About 18 to 20 Ahmadi families used to live in my old neighborhood. Now, none of them are there as they had to be moved for fear of their safety. No one ever saw it coming, but it became inevitable after several people were deprived of their lives.
These are the words of Tahir Ahmed Shah, a former resident of Karachi’s Orangi Town, who himself was a target. Shah eventually had to leave everything behind and move out of the area.
Shah’s story resembles that of many in the community. Last month, a PML-Q leader from Punjab’s district Khushab, Malik Ilyas Awan, wrote to the deputy commissioner, asking him to bar the Ahmadis in the area from gathering at a house to offer prayers, and to expel them from the district.
Although Article 15 of the Constitutions grants all citizens the right to reside wherever they want, Ahmadis are deprived of it.
The Friday Times – Naya Daur spoke to those who faced opposition and pain, and were the targets of killers while residing in Orangi Town, Karachi and Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
This report will conceal their identities and the details of their residences for security reasons.
During the period of February 2012 to February 2014, there were 17 deaths that the community claims occurred as a result of religion-based hatred.
The residents of the area say that less than 40 families of the total 150 continue to reside there. Shah says that in July 2012, the chief of the community in the area was sought at the local police station and briefed about a hit-list that contained the names of “his people.”
Although he never saw the list, he was told by the community’s office-bearers that his name was also there.
Shah reveals that the chief of the community in the area was shot dead in the same month, and then a series of killings began. He adds that all of those killed were targeted on their way to office.
The target killers, he adds, would call the victims by their names and then shoot them dead. Shah says those targeting them were well aware of their routes and routines. The killings sparked fear amongst the members of the community.
He says that ever since the first killing in the area, anti-Ahmadi wall-chalking, threats and name-calling became rampant. He sent his children to their grandparents and his wife accompanied him while outside.
Shah says that one day, he was called by his name twice when he was walking on the road. When he left his home in the dark, he only had the necessary documents with him.
He responded in the negative when asked if he had any sort of police protection. “At no point did we feel we were under the state’s protection,” he says.
Shah further says that Ahmadis were so helpless that on February 8, 2014, when a member of the community, Raziuddin Razi was shot, he wasn’t taken to the hospital despite pleas by his wife to the bystanders to save his life.
The same social boycott was witnessed in Peshawar where five Ahmadis were killed back to back between August 2020 and November 2021.
According to Rasheed Ahmed, his wife was also subjected to a social boycott before he was killed. The man had his business running in the provincial metropolis for decades. The victim’s colleagues were told to cut-off ties with him on the pretext that he financially aided the community.
Ahmed says every attempt was made to sabotage his father’s business. He was gunned down a year after his boycott. “I left everything behind and left my home; it is as if someone left us abandoned overnight.”
“We don’t want you here”
Sajjad Ahmed, whose father was also shot dead at his shop, says they used to receive open threats prior to the incident. Police officers, he added, would cite the killers that they didn’t want members of the community in the area.
After these incidents, he continued, about 50 to 60 percent of Ahmadi families have moved out. Those who could leave the country, did so, while others left their ancestral homes, businesses, jobs and educational institutes and sold-off their properties.
“We didn’t know who was next,” Sajjad added.
Amir Mehmood, press section in-charge of the community in Rabwah, says religious extremists would target an Ahmadi with a boycott before inciting the public against him. All the while, the government plays the role of a spectator.
“We have seen this campaign in various parts of the country but we haven’t seen any effective step by the government in this regard,” he says.
“Back-to-back incidents left us with no option but to leave our homes,” he adds.
Experts say that the Constitution provides protection to the citizens, but the country’s ideological basis gives room to the rulers to misuse the provisions.
Zahra Yousuf, who is associated with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) told VoA, “The Constitution provides equal rights to all citizens but incitement in the society affects the vulnerable the most.”
Holding the state accountable, she says reports from some areas suggest that the local police encourages the miscreants.
Condemning the orders to Ahmadis to leave their homes, HRCP says no one has the right to issue such orders to others, adding it is the responsibility of the state to safeguard the community.
Qibla Ayaz, chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) agrees that it is the state’s duty to protect its citizens.
He opined that if the community accepts the definition of the term ‘Muslim’, approved via second constitutional amendment on 7 September 1974, it would make matters easier for them.
He also says that some incidents of targeted killing in Peshawar were also linked with personal enmity and not religion. Even then, he maintains, the state must fulfill its duty of protecting its citizens.
Ayaz points to exaggeration in the reports detailing the incidents, saying there were fewer incidents of targeted killing.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in its report released in April this year, indicated a further decline in religious freedom in the country last year.
“Pakistan maintains several laws, including criminal blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws, that further restrict the freedom of religion or belief and are often used to target religious minorities,” it says.
It also speaks of the retaliatory steps against the community at the state’s level and in the society, on the basis of their beliefs.
“If you look at the context of it, you’ll find the need for a broad-based solution,” adds the CII chief. “The openhearted acceptance of the unanimous amendment can help us move towards a peaceful brotherhood.”
However, senior journalist Wajahat Masood has a different opinion. “Nowhere does the chapter on constitutional rights deems it necessary for a person to accept all the provisions to get their rights. The reason a citizen disagrees with a constitutional amendment is that they want it changed.”
It is pertinent to mention here that the Article 239 of the Constitution empowers the Parliament to bring in an amendment to it.
Earlier this month, Federal Minister for Human Rights Mian Riaz Hussain Pirzada told the Standing Committee of the National Assembly about Ahmadis being stabbed to death. He also said that people avoid making a mention of renowned physicist Abdus Salam.
He also recently stressed the need to raise the issue of women and minority rights and prison reforms.
Meanwhile, Rasheed Ahmed has recently arrived in a new city to try his luck. He is very fond of cricket but he doesn’t go to a nearby ground to avoid being recognized.
“They never approve of us if they get the slightest idea of who we are,” Ahmed shared.