Pakistan is not a country for many. You should not stay here if you think rationally, if you are liberal in your religious ideas, if you are pluralistic, if you believe in freedom of expression, if you are poor and if you belong to any of the communities, groups, belief systems or nationalities that are not welcome in Pakistan. More importantly, if you are living abroad as a Pakistani immigrant belonging to a minority group, you should never think about returning to Pakistan and that too with a humane mission in mind. Dr Qamar Ali Mehdi, 51, was a Pakistani Canadian, practicing medicine in Canada for the last 10 years. He recently came to Pakistan to volunteer for one of the best cardiac hospitals in the country, Tahir Heart Institute, located in Rabwah, the centre point for people belonging to the Ahmedi community. He too was an Ahmedi, who had moved to Canada about a decade ago. Yet, he came back, with a humane mission in his mind, i.e. to treat and help the poor people of Pakistan. His mission was not limited to his community members but to all Pakistanis who visited Tahir Heart Institute for treatment.
Dr Mehdi, like many other Ahmedis, became a victim of the hatred that is in a way authorised and recognised by the Pakistani state. You can be killed anytime, anywhere if you are an Ahmedi living in Pakistan. A few days back, a 60-year-old Ahmedi man was killed inside a jail in Lahore on blasphemy charges. These are only individual examples. Extremists have also massacred this community without mercy in the past. Eighty-five Ahmedis were killed in Lahore in 2010. So, if you are an Ahmedi living in Pakistan, you should better think about leaving the country before it’s too late. This is what happens to disenfranchised communities in Pakistan. The case of Ahmedis is one extreme. There are other communities and ethnicities in the country who were disenfranchised by the state long ago, yet they call Pakistan their homeland and continue to serve it. However, this cannot go on forever. As Habib Jalib once said, Zulm rahe aur amn bhi, kia ye mumkin hai, tum hi kaho. This verse means that it is not possible for injustice and peace to prevail at the same time. These are two different philosophies, perhaps two opposing ones. The Pakistani state backed by the right-wing religio-political groups strongly believes that both these conditions and philosophies can coexist. This is not only absurd, but an abomination to rational thinking. This article is not aimed at the glorification of Ahmedis as a community living in Pakistan, but is a reminder to the authorities that Pakistan is a country where minorities are also a significant part of the population and being Pakistanis, they have their rights too. The state cannot side with the extremists and continue to ignore them and most importantly cannot afford to become part of any propaganda aimed at the destruction of minorities.
After the elections in 2013, a year has passed since the new government came to power in Pakistan. One can easily observe the developmental goals of the government by looking at the dusty roads of the capital, making way for the Metro Bus. During the past one year, the government has totally ignored its legislative responsibilities. Not a single law or act was enacted during the past year. The recent budget also chose to ignore the poor and destitute. Perhaps the Council of Islamic Ideology has performed better in this regard. At least it has remained true to its members’ narrow ideas and goals. It has asked for the legalisation of second marriage without the consent of the first wife and most importantly, it has raised its voice for underage female marriages. A government or state machinery is not a private limited company that only eyes the maximisation of profit. There are many other responsibilities of a government towards its people, especially the ignored segments of society, i.e. those who face persecution due to their religious beliefs, people who are killed due to their ethnicity, and people who are dying due to hunger. The present government proudly calls itself the ‘Muslim League’, yet it chooses to ignore the principles upon which the pre-partition Muslim League struggled for this country. The present government also wants to make Pakistan more prosperous, i.e. at par with the developed world. However, this idea does not seem plausible as long as disenfranchised segments of the country continue to face persecution at the hands of extremists, who are at times supported by the state machinery or get away easily due to loopholes in our laws and criminal justice system. The government cannot ignore its role of being the guardian of the people’s rights. It cannot choose to ignore its own people. It cannot disregard or disenfranchise a particular community due to its religious beliefs, no matter how divergent they are from the mainstream faith. The government needs to protect all Pakistanis, irrespective of their faith, especially those who are at constant threat from the extremists. Otherwise no other volunteer like Dr Qamar Ali Mehdi will ever think about coming back to Pakistan to help the poor.
The writer is a development consultant. She tweets at @GulminaBilal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org