By Pervez Hoodbhoy
Blaise Pascal, the famous 17th century philosopher and mathematician, observed that "men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it for religious conviction". His words could apply to Gujarat 2002. Or to today's Pakistan, where your religious affiliation-whether by birth or conviction-can land you in your grave. The killers do their job fearlessly and frequently. The police and army don't interfere much. Equipped with just enough religion to hate those having another faith-but not enough faith to love their coreligionists-many Pakistanis have turned their backs on religious atrocities.
What happened to Hindus and Christians is unsurprising. These communities were never enthused about India's partition (even though some individuals still pretend that they were). Indeed, they were soon slapped with the Objectives Resolution of 1949 which termed them "minorities", hence freaks and outcasts dispatched to the margins. Some accepted their fate, keeping a low profile. Others altered their names to more Muslim sounding ones. The better off, or more able ones, emigrated. They took valuable skills and capital along with them. The outflow has picked up again in past years.
Pakistan's Hindu population stands at about 1.7 per cent of 200 million. It is steadily decreasing as families seek immigration to India. "Abduction, rape and coerced conversion of our daughters, extortion, blackmailing and kidnapping of businessmen for ransom" are some of the reasons given by former legislator and chairman of the Pakistan Hindu Council, Ramesh Kumar Vankwani. Additionally, workplace discrimination results in many well qualified young Hindu men being frustrated and jobless.
Pakistani Christians have a still tougher time. In March over 100 homes owned by Pakistani Christians, as well as two small churches, were set ablaze by thousands of angry Muslims in Lahore. Sanitary worker and Christian, Sawan Masih, was accused of blasphemous remarks in the course of an argument with a Muslim friend. In 2009, a 20,000 strong mob, fired with the notion that some Christian man had destroyed a page of the Quran, burned down 50 Christian homes in the town of Gojra. The village of Shantinagar had been similarly destroyed in 1997.
But it is the Shias and Ahmadis who are shocked. They had been fully enthusiastic about Pakistan. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, born a Gujrati Shia Muslim, believed that Muslims and Hindus could never live together peacefully but that Muslims could. Chaudhri Zafarullah Khan, an Ahmadi leader, was commended by Jinnah for having eloquently argued the Two-Nation theory, and then appointed by him in 1947 as Pakistan's first foreign minister. Mr Jinnah died early, but Zafarullah Khan lived long enough to see disillusionment. The inevitable had happened: Once the partition was complete, the question of which version of Islam was correct became bitterly contentious. This irresolvable matter lies at the heart of the fratricide that is tearing Pakistan apart.
Until recently, Pakistan's Shias did not have the self-image of a religious minority. They had joined Sunnis in supporting Mr Bhutto's 1974 decision to declare Ahmadis as non-Muslim. But now they are deeply worried as voices from the extreme Sunni right shrilly demand that Shias also be labelled kafirs. Tribal areas are convulsed in sectarian warfare: Kurram, Parachinar, and Hangu are killing grounds for both Sunni and Shia, but with most casualties being Shia. City life has also become increasingly insecure and segregated; Karachi's Shia neighborhoods are visibly barricaded and fortified. Still, a suicide bomber made it through to Abbas Town with a carload of explosives, leaving dozens of broken apartments with flesh and body parts hanging from their balconies.
Shias, about 20 per cent of the population, have been picked out-Gestapo style. Last year, men in army uniforms stopped four buses bound from Rawalpindi to Gilgit, demanding that all 117 persons on board alight and show their national identification cards. Those with typical Shia names, like Abbas and Jafri, were separated. Minutes later 46 corpses lay on the ground; the earlier massacres of Hazara Shias in Mastung and Quetta had been repeated.
But while Shias are numerous enough to put up at least the pretense of a defence, Ahmadis are not. A raging 5,000-strong mob descended upon their sole worship place in Satellite Town, Rawalpindi. Organised by the Jamaat-i-Islami, various leaders from Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Sipah-e-Sahaba addressed the rally demanding the worship place's security cameras and protective barricades be removed. The police agreed with the mob's demands, advising the Ahmadis to cease praying. The worship place was closed down.
Forbidden from calling themselves Muslims, Ahmadi children are expelled from school once their religion is discovered. Just a hint may be enough to destroy a career. Knowing this, the school staff at a high school in Mansehra added the word "Qadiani" to the name of an Ahmadi student, Raheel Ahmad, effectively eliminating the boy's chances of getting a university education. The same school also held an anti-Ahmadi programme, distributing prizes to winners.
Even dead Ahmadis are not spared: News had reached the Khatm-e-Nabuwat that Nadia Hanif, a 17-year-old school teacher who had died of illness 10 days ago, was actually an Ahmadi but buried in a Muslim graveyard in Chanda Singh village, Kasur. Her grave was promptly dug up, and the body removed for reburial.
Next month's elections will put a new government in place. But this makes no difference; the killers act on their own persuasion and not the government's or the army's. On the other hand, Pakistan's state, for all its tanks and guns, offers no protection to those regarded as religious minorities. Some say this reflects lack of capacity, others claim complicity. Whatever the truth, the fact is that swarms of intelligence agents have somehow failed to intercept religious terrorists.
Even when the government plucks up the courage to try terrorists, the judicial system ensures an almost zero-percent conviction rate. Malik Ishaq, a self-acclaimed Shia-killer, was freed last year after frightened judges treated him like a guest in the courtroom, offering him tea and biscuits. One judge attempted to hide his face with his hands. But after Ishaq read out the names of his children, the judge abandoned the trial.
Partition can never be undone, although RSS extremists dream of it. But to be viable, Pakistan will have to reimagine itself as a state that treats all its citizens equally and curb its enthusiasm for jihad. This is not impossible, and India can help Pakistan achieve this by moderating its rhetoric and improving relations. This will go a long way towards decreasing the influence of Pakistan's militant Islamists.
The author teaches physics in Islamabad.
Reproduced From India Today. © 2013. LMIL. All rights reserved.
By Pervez Hoodbhoy