COLOMBO: The 20--day long standoff in Islamabad which ended on Saturday with the security forces being used at long last after much dilly dallying, shows two things about Pakistan: the growing power of Islamic radical groups irrespective of their size or actual electoral performance; and the continuing marginalization of the 500, 000 strong Ahmadiya community dubbed as "non-Muslim."

Three little known Islamic organizations, Tehreek-e-Khatm Nabuwwat, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, and Sunni Tehreek Pakistan, had blocked the Islamabad Expressway and the Murree Road for three weeks, disconnecting the Pakistani capital from the international airport and the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

The trio were demanding the resignation/ sacking of the Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid for a lapse in regard to an amendment to the Election Law 2017. The law required candidates to declare their religious faith so that they could be put in the correct slot, as ten seats in the National Assembly are reserved for non-Muslims.

In regard to the Muslims, the amendment said that a candidate must "declare" that he believes that Prophet Muhammad is the last prophet. Previously, the candidate was required to give an "oath" to that effect.

The Muslim parties rose in revolt against this change from "oath" to "declaration" on the grounds that no man can be punished for breaching a "declaration" but he can be punished for breaking an "oath". Therefore, the term "declaration" should be replaced by "oath" forthwith to make punishment possible, they said.

Following the objection, in October, the change sought was made in the law and the term "oath" was restored, after an inquiry conducted by the Raja Zafrul Haq committee.

Law Minister Zahid Hamid attributed the change from "oath" to "declaration" to "clerical error". But the Islamic radical groups were not satisfied. They smelt a conspiracy within the government and stepped up their demand for Hamid's ouster.

The government was caught in a dilemma. Should it give in to these radical groups, small as they are? Or should it bow to them and prevent them from radicalizing the country further on this issue? Pakistan is going for National Assembly elections in September 2018.

It was feared that this and other religious issues might create problems for the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz).

The Establishment started blowing hot and cold. Even as the government was sticking to its stand that the Law Minister would not be outed and was asking the sit-in demonstrators to vacate the road under the orders of the Islamabad High Court, the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, of the ruling PML (N) demanded the sacking of the Law Minister.

On his part, the Federal Home Minister, Ahsan Iqbal, was holding his horses as regards ordering the Security Forces to clear the blockade even at the risk of censure by the High Court which had declared blocking roads as an "un-Islamic" act.

The opposition parties too were sending confusing signals.On the one hand they mocked the PML (N) government for not seeing that its writ runs in the country, and on the other hand , they wanted the government to settle the matter through dialogue with the protesters. Army Chief, Gen.Qamar Javed Bajwa ,called up Prime Minister Shahid Abbasi to ask him to settle the matter peacefully. He also appealed to the demonstrators not to resort to violence in the "national interest".

It seemed as if nobody of no political group wanted to take decisive action .The all pervasive power of radical Islamic groups, no matter how small they are, came out clearly.

If, at the end of it all, the blockade was cleared forcibly it was because it was hampering the normal life of the power elite in Islamabad and Rawalpindi - twin cities which are home to the country's civilian and military Establishments. It was the "survival instinct" of the ruling class which forced the government to employ force and the Security Forces to cooperate.

But the fear of Islamic radicalization remains. Violence had spread from Islamabad to other cities. If the situation worsens, even Islamic parties and secular parties which are currently not in the "Khatme Nabuwwat Movement" could be compelled to join it for fear of losing out on the "Islamic vote".

The danger is real because radical groups, including internationally banned terrorist groups like Jamaat-ud-Dawa, have been politically mainstreamed with the blessings of the military. The Islamic parties have been contesting elections and eating into the votes of established parties, if not winning seats themselves.


The other message conveyed by the Islamabad standoff is that the Ahmadiyas would continue to be considered "non-Muslim" and the disabilities they have been suffering from since 1974 will continue.

Though the Ahmadiyas consider themselves "Muslims", and acknowledge Prophet Muhammad as supreme, they do not believe that he was the last and final prophet. The Ahmadiyas believe that more prophets will appear on earth "to renew Islam and establish peace," Since they cannot accept the finality of Prophet Muhammad, Pakistan categorizes them as "non-Muslims" for election and all or other purposes.

As "non-Muslims" the Ahmadiyas are discriminated and persecuted in multiple ways A once prosperous, educated and enlightened community, which had produced physicist and Nobel Laureate Abdus Salam and the famous diplomat Sir Mohammad Zafrullah Khan, the 500,000 Ahmadiyas of Pakistan are in a pathetic state.

Today, there are no Ahmadiyas in high positions in any field. They are expressly barred from becoming President or Prime Minister. They were declared non-Muslim in 1974 and the Zia-ul-Haq regime in the 1980s, piled more disabilities on them.

Since 1984, 27 Ahmadiya mosques have been destroyed; 21 have been set on fire; and 17 were occupied forcibly, Construction of 53 mosques had been stopped and 32 were sealed. Hundreds of Ahmadiyas have been killed.

The dream of Mod. Ali Jinnah and the efforts of Gen.Pervez Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif to make Pakistan a modern and tolerant Islamic country have come a cropper.

Attending a Diwali celebration of Hindus in Karachi in 2015 Sharif said: “Some people have been using religion to create divides. For this purpose they use Islam. Pakistan was not made so one religion can dominate over others.”

But Sharif's beliefs and intentions notwithstanding, Pakistan continues to slide into religious intolerance and bigotry, posing a challenge to its stability and economic development, besides being a threat to peace in the neighborhood.

(Cover Photograph from Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper)