Criminalised, killed and cursed: The plight of Pakistan’s Ahmadiyya community

On 11 February, Abdul Qadir, a 65-year-old Ahmadi homeopathic doctor, was shot dead outside his homeopathic clinic in the Bazikhel area of Peshawar in north-western Pakistan. His killing marked the latest in a concerning uptick in religiously motivated attacks on Ahmadis, particularly in Peshawar.

Last year, CSW documented at least five other instances in which Ahmadis were killed, including an incident in which 31-year-old doctor, Tahir Mahmood, was murdered in front of his family at his home in Murch Balochan in Nankana Sahib District, Punjab.

The fact that Pakistan’s Ahmadiyya community has a long history of experiencing harassment, discrimination, violence and other human rights violations within Pakistani society leaves little doubt that these murders are religiously motivated. A pattern is also clearly emerging whereby prominent doctors and academics have been specifically singled-out by extremists.

It is likely that, to some extent, the fact that many of those killed have held prominent places in society is exactly why they were targeted. For extremists in the country who refuse to accept Ahmadis as Muslims, the idea that members of the community could hold positions of authority such as in hospitals or at universities is no doubt an affront to their fundamentalist interpretations of Islam.

Radical Islamists have long been responsible for encouraging violence towards the community, including incidents in which Islamic teachers, known as mullahs, have announced over mosque loudspeakers that anyone who kills an Ahmadi will go to paradise, and anyone who loots their houses will be blessed with money.

No clean hands

While the Pakistani authorities often make arrests following the killings of Ahmadis, it’s also important to remember that they too bear some responsibility for the culture of intolerance towards the community.

In 1974 the government introduced a constitutional amendment which made Pakistan the only country in the world to declare Ahmadis to be non-Muslims by law. This was further exacerbated a decade later, when in 1984 the introduction of Ordinance XX made it a criminal office for Ahmadis to call themselves Muslims.

Since then, the Ahmadi community has faced intolerance and an array of right violations in virtually all aspects of life. Ahmadi children face hardship, bullying and discrimination at school, whilst adults suffer similar experiences in the world of employment. In addition, the community endures the regular desecration of their grave sites and the destruction of their mosques at the hands of sizable mobs.

In the most extreme cases, like that of Dr Qadir and Dr Mahmood, Ahmadis are even killed for their beliefs. A report published last July by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community found that 269 Ahmadis had been killed because of their faith since 1984.

Hatred fuelled

These horrific statistics are fuelled by the Pakistani government legislation which contributes to the marginalisation and othering of the Ahmadiyya community, but, to make matters worse, there are also members of the government who are responsible for directly encouraging hatred and violence towards Ahmadis.

In April 2020 for example, Pakistan’s State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Mr Ali Muhammad Khan issued a tweet (which has since been deleted) which endorsed beheading as an acceptable punishment for blasphemers, who he went on to make clear referred to members of the Ahmadiyya community.

Caption: The tweet from Minister Muhammad Khan which reads in Urdu as “Blasphemer of the Prophet has only one punishment, Behead! Behead!”

The APPG for the Ahmadiyya community reported that the minister’s tweet subsequently resulted in “atirade of abuse and hate speech against Ahmadi Muslims” which culminated in the arrest of two members of the community on blasphemy charges.

This was hardly the first time a government official had fuelled religious intolerance towards the Ahmadi community in Pakistan. In 2019 Pakistan’s Parliamentary Affairs Minister Azam Swati claimed in a television interview that he and the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan sent curses towards the Ahmadi community, whom he referred to as Qadianiyat – a religious slur.

An inclusive Pakistan?

Prime Minister Khan has repeatedly taken pride in making repeated claims to an inclusive Pakistan in which the rights of all citizens are upheld and respected, however it’s clear from the plight of the Ahmadis that this is not the case. That’s before the often dire situation of other minority communities in the country, including that of Christians and Hindus, is even considered.

Last year, the government announced the establishment of a National Commission for Minorities (NCM), but thus far it has been ineffective in securing real improvements in the lives of Pakistan’s minority communities, who have termed the commission ‘toothless.’ This is perhaps unsurprising: unlike previously empowered commissions in Pakistan, the commission lacks power, autonomy, or even a budget, and many of its members selected specifically because of their partiality to the ruling party.

Until the government of Pakistan takes steps to ensure that the NCM is genuinely empowered and appropriately resourced, it will remain unable to proactively respond to the myriad of FoRB violations taking place in the country, leaving Ahmadis and other religious minorities vulnerable to further discrimination, harassment, and even violence.

It is essential that Pakistan’s bilateral partners, including the UK, which enjoys a close relationship with the country as a member of the Commonwealth, remain committed to raising the plight of the Ahmadis and other religious minorities with Pakistan’s government at every opportunity, to ensure that Prime Minister Khan’s supposed vision of a tolerant and inclusive Pakistan moves from rhetoric to reality.

By CSW’s Public Affairs Officer Ellis Heasley