End intolerance

Sectarian violence in Pakistan touched a new high on Friday when Pakistan Taliban gunmen laid siege to two Ahmadiyya mosques in Lahore, where thousands had assembled for prayers. Around 80 people were killed in the attack. The Pakistan Taliban has taken responsibility for the attack. While Friday’s attack is part of the larger intolerance and bloodletting that is currently consuming Pakistan, its roots go back several decades. Ahmadiyyas have been at the receiving end of systematic violence perpetrated by the state, the Islamic clergy and civil society. Although they see themselves as Muslims, they have been stripped of their right to identify themselves as Muslims. Succumbing to public pressure, the Pakistani government declared them as non-Muslims in 1973. Ahmadiyyas are publicly reviled in Pakistan. They are targeted by mobs and grenades are routinely hurled at Ahmadiyya gatherings. Their mosques have been burned and their graves desecrated. Hence, the targeting of their mosques by the Pakistan Taliban is not out of the ordinary. What is unprecedented however is the level of violence that was unleashed.

Given the fact that Ahmadiyyas and their places of worship are routinely targeted, one would have thought that the Pakistan government would have provided them with additional security. The Ahmadiyya community was commemorating the death anniversary of its prophet, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, last week and as such its places of worship were particularly vulnerable to attack. But few security measures were in place. Heavily armed gunmen were able to walk into the mosques unhampered. As shocking as the attack is the response of the political class to the killings. While the major parties have issued statements condemning the attack, most ministers and politicians, who are usually keen to be caught on camera extending help to victims, stayed away from the funerals of the Ahmadiyya dead. So hated and marginalised are the Ahmadiyyas in Pakistani society that nobody wants to be seen commiserating with them.

Pakistan must realise that it cannot free itself of extremism and violence so long as it believes that it is a land for Sunni Muslims alone and that its persecution of Ahmadiyyas is justified. Under the law, an Ahmadiyya can be sentenced to death for professing his faith. Laws condone, even encourage the public to perpetrate violence against Ahmadiyyas. This constitutionally sanctioned culture of intolerance must go not only because it is harming the minorities but also, it is tearing Pakistan apart.

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