For years the thousands of Hindus in Islamabad had been pushing for a proper place to worship and to cremate their dead, rather than having to travel hundreds of miles to perform last rites.
The plans were granted approval by the central government, and £500,000 were released to help fund the project. After becoming prime minister in 2018, Khan pledged to protect the religious freedom of Pakistan’s 8 million Hindus.
Just as construction began on the boundary walls, petitions were filed to the Islamabad high court by religious opponents over whether the temple had the required permission and whether state money should be used to fund the project.
In a country like Pakistan where sentiments of religious discrimination has been breeding since ages, it does not come as a shock that such reactions were going to come.
PTI’s Failed Manifesto
The current ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, under the leadership of Khan, vowed in their 2018 election manifesto that “PTI will protect the civil, social and religious rights of minorities; their places of worship, property and institutions as laid down in the Constitution.” Among the list of promises for a “Naya Pakistan,” there were two important vows that still require the government’s attention: ensuring equal justice and protecting minorities from violence, hate speech, and discrimination.
Since Pakistan’s inception, the state of religious freedom remained under constant threat. Religious minorities continued to face discrimination and persecution, such as misuse of the anti-blasphemy law, forced conversions of non-Muslims girls, and enforced disappearances. Before forming the government, Khan promised, in particular, the protection of minorities and equal justice to every citizen regardless of one’s faith and ethnicity.
Pakistan is culturally, ethnically, linguistically, and religiously diverse. Muslims constitute 96.28 percent of the country’s population, whereas Christians are 1.59 percent and Hindus 1.60 percent. Among Muslims, minority sects include Shias, Ismailis, Ahmadis, and Bohris. Shias make up a sizeable proportion of the Muslim population, roughly 15 to 20 percent; the Ahmadiyya community constitutes just 0.22 percent. However, this figure could easily be contested as many followers of the Ahmadiyya faith do not publicly identify themselves as Ahmadis due to fear of persecution.
According to the Center for Research and Security Studies’ “Annual Security Report 2019,” in that year alone 28 Shias and two Ahmadis were killed in targeted attacks due to their faith. Another 57 Shias and one Christian were injured in 2019. According to this author’s research, there have been at least five attacks on Ahmadiyya places of worship since August 2018, two at Hindu temples, and one at a Christian church. There have also been 13 blasphemy cases filed against Ahmadis, nine against Christians, two against Hindus, and one against a Shia in the same time period.
Shias have continued to suffer violent attacks in different parts of Pakistan. In particular, the Shia Hazara community, mainly based in Quetta, Balochistan, was frequently targeted by militants. Shias are also the first religious minority to witness the enforced disappearances of their community members. The issue of enforced disappearance, which has spread all over Pakistan, is not a new phenomenon.
Violence and discrimination against the Christian community continued in 2019 in the shape of casualties, harassment, and blasphemy cases.
The Ahmadiyya community has remained under constant attack, subjected to violence and discrimination. The authorities were unable to stop the rising hatred against the community even on digital platforms. Ahmadiyya places of worships remained under attack. On February 6, 2020, a group of people stormed and forcibly occupied a 100-year-old Ahmadiyya mosque in Kasur, Punjab. Succumbing to pressure, the local authorities deprived Ahmadis and handed the mosque over to hardliners.
The political economy of violence against religious minorities is a peculiar phenomenon that might not make sense without analysing the role of the military. The Pakistan military has a long history of supporting extremist groups, using them as proxies both externally and internally. More importantly, Pakistan is a hybrid regime, sometimes described as hybrid-martial law, where the military holds real power and runs the country through the parliament by installing or selecting a civilian leadership. Therefore, blaming or holding a civilian government accountable serves little purpose when they have very limited powers. The religious freedom in Pakistan has remained under constant threat since inception and their attitude cannot change immediately. This leaves minorities to wonder: If Khan is unable discipline his own country, how could he protect minorities from other forces?
11 Jul 20/Saturday Written By: Saima Ibrahim