds of most people the ramifications of the government’s decision can be easily ignored. But that in itself if part of the problem. Fascism and the genocides it provokes do not just happen one day out of the blue with the construction of a concentration camp or mass murder. There is no one dramatic event, or a single moment where the line between decency and evil is crossed. Instead cruelty and hatred builds over time, as one taboo is shattered after another, until the signature distinction of the nation is its hatred of its chosen other, and what is happening to Ahmadis in Pakistan is just another iteration of this pattern.
The Holocaust did not emerge out of isolation, simply because hatred of Jewish people was the central component of a political party that ended up making a successful power grab in 1930’s Germany. Instead it occurred off the back of centuries of xenophobia, anti-Semitism and conspiracy thinking all of which became the justification for discrimination, the segregation of Jewish communities, forced conversions, the scapegoating of Jews for national ills and ultimately of the removal of their right to exist. In the same way, acts of aggression against Ahmadis, and increasingly other minorities or indeed the wrong kind of majority Muslims, are born out of a hateful legacy which spans across much of Pakistan’s short existence and is worsening by the day.
It is also wrong to assume that genocides can only be measured in body counts. Genocides are more than just about death, they are about erasure, cancellation and the exercise of dominance. Consider the regular violence of the Ahmadi graves that are desecrated, or the instances where Ahmadis have been denied burial in common cemeteries, or the Ahmadi bodies forcibly exhumed from their resting places. We also see signs of it in the 25 Ahmadi places of worship that have been damaged or set on fire, or the 17 that have been forcibly occupied and the 29 that have been completely demolished since the promulgation of the Zia-era laws. Evidence lies everywhere, from the over 3000 Ahmadis who have been charged for religious offences to the banning of the community’s books and newspapers through to prohibitions on community sports events and other forms of communal gatherings. Death is not just physical. Death is spiritual, it is mental, it is emotional and for Ahmadis in Pakistan it strikes everywhere in all of its various forms.
It says a lot about how pervasive bigotry and intolerance of Ahmadis has become that it is seldom recognised, even as new doors of evil and cruelty are opened up against them. Its evasiveness is both an expression and cause of its power. But for anyone who wishes to see it, it is there, and as the events of the last year begin to be processed they show that the soul of the country is more malevolent than it ever has been. And it is exactly through this type of systematic hatred of a people marked out as different that fascism and genocides are made.
Updated On: 11.01.2020