Joint Electorate for all Pakistanis – except for Ahmadis
An important event happened early this year in the political field in Pakistan where the state reaffirmed its profound discrimination against its Ahmadi citizens. In fact the authorities reassured the mullah that Ahmadis will continue to be treated as political orphans and will remain disenfranchised.
At the turn of the year 2003/2004, the Election Commission, in pursuit of the government’s declared policy of Joint Electorate, decided to update its electoral lists. The Commission rightly excluded from Form IV (the application form for registration of new voters) the attestation concerning the finality of prophethood, as being no longer relevant in the context of joint electorate. The Oxford English Dictionary defines Electorate as ‘the whole body of electors’ and the meaning of ‘Joint’ are given as ‘put together, joined, combined, united’. Obviously the system of Joint Electorate has no room for discrimination on the basis of citizens’ faith in the dogma of end of prophethood. However, the darkness of mullah’s mind refuses to admit even a single ray of modern political thought. He decided to contest the new measure.
The mullah was angered at the possibility of Ahmadis availing some political rights in the new scheme. He went public and declared: “If Qadianis get enrolled on the same list as Muslims, it will result in dreadful consequences. In that situation the Khatme Nabuwwat Movement will give the call for a countrywide protest agitation.” (The daily Pakistan, Lahore; January 8, 2004). The yellow vernacular press always supports the mullah on such occasions. The daily Nawa-i-Waqt wrote an editorial on January 29 on this non-issue and offered the sly comment, “It is already agreed here that all minorities in the country will be given all their rights and they will suffer no injustice, however no mover or thought will be permitted that will efface the difference between the majority and the minority and the country is turned into a secular state from an Islamic welfare state”. Hafiz Hussain Ahmad, the Deputy Parliamentary Leader of the MMA reportedly met the Chief Election Commissioner and demanded that the certificate concerning the ‘end of prophethood’ be included again in Form IV and, despite the Joint Electorate, separate electoral lists be prepared for Muslims and Non-Muslims. The Commission informed him that his concern will be conveyed to the government who will eventually give its decision on the issue. (The daily Nawa-i-Waqt, Rawalpindi; January 28, 2004).
In the meantime, one Advocate Babar Awan rushed to the Lahore High Court with the novel and idiotic plea that the Election Commission be declared guilty of Blasphemy for doing away with the End of Prophethood certificate from the voter’s application form (The daily Nawa-i-Waqt; February 7, 2004). The plea shows the extent to which obscurants in Pakistan can stretch the meaning of blasphemy.
In the light of its past experience, the Ahmadiyya Community entertained no false hopes. In its monthly report for January 2004 on Human Rights the following comment was made:
“It is to be seen if various pillars of the state will take strength from the higher principle of democracy, fairness and human rights or will they readily yield to the pressure of obscurantism, despite their declarations to the contrary. Someone summed it up aptly in the following words:
“They are good at issuing statements, at attending seminars, and at promising betterment – they say the intention is there, they claim commitment. But from what we see on the ground they are unable to, or unwilling, to implant.”
One did not have to wait long for the above prophecy to come true. The newspapers of 31 January and 1 February splashed the news that the Election Commission had restored the Half Nama (affidavit) concerning the End of Prophethood in the electoral forms. It was also restated that all Muslim candidates for the posts of Nazim and Naib (Assistant) Nazim will have to declare on oath in writing that they have complete and unqualified faith in the end of prophethood of the Last Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The candidates will also have to deny the veracity of any and all claimants to prophethood after him (The daily Nawa-i-Waqt; January 31, 2004). This is how they effectively deny Ahmadis go on the voters’ lists and compete for elective positions. The daily Din of February 1, 2004 reported that all the demands of the Khatme Nabuwwat Movement had been accepted and the Chief Election Commissioner had directed that in the face of any objection to a Muslim voter, the appellate officer will require the voter to appear before him and declare his faith in the end of prophethood. In case he fails to appear or refuses to sign the declaration, he will be deleted from the Muslim Voter List. Thus the curtain dropped on this drama. The authorities at Islamabad made sure that Election Commission’s desire to move closer to genuine Joint Electorate ended as a zero-sum game. The state had once again devoured its own children. No body clapped, except the mullah and the yellow press. The daily Jang, that never tires to pontificate, called this backtracking a ‘timely and praiseworthy step’. In its editorial of February 2, 2004 it concluded that: ‘Subsequent to this decision, it is essential that the directive issued by the Chief Election Commissioner be strictly implemented so that the impression to honor the constitutional provision be maintained.’ The government, the vernacular press and the mullah clearly and deliberately chose to neglect and set aside the verdict of one of their own kind, Mufti Ghulam Sarwar Qadri, the Punjab religious affairs minister who had stated two years earlier on this issue: ‘(the) deletion of the affidavit from the voter’s registration form did not amount to a violation of any basic Islamic provision’. The daily DAWN of May 30, 2002 had reported: “Commenting on the Khatam-i-Nabuwwat Conferences resolution to launch a movement unless the affidavit was restored, the minister said it was not a constitutional obligation. He said it had been introduced during General Zia ul Haq’s rule. He said no harm had been done to Islam before its introduction.”
It will not be out of place to give here the Affidavit that the voters, the candidates and the office-bearers are required to give: “ I,………. s/o, w/o………….hereby solemnly declare that I believe in the absolute and unqualified finality of prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him) as the last of prophets, and I do not recognize any person who claims to be a prophet in any sense of the word or of any description whatsoever after Muhammad (peace be upon him) or recognize such a claimant as prophet or religious reformer, nor do I belong to the Qadiani Group or Lahori Group or call myself an Ahmadi.” (translation)
One may also ask as to what is the link between this belief and the task of managing a town council tasked to provide roads, water, gas, sewerage, sanitation etc to its residents. Amazing is the absurdity to which the state has to submit to maintain its unholy rapport with the mullah.
The mullah is a restless vertebrate. Contentment is not in his nature. The hell of his desires demands ever more. Within 10 days of his latest success in routing the powerful champions of enlightened moderation, the mullah came up with fresh demands. The Ulema, according to press reports, held a big meeting in Jame Mosque Siddique Akbar, Alah Abad, Rawalpindi and demanded that all application forms for identity cards, passports, registration of marriage, NADRA etc must include the ‘end of prophethood’ declaration; also the dogma of ‘end of prophethood’ must be included as a compulsory subject in the education syllabus of schools. The ulema decided to launch a countrywide movement to attain these objects. In the meantime the meeting urged all the ulema and Khateebs to educate their flock on this sensitive issue in their Friday sermons. (The daily Ausaf and Nawa-i-Waqt; February 10, 2004).
A well-worded letter written by Mr Jamil Butt of Karachi summed up these developments in the daily DAWN of March 5, 2004 as:
The CEC has clarified that separate forms for Muslim and non-Muslim voters will be used as have been in vogue since 1978. This assertion does not take into account that these forms were introduced because a military dictator in his zeal to Talibanize Pakistan changed the earlier agreed upon and operative system of joint electorate to that of separate electorate.
So, when the county has reverted to the previous system, the documentation should also change as per the previous procedure and the forms prescribed under separate electorate should not be kept intact.
The CEC, referring to a government decision, has also specifically confirmed that the status of Ahmadis shall remain unchanged. This affirms that for Ahmadis the electorate system continues to be separate, not joint, and as before they will remain out of the election process being unable to register themselves as voters against their belief.
This singling out of one community among the citizens of Pakistan is continuation of discrimination and ill-treatment in line with the state policy initiated in 1974 and strengthened in 1984 by civil and military rulers at the behest of a handful of extremist clergy.
Ahmadis have been kept away from all elections held in the country since 1985 and it seems they will remain so till the return of sanity. The fact is that the joint electorate system has not been fully enforced in the country.
Joint Electorate – corruption of the term
Introduction of Joint Electorates exposed the unabashed discrimination to which the Ahmadiyya Community is subjected in Pakistan. Despite this major shift in electoral policy, Ahmadis were expressly placed on a Separate List as Non-Muslims, and procedures were put in place to ensure that Ahmadis would neither get elected nor even be able to cast their votes. The mullah imposed his will on the President who found it convenient and opportune to comply even at the cost of appearing bizarre. It was a blatant and unsupportable violation of human rights of a section of the population. The details given below although unbelievable are facts.
With general elections scheduled for October 2002, the throne and the pulpit joined hands once again and moved decisively to uphold obscurantism and disregard human rights and higher values. In May 2002 the government decided to yield to the mullah’s demand of reintroduction in voter’s form the certificate concerning the End of Prophethood, thereby seriously compromising its declared policy of Joint Electorate – at least in so far as the Ahmadiyya Community is concerned. The government issued necessary instructions to the Election Commission.
A few weeks earlier the government declared and took steps to reintroduce Joint Electorate in the country. The Islamist clergy did not like the decision whereby members of religious minorities would be, in principle, at par with those of the majority as citizens of the state. The mullahs were particularly hostile to the Ahmadiyya Community whose basic human rights they have successfully violated for years in league with the establishment. They are averse to take even one step back in their persistent advance in the field of suppression of religious freedom. Having met a major defeat in Afghanistan, they needed a recovery in Pakistan. In the Joint Electorate and its relevance to Ahmadis, they found the opportunity they were looking for.
A meeting was reportedly held at Chiniot (The daily News, May 19, 2002) of various religious organizations with Maulvi Manzoor Chinioti, the Secretary General of the Khatame Nabuwwat Organization in the chair. Chinioti is the same individual who during the Afghan War led processions and held conferences against the US-led coalition. ‘The News’ reported that according to these mullahs “the US was playing war games with India while innocent Muslims are being massacred in Ahmedabad but Musharraf Govt is silent over it and promising joint electorate just to please the west and Qadianis”. They also protested against the ban on Jihadi organizations. These mullahs threatened countrywide agitation as in 1953 and 1974. They conspired to get the political parties on board, especially the Islamists, to achieve their end. It is most likely that they contacted their sympathizers in the government where they are well-represented in the Ministry of Religious Affairs. It appears they planned jointly, and succeeded entirely in their immediate objectives.
A Seerat (Life of the Holy Prophet) Conference was organized by the government at Islamabad on May 25. The Ministry of Religious Affairs invited a large number of Ulema, and asked the President to attend and address the assembled priests. The proceedings of the conference were telecast live by Pakistan Television. After the President had spoken, a mullah Saleemullah of Nifaze Shariat Group (same type as the horde whose leader Sufi Muhammad had led thousands into Afghanistan in support of the Taliban) stood up and demanded of General Musharraf to reinstate Separate Electorate and openly declare Qadianis as infidels. As on similar occasions during the past regimes, he assured the general that by doing so he would win the gratitude of the Ulema and the support of 140 million people. At this, President Musharraf readily offered his opinion that those who did not believe in the End of Prophethood were Non-Muslims. The mullahs cheered him profusely. The President also advised them to be large-hearted as they live in the world that is more like a global village; however he asked them to have faith in the government and reassured them that he would consider their demand. The general asked the minister, Dr Ghazi to come to the microphone, who came and reassured his guests that the constitutional provision to treat Ahmadis as non-Muslims will be maintained (more cheers), reported the Nawa-i-Waqt, the Jang, the Insaf; of May 26, 2002. Some people are of the opinion that the entire incident was stage managed.
Thereafter, things moved fast in a well-planned way. Maulvi Fazl-ur-Rehman (JUI), who leads the vanguard of religious obscurantism, and played the most active role in support of the Taliban regime, hurriedly called an All Parties Conference at Lahore on May 28. The meeting was well-attended by leaders of politico-religious parties. The participants demanded the government to revise the voters’ form and restore religion and the oath of finality of prophet-hood by 6 June, otherwise an anti-government movement will be launched (The News International; May 29, 2002).
In compliant response, that appeared to amount to eagerness, the government decided the very next day “to revise the application form for enlistment as voters, so as to include the oath and declaration of being a Muslim”, (The Dawn May 30, 2002). The government reaction was so fast that some officials, who were not a part of the inner team were taken by surprise. For instance, on that very day, Mufti Ghulam Sarwar Qadri, the Punjab religious affairs minister, said that the deletion of the affidavit from the voter’s registration form did not amount to a violation of any basic Islamic provision. Commenting on the Khatme-i-Nabuwwat Conference’s resolution to launch a movement unless the affidavit was restored, the minister said that it was not a constitutional obligation. He said it had been introduced during Gen Ziaul Haq’s rule. He said no harm had been done to Islam before its introduction, (The daily Dawn; May 30, 2002).
The mullah assumed, rightly, that the column of religion has been restored in election papers (The daily Awaz; June 1, 2002). Mullah Chinioti thereafter demanded that religion be entered on the national identity card as well. Another mullah, Faqir Muhammad, the information secretary of the Khatame Nabuwwat organization demanded that End of Prophethood should be reintroduced in school syllabi. The mullah carries an open list of demands. Any government that gives in to a few demands and thinks that the mullah will be satisfied, does not know the working of his mind.
It is noteworthy that subsequently the state television PTV, at prime time showed minions praising the government decision to reintroduce the Affidavit. This major step backward was sure to lead to effective disenfranchisement of the Ahmadiyya Community, although it did not seriously affect the non-Muslim communities who accept their non-Muslim identity. It was through the mechanism of this Affidavit that Ahmadis were disenfranchised in the past. They did not sign it in the past, nor would they sign it this time. They would also not register as non-Muslims. Thus they were being excluded from the electoral process. From the attitude of the president and his past performance it was reasonable to assume that as for Ahmadis are concerned, the Joint Electorate was dead as ever before. The mullah will demand this, and the government will comply. However there was still time till October.
According to a press report published in the daily News International, of June 13, 2002, the President promulgated a new law on Wednesday titled as the Conduct of General Elections Order (Second Amendment), 2002. Later it was issued as Order No. 15 of 2002 in a gazette notification. It is reproduced here.
The new law enforced, notwithstanding any other law, including the Forms prescribed for preparation of electoral rolls on joint electorate basis, the non-Muslim status upon Ahmadis for electoral purposes. It provided mechanism to demand the Affidavit concerning the “unqualified Finality of Prophethood” etc from all Ahmadi voters. According to the amendment, in case an Ahmadi refuses to sign the given declaration, he shall be deemed to be a non-Muslim and his name shall be deleted from the joint electoral rolls and added to a supplementary list of voters in the same electoral area as non-Muslim.
It is obvious that through this still another discriminatory law, Ahmadis were excluded from the Joint Electorate. In fact, they were placed on a special supplementary list – obviously for convenience of still more discrimination. This measure, in the first instance, effectively disenfranchised the entire Ahmadiyya Community, as Ahmadis will not vote as non-Muslims, as a principle.
This law was promulgated in response to a demand from the discredited religious lobby. It reduced Ahmadis outrageously to the status of political orphans. Its language is incongruous with any declaration of liberal and fair approach to treatment of marginalized sections of society in Pakistan. The military government’s subservience to theocratic pressure and its brazen lack of commitment to higher political and social values was astonishing.
Mullahs were delighted to see the government beating the retreat in the face of their pressure. In the follow-up of the President’s Order, the Election Commission promptly issued instructions to Revising Authorities on June 17 that if an objection was filed till June 27, that a person had got himself enrolled as a voter and he was not a Muslim, he should be summoned within 15 days and told to sign a declaration regarding his belief about the Finality of the Prophethood of Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH). The EC also directed the Revising Authorities that in case the voter refused to sign the declaration, he shall be deemed to be a non-Muslim and his name shall be deleted from the joint electoral rolls and added to a supplementary list of voters. In case the voter does not turn up in spite of service of notice, an ex-parte order will be passed against him (The DAWN, 19 June 2002).
Within two days, top-ranking mullahs got together and advertised in the Urdu Press an appeal to their followers to have the ‘Qadianis’ shifted over to the ‘Non-Muslim’ list. (The Daily JANG, June 21, 2002). The appeal was signed, in addition to others, by Maulvi Fazlur Rehman (an Al-Qaida admirer), Qazi Hussain Ahmad (a Taliban sympathizer) and Professor Sajid Mir (President of a chain of seminaries promoting religious extremism). To facilitate their task, the Election Commission directed all the assistant election commissioners that copies of the electoral rolls lying with them be made available for public inspection. The EC went all the way to help the mullahs, by advising them that in case of any difficulty in getting the copies of the electoral rolls the provincial election commissioners or the secretary of the election commission in Islamabad may be contacted (The DAWN June 21, 2002).
Some election-watchers did not get the full implication of the mullah’s drive and the government’s compliance. They argued that Ahmadis were being placed only on a supplementary list; they can still vote. Little did they realize that the mullah knows that Ahmadis, as a matter of principle, would never vote as non-Muslims; as such, by implication they would get effectively disenfranchised. Some liberal and secular elements voiced their concern over this turn of events. Mr Ayaz Amir, a leading columnist wrote his column for the DAWN and titled it ‘Back to the future’. His opening remark was: EVEN in a land renowned for silly edicts, the most recent addition to the statute book, Chief Executive’s Order No. 15, takes the prize for silliness.
Silly, yes; but a more objective analyst could call it: absurd, injurious and outrageous.
The Ahmadiyya Community took note of glaring discrimination in the President’s Order No.15 of 2002 and forwarded a note of strong protest to him. It conveyed the following, inter alia:
“ As a consequence of this revision only Ahmadis have been excluded from the common list and their names have been transferred to a list designated as a non-Muslim list. This strange measure has resulted in a ridiculous situation in which there is a common list of voters which contains the names of all the Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Christian and Buddh voters and a second list termed as non Muslim list, comprising Ahmadis only. This procedure adopted by the Election Commission is directed against Ahmadis alone and is flagrantly discriminatory and against all principles of justice and democracy.”
As a result, extremist religious elements were delighted to see that they continue to enjoy favor and clout with the government in the affairs of the state. Liberal elements and human rights concerns in Pakistan did not fail to take note of this obvious trickery and retreat of the establishment. The prestigious daily, DAWN questioned the legal position of the government’s decision in an editorial comment on September 12, 2002. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan criticized the continuation of the requirement of the Sworn Statement regarding Religion by the candidates, and expressed its concern regarding Ahmadis’ electoral situation. Mr I A Rehman, a leading intellectual wrote an article in the DAWN of September 17, 2002 and gave it the heading: Joint electorate? Not quite.
This drama ended up as a great victory for the mullah. He had succeeded in keeping Ahmadis out of the general elections despite the introduction of the Joint Electorate. The MMA, the mullah’s political conglomerate made great gains in the national assembly as also in provincial assemblies. They now hope to wield a powerful clout, as a party in power or in the opposition – thanks to the exclusion of Ahmadis from the political life of the country.
Epilogue: Mr Zafrullah Jamali took the oath as Prime Minister of Pakistan in the fourth week of November. The daily Jang, Lahore reported on November 24, 2002 that while taking the oath of office, Mr Jamali, inter alia, had to state his “belief in Muhammad, the prophet of Allah, the Khatam-an-Nabiyyeen, after whom there shall be no prophet” (emphasis provided).
No representation to 90% population in the city government
Rabwah: Rabwah is inhabited almost entirely by Ahmadis. For the purpose of local government, the authorities, for their own reasons, have divided the town in two, and added some adjacent villages in the constituencies. As such, 10% of the population of these constituencies now comprises non-Ahmadis. Elections to the local councils were held last year on the basis of separate electorate. The procedure of registration was specifically designed to segregate Ahmadis on the basis of religion as non-Muslims. This was not acceptable to Ahmadis. As such, the local councils of Rabwah now do not represent 90% of the population.
The introduction of Joint Electorate at the national and provincial level brought no relief to Ahmadis, as the government introduced discriminatory rules at the procedural level to exclude Ahmadis effectively from the mainstream politics of the country. It is obvious that even if elections to the local and district governments are held on Joint Electorate basis in the future, the present government policy will again deprive Ahmadis from playing any role in the administration of their own town.
Adding insult to injury
Chakwal, April 10, 2001: Non-Muslim status has been imposed upon Ahmadis. But still the opposition is not satisfied, and use the notorious law as a tool to deny peace to Ahmadis. In the recent district-level elections, at their own initiative, they included names of scores of Ahmadis in the Muslim voters’ list in District Chakwal, although during the Census these Ahmadis had got themselves registered as Ahmadis.
Armed with the official error, the opposition raised hue and cry in the press and demanded of the administration to take action against Ahmadis (who had played no part in preparing the lists). The innocent Ahmadis were served notices to appear before a judge to explain. The judge was good enough to see that Ahmadis were innocent; he simply ordered that their names be struck off the Muslim voters’ list. Ahmadis declined the offer of being included in the Non-Muslims voters’ list.
Deprivation of political rights
Apparently political right are not entirely denied to Ahmadis, but in fact they are. System of separate electorate was imposed by General Zia. Under that provision, Ahmadis can have one representative in each of the federal and provincial assemblies except for none in Baluchistan, but only if Ahmadis vote as non-Muslims. As no Ahmadi will ever vote as a non-Muslim, as it is against his faith, he is thus effectively barred from voting. Accordingly, there is no representation of Ahmadis in any of the assemblies. Even at the local level, the city council of Rabwah, where 95% of the population is Ahmadi, there is no representation of Ahmadis. Ahmadis thus have remained barred from the political process for the last 17 years. The new dispensation brought in by the present government also provides no relief whatsoever. The Nazim and councilors of the local government at Rabwah are all non-Ahmadis for whom not one of the 95% population has voted.