Following Nelson Mandela’s death last month, many a Pakistani politician — past and present — has been dubbed ‘our Mandela’. While all juxtapositions were respectively incongruous on their own unique scale of absurdity, what takes the cake is the inability to perceive the irony that anyone in Pakistan can have anything to do with anti-apartheid revolution. Pakistan: it has mustered the worst kinds of discrimination from all over the globe and assembled them on its own chopping board. Pakistan: it is associated with genocides that cover as wide a gamut as possible. Pakistan: it is the undisputed hub of apartheid.
Apartheid is an Afrikaan word that means ‘apart-hood’, which is used to depict the system of racial segregation in South Africa. And while discrimination is ubiquitous all over the world, with Pakistan you get the worst of the worst in a single showcase.
Historically, Pakistan owes its existence to a sense of ‘apart-hood’. The Muslims of the Indian subcontinent refused to live under ‘Hindu Raj’ and propagated the Two Nation Theory despite the fact that the Hindus and Muslims had significantly more in common than their differences. Having ruled over the Hindus for centuries, it was inconceivable for the Muslims to exist under them. And, of course, it does not get more ‘segregated’ than existing as two separate countries.
Then we had the Bengali genocide in the lead up to 1971. The remnants of that apartheid still exist in Pakistan, with the National Assembly adopting a resolution against the hanging of Abdul Qadir Molla — a man charged with massacring 344 civilians and committing multiple rapes, including those of minors. Eleven days after Mandela’s death, the leading contender to be ‘Pakistan’s Mandela’, Imran Khan, was bellowing for the innocence of Qadir Molla — the most brutal exponent of our savage version of apartheid in Bangladesh. Irony is too small a word. In 1947, we orchestrated nationalistic apartheid. Until 1971 it was ethnic apartheid. Even so, what we seem to specialise in is social and religious apartheid.
The division of economic classes in Pakistan is well documented. However, what is not as highlighted as it should be is racial apartheid and caste-based oppression. We have the ‘kammis’, and ‘mussalis’, with the masihis, bheels, kohlis and others facing both religious and caste-based subjugation. They are more often than not deemed unworthy to share food, drink or even utensils with. They are touted as the ‘untouchables’ but not untouchable enough to not be raped regularly. Women from these castes face racial, religious and gender apartheid. As you can see, as far as apartheid is concerned, Pakistan has a blend of everything — quite often for the same individual.
Pakistan’s gender apartheid can be seen through the lens of the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index 2013, where we sit pretty at the 135th spot — second from bottom. With the level of physical and sexual violence, forced marriages, karo kari (honour killings) and structural discrimination faced by Pakistani women redefining their respective nadirs on an annual basis, one actually wonders what Yemen does to its women to take the honourable bottom slot away from us. With the jirga (tribal courts) system, which sanctions honour killings and female persecution, discounted as a ‘cultural’ and ‘tribal’ matter, gender apartheid in Pakistan should continue to flourish.
We have not even factored in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual) community in gender apartheid yet, primarily because their existence is portrayed as the offshoot of a global conspiracy. As depicted by a loathsome private news show recently, the LGBT community in Pakistan does not even have basic human rights.
As far as religious apartheid is concerned, no one is under the guillotine as frequently as the minorities in Pakistan. In fact, here the non-Muslims are ‘fortunate’ enough to solely suffer from discrimination, bigotry and the occasional church bombing; it is the ‘heretic’ Islamic sects that suffer from the most barefaced butchery. Over 20,000 Shias have been targeted and killed since Pakistan’s inception with the likes of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) — formerly the Sipah-e-Sahaba — endeavouring day and night to ‘purge’ the land of the pure from ‘heresy’ through Shia genocide.
The Ahmedis are not only butchered when they are alive, their graves are not spared either. They were ‘officially’ declared non-Muslims in 1974 with the Ordinance XX, a decade later, debarring Ahmedis from “worshipping in non-Ahmedi mosques or public prayer rooms, performing the Muslim call to prayer, using the traditional Islamic greeting in public, publicly quoting from the Quran, preaching in public, seeking converts, or producing, publishing and disseminating their religious materials.”
Within 10 days of Mandela’s death, when tributes echoed for the former South African president from within Pakistan, our National Assembly was busy formulating the resolution against Qadir Molla’s hanging and, simultaneously, a British doctor ,Masood Ahmad, who happened to adhere to the Ahmedi sect, was being arrested for the ‘horrendous crime’ of reading aloud from the Quran.
The butcher of Mirpur was being hailed as innocent and a man became a criminal for reading the Quran; all this while Mandela’s anti-apartheid movement was being extolled. It is going to take a battalion of Mandelas to drag Pakistan out of its multi-pronged apartheids.
The writer is a financial journalist and a social critic. He tweets @khuldune and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org