Ahmadis barred from participation in national parliamentary elections
End of the year was marked for intensive electoral activity all over Pakistan. These were the days of national parliamentary elections. In any republic in this 21st century this event would be a celebration, an occasion of great expectations and excitement — even a fete. It ought to be the same in Pakistan. However, whatever the outcome of this mega event, the state and the mulla ensured that Ahmadis are not on the list of participants. They were made conspicuous by their absence. It would be appropriate to mention here essential elements and some history of this blatant exclusion, discrimination and deprivation.
Ahmadis and Elections 2008 in Pakistan
Electorate system is basic to any election. In Pakistan, it has a history. Since the inception of Pakistan in 1947 to the time of General Zia-ul-Haq, all the national elections to the provincial and national assembles were conducted on the basis of Joint Electorate system. This was in line with the vision of the founding fathers of this nation and was duly enshrined in the 1973 constitution. Ahmadis participated in elections as the rest of the population.
Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto introduced a change in that he allocated a few additional seats to religious minorities in assemblies, over and above their rights in the general arrangement. These representatives for the minorities were elected by the assembly members. As Ahmadis did not accept the imposed status of a religious minority, they never availed these seats although there was an odd case whereby the government rigged and nominated a non-representative dummy as show-boy to fill the vacancy that was never requested nor accepted by the Ahmadiyya community.
General Zia-ul-Haq, in addition to his other disservices to the nation, imposed the system of Separate Electorate on the political scene. He imposed it in 1985, through the 8th Amendment to the 1973 constitution. Since then elections were held in the country on this basis that separate electoral lists are prepared for different religious groups. Those who claim to be Muslims have to sign a certificate of faith in ‘the end of prophethood’ and deny the veracity of the holy founder of Ahmadiyyat. The separate electorate system divided the Pakistani polity in numerous entities based on religion, and did great damage to the first pillar of ‘Unity’ in the motto ‘Unity, Faith and Discipline’ given by the Quaid-i-Azam.
This electoral system was maintained after Zia by subsequent regimes. General Musharraf, pressed by the West, brought about some change in the system, however, he stopped well-short of demolishing the system of separate electorate. There is, however, a general incorrect impression that Pakistan has shifted from Separate Electorate to Joint Electorate system – actually it has not. The Chief Executive’s Order No. 15 of 2002 published in the Gazette of Pakistan (EXTRAORDINARY) issued at ISLAMABAD on MONDAY, JUNE 17, 2002, titled Conduct of General Elections (Second Amendment) Order, 2002 , created a separate ‘supplementary list of voters’ in which Ahmadi voters were placed as ‘non-Muslim’. That was the end of the short-lived Joint Electorate reintroduction. That order has not been cancelled, and remains in force.
It would be recalled that in May 2002, when the system of Joint Electorate was reintroduced, mullahs raised some hue and cry. One of them who calls himself Engineer Saleemullah stood up in a state-sponsored Seerat Conference, which was attended by General Musharraf, the Chief Executive and the Chief of the Army Staff, and protested in favour of Separate Electorate to exclude Ahmadis . General Musharraf readily reassured him that his concern would be attended. Sure enough, a few days later Chief Executive’s Order No. 15 was published in the Gazette of Pakistan on June 17, 2002. The new articles enforced that the status of Ahmadis etc. was to remain unchanged despite the Conduct of General Elections Order 2002. It also provided a procedure in Article 7C whereby voters would be required to sign declaration concerning belief about the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him) and those who refuse to sign the certificate were to be deleted from the joint electoral rolls and added to a supplementary list of voters in the same electoral area as non-Muslims. So that was the end of the resurrected Joint Electorate system. It is an interesting footnote that the pseudo Mullah-cum-Engineer Saleemullah was arrested a few months ago, as no amount of official gratification would put an end to his unending drives at mischief.
In short, there is really no change in the old system of Separate Electorate — not for Ahmadis at least. The absence of change was noted by discerning intellectuals at the time in 2002. Mr. Ayaz Amir, a leading columnist wrote his column for the daily DAWN at this occasion 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. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan criticized the continuation of the requirement of the Sworn Statement regarding Religion by the candidate, 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 . As such, there is no doubt that in Pakistan separate electorate system is still in vogue. The given impression of joint electorate is trickery and propaganda. The revised rules respond only to a powerful lobby; these do not in principle redress the basic wrong.
These devious and unacceptable procedures predictably resulted in disassociation of the Ahmadiyya community from elections. As such, for decades now no Ahmadi is a member of any assembly, national, provincial or even district. Ahmadis have no representation in the town council of even Rabwah, their own town and centre.
More recently the Election Commission ordered vide its letter No. F.1(6)/2001-Cord dated 17 January, 2007 that “the competent authority has been pleased to decide that separate supplementary lists of draft electoral rolls for Ahmadis/Qadianis for the electoral areas concerned, wherever they are registered, may be prepared and published…”. So, either there is no Joint Electorate or there is plain discrimination. Either way, it is unbecoming a decent society, government and its electoral system.
Those who govern Pakistan and the Election Commission have all along adopted well-considered devious steps to ensure that Ahmadis are unable to participate in elections. In the Election 2002, the Election Commission introduced two separate forms for registration of voters, one for Muslims (Form 2) and another (Form 8) for Non-Muslims, and made it obligatory for Ahmadis to apply through Form 8. Obviously, no Ahmadi could voluntarily succumb to this enormity and violation of a fundamental right. This suited well to the Election Commission and the mulla. Now the Commission has done away with Form 8 and redesigned Form 2. The new Form 2 is the same for all voters, but (a big but) it requires them to tick one of the given boxes that mention religion. To ensure that an Ahmadi may not tick himself as Muslim, special certificate is added on the back of the Form wherein every applicant who ticks himself as a Muslim is made to sign the following unprecedented certificate:
I affirm on oath that I and all the members of my family who are listed on the preceding page believe completely and unconditionally in the finality of prophethood of Khatam un Nabiyyeen Muhammad (peace be upon him). None of us recognizes 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 recognizes such a claimant as prophet or a religious reformer. None of us is associated with the Qadiani or Lahori group, or calls himself an Ahmadi.
Signature or thumb impression of the head or such member of the family who is eligible for enrollment in the electoral roll.
This form includes a warning that a violation will be punished with imprisonment. That places Pakistan squarely in the company of 17th century Europe. It is relevant to mention that the given definition of a Muslim in Form 2, as adopted from Article 260(3) of the constitution is only Pakistan-specific and, leave alone the original sources, is not to be found anywhere else in 1400 years since the birth of Islam. This is true also regarding the definition of non-Muslim given in Art 260(3)b . The rulers, politicians and the mulla have led the state of Pakistan into uncharted waters, in the middle of night.
Some simpletons ask why Ahmadis do not simply fill in the form to avail of the voting right. The fact is that none who considers himself to be a Muslim would ever dissociate himself from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to get registered as a voter. Ahmadis are no exception, as it is also not possible for them to do so in the light of their belief. Can one expect a Sunni in Iran to avail of voting rights at the cost of his Islam, if the Iranian government introduced such a procedure? Or, just imagine the Italian government asking its Protestant citizens to avail of their voting rights through denial of Christianity and disassociation from Jesus. In fact, the mulla and the authorities in Pakistan know fully well that Ahmadis will not register as voters under such conditions, that is why they designed the Form that way.
Free and fair elections! The empty slogan sounds like a joke to Ahmadi citizens of Pakistan. As for the freedom of religion, it is guaranteed to Ahmadis in Article 20 of Constitution of Pakistan and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Pakistan is signatory. Individuals and institutions who deny them these fundamental rights expose themselves to a trial and judgment by Allah and history — and the judgment day may not be as remote as some tend to assume.
A letter was written from the Ahmadiyya headquarters in Pakistan to the President, the Acting Prime Minister and the Chief Election Commissioner on 12 December 2007. It highlighted the discriminatory rules and procedures against the Ahmadiyya community and pleaded that “the joint electorate system should be practically implemented in its true sense and spirit and no one should be allowed to manipulate the electoral process for their own vested interests.” Letters were also written to the President, the Acting PM and the CEC for grant of an appointment to a three-member Ahmadiyya delegation at the earliest convenience. These authorities did not reply except the office of the CEC that conveyed that ‘the Hon’ble Chief Election Commissioner is awfully busy now a days’.
Amnesty International Pakistan issued its own comment on ‘the system of Electorate Rolls in Pakistan’ and fully endorsed the Ahmadiyya view and grievance. It made the following three recommendations in conclusion:
- The international community, UN, the EU and regional institutes should urge the Government of Pakistan to establish a Joint Electorate Rolls System in Pakistan, free of discrimination against cast, creed and colour.
- Amnesty International Pakistan strongly demands from the government of Pakistan to take immediate step to demolish this inhumane discrimination. President General Musharraf’s order calling for separate electorate list only for Ahmadis in 2002 is still in vogue. It is therefore urgently needed that The Chief Executive’s Order No.15 of June 17, 2002 should be withdrawn. Joint electoral lists should be prepared without any reference to religion or creed.
- Amnesty International Pakistan urges that all discriminatory certification should be done away with. Ahmadis should not be discriminated in any manner as regards the electoral process in the country.
The behavior of the national press on this issue is worth placing on record. The press release issued by Mr Saleem-ud-din, the spokesman for the Jamaat Ahmadiyya was given good coverage by the Daily Times, Lahore (on December 16). The Urdu press, for instance the daily Jang, made it one-column news. This paper spared 3-column headline space for the rejoinder issued by one mulla Allah Yar Arshad who said, “System of Joint Electorate is a deviation from the principles on which Pakistan was founded. Qadianis are making unsuccessful efforts to gain some cheap popularity; their statements are incorrect.” It is also worth a mention that the Ahmadiyya community approached the press to publish its announcement of disassociation from the elections, and offered even to pay for it, but except for two Urdu and two English newspapers none agreed to publish it.
There are only 7 days left to the Election day. It appears that the establishment has decided to pay no heed to the justified grievance of a marginalized section of population, despite what the founding father said, the voice of reason demands and the higher values of statecraft dictate.