I have a high paying job in the Middle-East. I am paying almost no taxes and buying petrol cheaper than water for my luxury car. I have not been mugged here, ever. I don’t live in fear of being shot driving out of the airport or being chased by an armed mob accusing me of blasphemy. World travel was never so easy for me – the region is the new aviation hub and airlines are constantly offering great packages. Public holidays are ample and embassies provide almost walk-in visa services. In short, as some people have told me, I am living the “Pakistani dream”. I agree that my current situation is a big step up from my days in Karachi when Chundrigar Road traffic jams were a part of daily life and the salary was barely enough to make ends meet. But these privileges, and Pakistan’s worsening situation since I left notwithstanding, I often feel trapped in a bubble that conveniently shields me from issues back home that directly concern me and mine.
A few days ago, on the main Faisalabad-Sargodha highway in Pakistan, a tanker full of oil smashed into a truck, overturned, and then caught fire after a big explosion. As huge black fumes of smoke engulfed the entire sky residents of Rabwah, a town adjacent to the highway, panicked. The site of the accident was perilously close to the central…umm…’worship place’ in Rabwah and because no one knew what had really happened, everyone began to fear the worse: a massive co-ordinated attack on sensitive buildings in the town by the TTP or Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Rabwah has the highest concentration of Ahmadis in Pakistan, making it an easy target. It is known to have been on the TTP hit-list post 28 May, 2010.
[quote]There are no underground nuclear bunkers in Rabwah – contrary to what you may have heard[/quote]
When I saw pictures of the scene on Whatsapp, my first reaction was fear, and my mind went into overdrive. I thought of my father who lives in Rabwah and who I know won’t be able to run very far for his life if he had to. He is old and weak, and suffers from many ailments that restrict his mobility. My sister lives there too, but she would first try to save her 18 month-old daughter. My mother, I hope, will somehow manage to help herself in the aftermath of an attack. Unfortunately, there are no underground nuclear bunkers in Rabwah – contrary to what you may have heard from some people. It is just a small town, where unarmed ordinary men, women and children live. They go about their daily lives, which includes going to pray at a ‘worship place’ five times a day. My father is a school teacher in Rabwah and makes himself vulnerable each time he goes to pray. I would probably get smacked if I told him to pray at home out of concern for his safety. The slightest news of any unusual incident in Rabwah, therefore, reminds me of how vulnerable my family, particularly my father, is in Pakistan. He would never agree to leave the country for good. I wish there was something I could do to ensure his safety. Sending remittances does not do anything to lessen the helplessness.
[quote]I was not very surprised when some students in college refused to shake hands with me[/quote]
When in Pakistan I was always conscious of the hostility against me because I knew as an Ahmadi I would have to deal with prejudice. So I was not very surprised, when, for instance, some students in college refused to shake hands with me, or that one time when my political science professor told me that I could not be the president of the political science society even though he admitted that I was the most qualified student for the job, because I was not a constitutional Muslim. I had thought of these and other incidents, as acts of prejudice and hate on part of certain misguided individuals, and because I also knew many decent people, who accepted me despite my constitutional status, I had a lot of hope in Pakistan. Life was good, even though I could hardly change anything, and prolonged time away from Pakistan was still a dull prospect.
But all that changed on 28 May, 2010. I was in Lahore when 86 people were massacred in twin attacks on Ahmadi worship places. I lost family and friends that day, and more importantly, hope in my fellow countrymen. When I was not out donating blood or condoling with victims, I was glued to the television following the coverage of the massacre. Condemnation on the media was muted and very few politicians or journalists came out to denounce the attack or sympathise with the victims. What was more shocking for me, however, was the reaction of my own friends. Barring a few, most of them shied away from talking about the attack or chose to pretend that it was just another incident of violence in Lahore and should be seen in that context alone.
I was hoping that they would, having known me for years, do something – at least point out that the tragedy was not just another senseless act of the TTP; that it was a direct and unavoidable consequence of the decades of state sponsored persecution of Ahmadis. I was hoping they would get up and say: enough is enough, as Pakistanis let us resolve to stand up against the anti-Ahmadi laws and have them repealed. Of course, nothing of that sort happened. No one would touch the issue. The blood of 86 innocent civilian was not enough to make this a burning issue. My anger and frustration gradually gave way to disillusionment and when I got an offer to work in the Middle-East, I jumped at the chance. So began my self-imposed exile.
I am an ‘official’ Muslim here and can pray without fear of a TTP onslaught. But there is no escaping the plight of my people back home. Any hopes of a return were dashed after what happened to Raza Rumi, Hamid Mir, Rashid Rehman and the Ahmadi doctor who wasn’t safe even in prison. It is becoming clear that sane voices are being systematically silenced one by one. I would be very stupid to go back to Pakistan in these times as a self-styled champion of Ahmadi rights. I may not even have to be as brave as Raza or Hamid in order to worry for my life; the fact that I am an Ahmadi, who instead of seeking asylum in Europe is speaking for Ahmadi rights while staying inside Pakistan would by itself be enough to attract the wrath of those who are determined upon eliminating all voices of dissent.
I recently went down to Karachi to organise a small event on the repeal of the 2nd amendment to Pakistan’s constitution that declared Ahmadis non-Muslim. Thankfully, I did manage to leave Karachi in one piece, but that was probably because the venue was not openly disclosed and only a select few were invited. Still I was told that I had no right to endanger the lives of other people and that twitter is a much effective forum for advocacy of such causes. I am not sure if there ever will be a good time to go back. Things are likely to go from bad to worse unless our silent majority decides to get up and say: enough is enough. Till that time, the dream of a glorious return will remain just a dream.
The author is a Bar-at-Law from Lincoln’s Inn and founder of the ‘Repeal the 2nd Amendment Initiative’