Pakistan’s Perpetual Ideological Crisis and the Threat of Genocide against Ahmadis

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Yasser Latif Hamdani*

*The author is a practicing lawyer based in Lahore. He is also the author of the book, “Jinnah; Myth or Reality.” His email address is Yasser.hamdani@gmail. com


(Our challenges emerge from our inability to think clearly about the raison d’etre of Pakistan and, furthermore, to accommodate within the nation state framework, religious and sectarian minorities who have been increasingly marginalized. Vague notions of Islamic Ideology have been utilized by sections within the deep Pakistani state to thwart the sovereignty of the people and thereby retard democracy in the country. – Author)

Through this article I propose to outline some of the persistent challenges Pakistan continues to face. These are not new challenges but I believe that it is time we in Pakistan take the bull by the horns. Our challenges emerge from our inability to think clearly about the raison d’etre of Pakistan and, furthermore, to accommodate within the nation state framework, religious and sectarian minorities who have been increasingly marginalized. Vague notions of Islamic Ideology have been utilized by sections within the deep Pakistani state to thwart the sovereignty of the people and thereby retard democracy in the country.

Many of these challenges emerge from a peculiar power play that instrumentalises religion as a mobilizing tool. This is not a new phenomenon in the history of the subcontinent. Gandhi had first used religion to mobilize the masses against the British in the 1920s. At the time, Pakistan’s future founding father Jinnah had warned Gandhi against it. However in the 1940s, All India Muslim League also utilized religious symbols for mobilization after it came under attack by pro-Congress Islamist parties like Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam and Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind for being led by secular and westernized Muslims.

Dr Ayesha Jalal writes:

“There was something peculiar about a ‘secular’ nationalist party counting on the vocal support of anti-imperial cultural relativists of Ahrar and Madani to claim a Muslim following. A spate of pamphlets published by Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind and Ahrar delighted in exposing League’s lack of Islamic credentials, pointing to Jinnah’s emphatic assertions about Pakistan being a democracy in which Hindus and Sikhs would have an almost equal population. Substantiation that pro-Congress Muslims did much to weaken the Muslim League’s case on equal citizenship rights is the rejection by Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind and Ahrar laity of any possible equation between a democratic and an Islamic government….Throughout the run-up to the 1945-1946 elections and beyond, Punjabi leaders like Shaukat Hayat and Mumtaz Daultana not to mention Iftikharuddin and Communists tried reassuring Hindus and Sikhs that their citizenship rights would be protected in Pakistan. They had considerable backing from the Punjab League and the Press” 1

The Congress backed ulema, including Maulana Madni, the great proponent of composite nationalism, attacked Jinnah for being a Shia and having Ahmadis in the Muslim League and for having a Christian editor of Dawn. In Lucknow, Maulana Mazhar Ali Azhar used the Madh-e-Sahaba to divide the Muslim vote along sectarian Shia and Sunni lines. Time and again the Congress backed ulema used the sectarian card to create dissentions between Muslims. While on the one side Congress criticised the British for using the policy of divide and rule, it used the same policy to attempt to break up the Muslim League. There was no ambiguity about the allegations either. Dhulipala lists the main body of these complaints in his book “Creating a New Medina”2. Congress’ ulema claimed that the Muslim League had betrayed Islam by undermining the Shariat Bill in the Indian legislature. Another complaint was that the Muslim League had supported the Khula Bill, which gave Muslim women the right to seek khula (marriage annulment) as a matter of right. The Congress backed ulema also claimed that the Muslim League had opposed such Islamic legislations as the Qazi Bill, which had sought to introduce Islamic qazi courts. They also claimed that the Muslim League had repeatedly forwarded bills aimed at diluting Islam and pointed to fatwas by the ulema on these bills. The Congress backed ulema especially took exception to the fact that Jinnah had supported the Civil Marriage Bill, which would have allowed intermarriage between Muslims and non-Muslims despite the fact that such marriages contravened the Quran. In other words, every progressive action by Jinnah or the Muslim League was paraded as proof of their anti-Islamic credentials.

“He (Madani) recalled how the lawyer turned leader of India’s Muslims had consistently watered down Shariat bills in the Central Assembly. During the debate on Child Marriage Act, Jinnah had supported the right of educated Hindu and Muslim youth to contract a civil marriage. He had dismissed the contention that this was contrary to the principles of Islam, noting that laws were constantly being passed which ran counter to the Quran… Intrepid in the face of his religious opponents, Jinnah’s attitude is a reflection of the crisis of moral authority in the Muslim community. Hoping to lead it in some unison on the negotiating table, he was not ready to give quarter to men who could live the contradictions in the Congress but not with those of a political party trying to extract maximum benefits for Indian Muslims.”3

In other words, it was Congress that took the lead in playing the “Islam in danger” card for its own purposes. Responding to this, Muslim League, especially in Punjab, allied itself with Pirs and Barelvi Mullahs and mobilized Muslims of the region behind its Pakistan demand.4 This was also the case in Sindh where starting with the Manzilgah Mosque dispute, Sindh Muslim League agitated mainly around religious issues in the province. Similarly in the then NWFP, the Frontier Muslim League actively sought out Pir of Manki Sharif and other Barelvi clerics. While Jinnah and the top leadership of the All India Muslim League attempted to keep themselves above crass communalism, this strategy of mobilization for which Jinnah had once condemned Gandhi became the central feature of the Pakistan Movement, especially in Muslim majority provinces. Given this history, the instrumentalisation of Islam as a tool in political power play has become the norm in Pakistan.

There is some debate over whether a complete sovereign Pakistan was ever an aim of the proponents of Pakistan or if it was a bargaining counter at best. However, Pakistan, once it came into being, was not envisaged as a theocratic state but a modern democracy where religion would be a personal matter by its founding father, Jinnah. His speech to the Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947 leaves no doubt that Pakistan, as envisaged by him, was essentially a secular democratic state. However, there are certain sections in Pakistani society, both on the extreme right and left, who challenge this contention. They do so by claiming that after 11 August Jinnah never returned to the theme of equality of citizenship. This is untrue when one considers the evidence. Jinnah promised this on several occasions after Pakistan became a reality:

In February 1948 Jinnah said:

“I assure you Pakistan means to stand by its oft repeated promises of according equal rights to all its nationals irrespective of their caste or creed. Pakistan which symbolizes the aspirations of a nation that found it self to be a minority in the Indian subcontinent cannot be ‘unmindful’ of minorities within its own borders. It is a pity that the fair name of Karachi was sullied by the sudden outburst of communal frenzy last month and I can’t find words strong enough to condemn the action of those who are responsible.” 5

In March 1948 the founding father reiterated his vision:

“In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State — to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non- Muslims — Hindus, Christians, and Parsis — but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan” 6

On March 22, 1948, speaking to the Hindus, Jinnah said:

“We guarantee equal rights to all citizens of Pakistan. Hindus should in spirit and action wholeheartedly co-operate with the Government and its various branches as Pakistanis.” 7

March 23, 1948 speaking to Schedule Caste Federation, Pakistan’s founding father had this to say:

“We stand by our declarations that members of every community will be treated as citizens of Pakistan with equal rights and privileges and obligations and that Minorities will be safeguarded and protected.” 8

Speaking to a group of minorities he declared:

“Although you have not struck the note of your needs and requirements as a community but it is the policy of my Government and myself that every member of every community irrespective of caste color, creed or race shall be fully protected with regard to his life, property and honor. I reiterate to you that you like all minorities will be treated as equal citizens with your rights and obligations provided you are loyal to Pakistan” 9

In an interview with Doon Campbell on 21 May 1947 Jinnah had declared:

“The basis of the central administration of Pakistan and that of the units to be set up will be decided no doubt, by the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. But the Government of Pakistan can only be a popular representative and democratic form of Government. Its Parliament and Cabinet responsible to the Parliament will both be finally responsible to the electorate and the people in general without any distinction of caste, creed or sect, which will (be) the final deciding factor with regard to the policy and programme of the Government that may be adopted from time to time… The minorities in Pakistan will be the citizens of Pakistan and enjoy all the rights, privileges and obligations of citizenship without any distinction of caste creed or sect. They will be treated justly and fairly. The Government will run the administration and control the legislative measures by its Parliament, and the collective conscience of the Parliament itself will be a guarantee that the minorities need not have any apprehension of any injustice being done to them. Over and above that there will be provisions for the protection and safeguard of the minorities which in my opinion must be embodied in the constitution itself. And this will leave no doubt as to the fundamental rights of the citizens, protection of religion and faith of every section, freedom of thought and protection of their cultural and social life.” 10

In another interview in October 1947 Jinnah declared:

“Minorities DO NOT cease to be citizens. Minorities living in Pakistan or Hindustan do not cease to be citizens of their respective states by virtue of their belonging to particular faith, religion or race. I have repeatedly made it clear, especially in my opening speech to the Constituent Assembly, that the minorities in Pakistan would be treated as our citizens and will enjoy all the rights as any other community. Pakistan shall pursue this policy and do all it can to create a sense of security and confidence in the Non-Muslim minorities of Pakistan. We do not prescribe any school boy tests for their loyalty. We shall not say to any Hindu citizen of Pakistan ‘if there was war would you shoot a Hindu?” 11

There is no denying that Muslim identity politics was at the root of the creation of Pakistan and that Islam is indeed the master signifier of that identity politics. However it is not Islam as the old time religion but Islam ontologically emptied or as Dr Faisal Devji of Oxford University once wrote in his piece, M A Jinnah as founder of Muslim politics as a Modern Phenomenon: “It had, in fact, to secularise Islam by making belief and practice entirely nominal, thus doing something very different from the liberal confinement of religion to private life or the communist exclusion of it.”

It must be remembered that Jinnah himself had arrived at this position from the extreme end of the liberal secular spectrum. When Muslim League was being founded, Jinnah was its biggest critic, declaring that there was no need for a separate Muslim organisation in the first place. Jinnah declared from the Congress platform in 1906 “Muhammadans can equally stand on this common platform and pray for our grievances being remedied through the programme of the National Congress.” Jinnah also thoroughly denounced the Muslim demand and the British acquiescence of the separate electorates, saying that ‘Mohammadan Community should be treated the same way as the Hindu community’. Even in the 1920s, he told a committee questioning him that he expected Hindu and Muslim political differences to be composed shortly and that in very near future expected the separate electorates to be given up in favour of joint electorates.

As a politician in the late 1920s Jinnah found himself in no man’s land with the Punjabi Muslim politicians like Sir Fazli Hussain, Sir Muhammad Shafi, Iqbal, Sir Shafaat and even the impressive young Sir Zafrullah adamant on retaining mandatory communal representation for the Muslim community and the Congress’ right wing unwilling to provide one third reservation while introducing joint electorates that might . Jinnah was considered too conciliatory to the Hindus by Muslims in majority provinces and too much of a spokesman for Muslims by the Hindu Mahasabha and even the rising left wing of the Congress under Jawaharlal Nehru. The Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity therefore was left out in the cold. He attempted again with Rajendra Prasad to come up with a united front but to no avail.

Then the failure of the Congress to include Muslim League in its UP governments despite an electoral alliance came as a cruel surprise. Jinnah realised the importance of rallying behind the League in the Muslim majority provinces to forge a united bargaining agent for the Muslim minority at the centre. The demand for Pakistan arose out of this need. The Two-Nation Theory and the demand for partition — which was originally introduced by Bhai Permanand and Lala Lajpat Rai from Punjab — was now adopted in self defence. At no point, however, did the Pakistan demand rule out the idea of a Muslim homeland within an overall federal union of India. This is why Jinnah accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan.

The reason why the Cabinet Mission Plan was unacceptable to Congress (with the exception of Maulana Azad who was summarily removed from his office as president the Congress because he accepted it) was because a united India under Cabinet Mission Plan would leave a possibility for a united front of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities against a Congress majority — a prospect unacceptable to both the right wing within Congress that was representative of the Caste Hindu Majority and the left wing under Nehru which wanted a strong centralised India as a socialist state. Certainly an India based on the Cabinet Mission Plan would have made the one party and one family state that India emerged as after partition for close to a half a century a near impossibility.

Coming back to the Islam, ontologically emptied and secularised, to use Faisal Devji’s words, that the Muslim League employed was modernist (based largely on Aligarh school of thought), inclusionary of all sects and had very little room for theological and doctrinal disputes. This is why Jinnah refused to entertain objections by certain quarters against Ahmadis.

While Muslim identity (inclusive then of groups like Ahmadis, Ismailis, Mahdavi sect) was the cornerstone of the Pakistan Movement, no historian of the Pakistan Movement can deny the support the Muslim League got from Dalits and Scheduled Castes in Bengal or the fact that it was because of the Christian support in the Punjab assembly that the Muslim League was able to secure the present border of West Punjab. Therefore it is about time we revisited the exclusivist narrative of Pakistan that certain Islamists as well as leftist critics of Pakistan Movement have been able to impose on it. A Pakistani narrative and identity, while mindful of the modernist Muslim identity that the League forwarded during the Pakistan Movement, cannot ignore also the minorities of Pakistan who were promised equal rights, protection and safeguards by Jinnah and the Muslim League repeatedly through their resolutions and manifestoes.

At no point during the 13 months that Jinnah was in power was there any piece of legislation or resolution purporting to commit Pakistan to an exclusively Muslim polity was passed by the Constituent Assembly.

Not only this, but there is no single resolution by the All India Muslim League in its entire history that commits Pakistan to an exclusively Muslim or a religious form of government. On the contrary there are several resolutions that speak of safeguards and equal rights for minorities. The fact remains that Pakistan under Jinnah had no state religion and had no bars against any community. This is what a secular state is. It is pertinent to note that the country did not get a state religion till 1973 despite having become an Islamic Republic in 1956.

There were several attempts during the Pakistan Movement to commit Pakistan to a religious or theocratic form of government but Jinnah vetoed all of them, declaring at one point that such an attempt would amount to censure on every Leaguer. Consequently, speaking at Khaliqdina Hall, after independence, Jinnah was interrupted by a worker who told Jinnah that he believed in slogan “Pakistan kamatlabkiya la illahillallah” to which Jinnah replied: “Neither the Muslim League Working Committee nor I ever passed a resolution ‘Pakistan kamatlabkya’ — you may have used it to catch a few votes.”

Jinnah’s death in 1948 left a huge vacuum in leadership. His successor Liaquat Ali Khan made a compromise with the religious forces in the country in the form of the Objectives’ Resolution. While a clear departure from Jinnah’s secular policy, the Objectives’ Resolution by itself did not turn Pakistan into a theocracy per se. The opening sentence reads:

“Whereas sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Allah Almighty alone and the authority which He has delegated to the State of Pakistan, through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust”

While recognizing the sovereignty of Allah Almighty, the authority delegated to the State of Pakistan is not to be exercised by Muslims alone but all people of Pakistan. It goes on to state:

“Wherein the State shall exercise its powers and authority through the chosen representatives of the people;

Wherein the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice as enunciated by Islam shall be fully observed;”

It was the “as enunciated by Islam” proviso that was deemed as most objectionable by the minorities because they felt, quite justifiably, that it would be interpreted narrowly by the clerics and would mean a denial of their fundamental rights. In his speech reassuring the minorities, Liaquat Ali Khan promised that there would be no discrimination against Non-Muslims and that they could even hold the highest offices in the land including the office of the head of state – a promise that was eventually betrayed. Nevertheless the Objectives’ Resolution was always envisaged as a preamble which it remained till 1984 when it was made a substantive part of the Constitution of 1973 through insertion of Article 2-A. As mentioned earlier, the first two constitutions of Pakistan (1956 and 1962) did not have a state religion. However both these constitutions did bar Non-Muslims from holding the office of the President. There were some Islamic provisions also but these were applicable only to Muslim citizens. Other than the fact that Non-Muslims could not hold the office of the President, there was no constitutional or legal discrimination against Non-Muslims in the first two constitutions. The third constitution of Pakistan adopted in 1973 after the separation of East Pakistan is a far more religious document and has significantly a state religion. Furthermore the office of the Prime Minister is also barred to Non-Muslims. Even though the Constitution promises complete equality to every citizen, this discrimination at the very top has also permeated throughout the society. In 1974 the Parliament passed the 2nd Constitutional Amendment declaring Ahmadi sect to be Non-Muslim. Ironically on 11 August 1947, responding to Liaquat Ali Khan’s assertion that the White part of the National Flag represented all minorities because White is made up of seven colours and there weren’t seven minorities in Pakistan, Bhim Sen Sachar, a member of the Congress Party and the Pakistan Constituent Assembly, had asked sardonically: “I hope you will not create them”. In 1974 that became a reality and this underscores why Pakistan should have taken a decidedly secular course early on in line with Jinnah’s 11 August speech. Jinnah had equally presciently pointed this out when he had reminded his Muslim and Hindu listeners that there were endless schisms internally in both communities.

In 1977 Bhutto was toppled and later hanged (1979) by General Zia ul Haq’s military regime. In his 11 year rule, General Zia proceeded with a broad based social engineering program which deeply radicalized Pakistani society and in particular Pakistani Islam. 11 year interlude of democracy in the 1990s was marred by palace intrigue and the misuse of Article 58(2)b that Zia had left behind as a “safety valve” against the democratically elected leaders in the country. Pakistan tumbled into the new millennium under a new dictatorship. General Musharraf proclaimed his enlightened moderation but it remained business as usual, till he was ousted in 2008. No progress was made on the central questions of identity, role of religion and equality of citizenship. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007 had deprived Pakistan of the one leader who had the legitimacy and popular appeal to resolve the dilemma. Nevertheless her party PPP came into power in 2008 and thus began the present democratic transition which saw PPP being ousted through elections in 2013. Before that could happen Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, was brutally assassinated in Islamabad in 2011 for standing up for a Christian woman accused of blasphemy. That single act silenced anyone who had hoped to contribute to a debate on the issue. There have been some noise every now and then on these critical issues but politics is now largely unconcerned with the larger ideological issues which are deemed to have been settled.

Politics is about power. So one does not hold grudges against politicians for attempting to either hold on to or grab power. Seen from this lens the actions of all our politicians today, including Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan and Asif Ali Zardari are justifiable. It seems simple enough. The opposition wants the present government ousted before the March Senate elections. The government wants to stay in office long enough so that it can secure the Senate and in the event that PMLN loses the elections, it can remain relevant during the next term. Nawaz Sharif himself wants to stay relevant and the surest way to do that is to throw the challenge to the judiciary and the hidden hand.

Now this scenario opens up several vistas where any mistake by these politicians can jeopardize the hard work done to sustain democracy into a second complete transition in the last 10 years as well as the supreme sacrifice that Shaheed Benazir Bhutto gave for the right of the people to choose their elected representatives. It also threatens the legitimacy and independence of judiciary that was achieved through a hard fought struggle in the form of the Lawyer’s Movement. For many around the world, it would be seen as business as usual in a dysfunctional state oscillating between authoritarianism and democracy. We don’t have many friends in the world and certainly not friends in places that matter. In short the world does not trust it and sees us as an unstable pariah state with nukes, only slightly better than North Korea, which might fall into the hands of extremists at any time. Those of us who live in Pakistan know better but our reputation nevertheless is well deserved. The world has not forgiven us for the fact that Osama Bin Laden was found a stone’s throw away from our military academy. The US is especially unhappy for our apparent unwillingness to make a clean break with our so-called assets, including the Haqqani Network. Nothing will make our prospects bleaker if there is any kind of interruption in the democratic set up. Democracy therefore is a matter of life and death for Pakistan.

However it cannot be a democracy that foments extremism or fanaticism. The growth of majoritarian Barelvi extremism, a new phenomenon in our history since 2011 which happened under the present democratic transition, certainly is cause for grave concern. All major parties, PMLN, PTI and PPP, have made their own efforts in courting the Barelvis, especially after the Dharna in Faizabad. Most disappointingly, the PTI, which once promised a pluralistic and egalitarian albeit Islamic Welfare State in its manifesto, now sees the growth of elements like the PAT, TLYR and the so-called Milli Muslim League as a way of weaning away Barelvi voters of PMLN. PMLN itself, after having attempted, very nobly, to fix the national narrative in recent years and give it a progressive slant, is now fighting on the same ground as PTI, PAT, TYRL and the MML. Captain Safdar’s shrill attacks on the Ahmadis, the most persecuted community in Pakistan, is an example of the dangerous game they are playing. The center left PPP’s decision to join Barelvi leader Tahir-ul-Qadri on the issue of Model Town, which is purely a legal issue, is another example. Even the ANP, which has in the past claimed to be secular, is raising the religiously charged issue of Khatm-e-Nabuwat in KPK. The last thing we need is a doctrinal and theological issue becoming part of the election rhetoric. The elections must be contested on the issues of development, transparency and economic growth and not on theological issues. Pakistan has since the 1980s a specific court for these religious disputes called the Federal Shariat Court. Why then should emotionally charged theological issues become part of the political debate given that there is a constitutionally mandated recourse to settle such issues?

Any kind of chaos whether political or religious on the streets may lead to an outright confrontation between the ruling PMLN and those it fears the most at this point: the Army and the Judiciary. The Pakistan Army for its part has made it clear that it will back the democratic process at all costs. That has not stopped certain leading politicians from PMLN from attacking it. Given our patchy history one obviously understands why civilian politicians might mistrust the military. However, the Army stands to gain nothing from any direct intervention because it knows very well that it would only weaken the country. The Judiciary also sees itself as the guardian of the constitution and is not likely to rock the boat.

Nevertheless, one would want both these institutions to stand firmly with the elected government in face of any attempts to create chaos in the country, no matter what the provocation from certain sections within the PMLN.

Sadly the opposition feels that chaos is the only way it can dislodge PMLN. Yet they should understand that elections are not won by dharnas and protests. Instead they should focus on organization and on taking their message door to door in Pakistan. They must also realize that Pakistan faces grave external challenges and cannot afford any kind of disruption. As patriots they must place country over party. They must vigorously campaign during this year but must not in anyway be party to the premature exit of what is after all a constitutional government. Nor should they, in their zeal to grab power, make any compromises with those forces that want to drag Pakistan backwards into medieval times. The same goes for the ruling PMLN. In their effort to hang on to power, they must not make any false moves that would come to haunt this country. This has been the bane of not just Pakistan but the entire subcontinent. Every popular political party in this subcontinent has on some occasion or the other made these unconscionable compromises, which have retarded progress in all countries of this subcontinent. Pakistan at least cannot afford business as usual in 2018.

The fault lines are quite apparent. Now more than ever before in our history, the tiny Ahmadi community in Pakistan, which makes up about 0.35 percent of the population, faces a very real danger of genocide. Marginalized since 1974 and restricted in terms of religious freedom since 1984, Ahmadis now face a new threat in form of open advocacy of violence against them by groups. Given that there is a chance that religious and theological issues might actually become an election issue, we must also consider the special case of the Ahmadi community.

Here one is forced to give the disclaimer that I am not an Ahmadi by faith. My concern with their fundamental rights as citizens of Pakistan as well as their right to self identify arises out of my concern that by marginalizing this tiny community in Pakistan since 1974, we have set some horrible precedents in terms of religious freedom which sooner or later will haunt this country. As it so happens we saw a display of this state enabled religious bigotry when a few hundred protesters held the federal capital of Pakistan hostage for more than two weeks in November 2017. This I argue is the direct result of the enabling provisions of the Constitution and Law which has transformed Pakistan from an inclusive democratic state, as envisaged by the founding fathers of Pakistan, to a sectarian state which Pakistan is on the verge of becoming.

The Ahmadis were declared Non-Muslim through the second constitution amendment in 1974 under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s PPP government passed by a unanimous vote – a vote was endorsed by all sides of the political spectrum including the so called left – and were later even restricted from using Islamic nomenclature and identifying as Muslims through Ordinance XX of 1984 promulgated by General Zia’s military regime. In 2017 Captain Safdar, the son in law of the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif thought it opportune to target them again in the assembly. In doing so he attacked the first foreign minister of Pakistan Zafrullah Khan, who was Jinnah’s right hand man and Pakistan’s ablest advocate before the boundary commission during partition.

Following this a number of articles authored by Hamid Mir and Dr. Safdar Mehmood appeared in the Urdu press that argued that Sir Zafrullah Khan was inducted into the Pakistan Cabinet as a Non-Muslim. This is historically inaccurate. The Constituent Assembly record is available and Sir Zafrullah Khan appears on record as a West Punjab Muslim representative. 12

On the Ahmadi issue Jinnah did speak out clearly and said that he was not going to turn them out from the Muslim League. On 23 May 1944 Jinnah declared in Srinagar:

“A vexed question was put to me: ‘Among Muslims who can become a member of Muslim Conference?’ and this question was particularly in reference to Qadianis. My answer was that so far as the constitution of the All- India Muslim League was concerned, it is laid down there that any Muslim, irrespective of his creed or sect, if he wishes to join the All- India Muslim League, he can do so, provided he accepts the creed, policy and programme of the All-India Muslim League and signs the form of membership and pays his subscription of two annas. I would appeal to Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir not to raise any sectarian issues, but to organise the Musalmans and bring them on one platform and under one flag.”13

Answering a follow up question in the same press conference asked by one Muhammad Sabir, Jinnah said “who am I to declare someone a Non-Muslim, if he professes to be a Muslim?”

Similarly Dawn reported on Pir Akbar Ali MLA’s interview with Jinnah in 1944:

“Mr M A Jinnah was pleased to assure him that according to the latest constitution, there was no bar to members of the Ahmadiyya Community joining the Muslim League and that as members of the League they would be entitled to such privileges as enjoyed by members of other various sects of Muslims.” This news report is there in the 1944 archives of Dawn and was reproduced by Dawn as part of its 70 years ago section. Dawn was Jinnah’s own paper and was the mouthpiece of the Muslim League.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam asked Jinnah to turn out Ahmadis from the League but Jinnah refused to. Dr Ayesha Jalal, the world renowned authority on Jinnah, writes:

“But the more controversial demand, and one Jinnah wisely resisted, was that provincial assembly candidates taking the League oath should vow to expel the Ahmadis from the Muslim community. A courageous stand to have taken, it reflects Jinnah’s understanding of constitutional law and the imperatives of citizenship in a modern state… He saw no reason to strip the Ahmadis of their Muslim identity simply on account of a doctrinal dispute.” 14

Jinnah had long-standing ties with the Ahmadi community and had visited their center in London during his self-imposed exile. It was on 6 April 1933 that Jinnah spoke here on the invitation of Abdul Rahim Dard the Ahmadi Imam who had invited him to celebrate Eid-ul-Azha.15 Moreover, himself hailing from a minority sect within Islam, Jinnah understood that this kind of exclusion would open the door for chaos.

Jinnah had, as early as 1939 declared in a speech in the Indian legislature on 22nd March 1939, “Before proceeding further, I wish to record my sense of appreciation and if I say so, coming from my party the Honourable Sir Muhammad Zafrullah Khan, who is a Muslim and it may be said that I am flattering my own son, But I must endorse there is not the slightest doubt that he has done his very best.” 16

It is clear that Jinnah considered Zafrullah Khan as an able Muslim to represent the Muslim interests best. On October 22, 1947, Jinnah wrote to M A H Ispahani, Pakistan’s first Ambassador to the US, about Zafrullah:

“As regards Zafrullah, we do not mean he should leave his work so long as it is necessary for him to stay there, and I think he has already been informed to that effect, but naturally we are very short of capable men, and of his stature, and every now and then our eyes naturally turn to him for various problems we have to solve.”17

Consequently Zafrullah Khan was appointed Foreign Minister on 25 December 1947.

Unfortunately these facts of history are of no consequence for those who are either deliberately or unwittingly promoting an anti-Ahmadi narrative in Pakistan. Even Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed, a political scientist, professor emeritus from Stockholm University and an author of several award-winning publications, in a series of articles has, very sadly, leveled a number of serious allegations against Zafrullah Khan and the Ahmadi community. Even though Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed claims to take a secular liberal view of things, he has in the past made insinuations that Ahmadis themselves are to blame for their plight. He has claimed that Zafrullah Khan’s refusal to participate in Jinnah’s funeral was one of the contributing factors to their marginalization later. Zafrullah Khan was present at the funeral but did not participate in the funeral prayers because the person leading the prayer, Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani, considered him a Non-Muslim. Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed has also claimed that the riots in 1953 broke out because of provocative speeches by Zafrullah Khan. There is no evidence for that. Now Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed claims that Zafrullah Khan was retained as the foreign minister because he had powerful backers in the British and US administrations of the time.

Writing in Daily Times under the heading “Jinnah’s Prerogatives” on December 10, 2017, he writes:

“So, Jinnah made him Pakistan’s foreign minister. May I dare also add that Zafrulla had powerful backing from the British and possibly US administrations. Pakistan was at that time a British Dominion. Later, Khawaja Nazimuddin was reported saying that if he removed Zafrulla the Americans would stop the supply of US aid including food aid which was badly needed.”

Then he writes in his article “Jinnah’a multifarious pledges” (sic) on December 23, 2017:

“Hamdani disagreed with my statement that Sir Zafarullah had powerful backers in the British and possibly US administrations. I referred to Chaudhary Khaliquzzaman’s book, Pathway to Pakistan, where he said the same thing several times. Mian Iftikharuddin has called Zafarullah an agent of imperialism. He expressed the fear that wherever Zafarullah goes he will advance the agenda of imperialism. He feared Zafarullah would harm the Arab Muslim world notwithstanding all the ostensible pro-Arab rhetoric. Zafarullah’s ultra-radical position on Kashmir is equally controversial. It did no good to Pakistan. The Al-Furqan Brigade consisting entirely of Ahmadis took part in the incursion of Kashmir in 1947-48. It was the first case of an armed non-state actor involved in an armed conflict which forced the Maharaja into the arms of India.”

The point about the so called Al Furqan Brigade must be addressed first. It was not Al Furqan Brigade but Furqan Battalion. It was formed in June 1948 in response to an appeal by the Government of Pakistan and therefore the question of it being the first “armed non-state actor” does not arise. The Maharaja of Kashmir had already acceded to India on 26 October 1947 long before the Furqan Battalion came into being.

In terms of the allegations against Sir Zafrullah Khan, it must be pointed out that there is no primary source evidence for these claims. He relies on Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman’s and Mian Iftikharuddin’s accounts. However partisan individual accounts are poor substitutes in my humble opinion for what we know is established record of Pakistan’s first foreign minister.

Zafrullah rose in the international diplomatic community on his merits. He was known for his powerful advocacy of the third world cause and the Arab cause. For this he was recognized universally as a spokesman for the Arab and the Muslim world at the UN. The Statesman in Delhi observed:

“For the first time the voice of Pakistan was heard in the councils of the United Nations on a burning topic of world-wide significance when leader of this country’s delegation, Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan, addressed the United Nations Palestine Committee at Lake Success on Tuesday. It was a telling speech which tore into shreds the specious pleas put forward by the advocates of the partition of Palestine. Chaudhry Zafarullah did not merely indulge in rhetoric when he described the partition plan as `physically and geographically a monstrosity’, he proceeded to prove this by unassailable arguments. Answering the contention that the migration of more Jews into Palestine should be permitted because the Jewish displaced persons desired to go to that country, Pakistan’s spokesman asked whether the Americans would consent to relax or abrogate their own immigration laws if displaced persons of various other nationalities desired to enter the United States and settle there? Would America, he further asked, agree to take in the five million displaced persons of the Punjab if they desired to leave the scene of their suffering and cross over to the United States. We have little doubt that the Arabs will rejoice to find the voice of Pakistan so powerfully raised in the United Nations in defence of their cause. The addition of the independent sovereign state of Pakistan to the comity of free Muslim peoples of the World is already beginning to have its effect on international affairs.”18

A few days later the same newspaper quoted an Arab diplomat as saying:

“It was a most brilliant and exhaustive survey of the Arab case regarding Palestine that I have ever heard.”19

In one of his letters in Urdu dated March 6, 1948, addressed to a Pakistani, Khawaja Hassan Nizami, the well-known Muslim divine of Delhi, in reference to the brilliant advocacy of the Palestine cause by Muhammad Zafarullah Khan at the United Nations, writes:

“The fact of the matter is that Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan has done a job for which 80 crore Muslims of the World owe him a debt of gratitude. I never hesitate to mention this fact to all, the intelligentsia and the common people alike. Even in my speeches at big public gatherings. I freely express this view.”

His Majesty King Faisal-al-Saud, who in his capacity as Foreign Minister of Saudia Arab headed the Saudi Arabian delegation to the United Nations, in a letter, dated May 5, 1948, to Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, thanked him `for your close co-operation and the noble stand which your Excellency has taken, not only during the meeting but since the question of Palestine has been put before the United Nations. Allow me to state that your high principles have created a desire on the part of all righteous persons to identify themselves with the efforts of your Excellency, not only on behalf of the Arabs, but Moslems all over the world as well’, the letter adds.

Al-Syed Ahmad Asim, Dargah Hazrat Sheikh Abdul Qadir Gilani, Baghdad, a cousin of Al-Syed Abdul Qadir Al-Gilani, former Ambassador of Iraq to Pakistan, in his letter in Urdu dated July 5, 1948, addressed to Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, writes:

“I avail of this opportunity to thank you from the core of my heart, on my behalf as well as on behalf of the family of Hazrat Gous-ul-Azam, for the great Jihad you waged in a purely Islamic spirit in support of the Holy Land of Palestine before the United Nations. I earnestly pray that Almighty Allah may grant you full recompense for your services and enable you to further serve the cause of Islam.”

Syed Amin Husseini, Grand Mufti of Palestine, in a telegram dated, Cairo, March 1, 1950, says:

“Wish reassure your Excellency our deep appreciation your invaluable efforts for just causes of Islam. May God guard you crowning your efforts with success.”

A three-member delegation of Libya, including the Secretary General of Libya’s Liberation Council, called on Pakistan Ambassador in Cairo, Haji Abdus Sattar Seth, on June 20, 1950 and expressed their country’s gratitude to Pakistan for the services rendered by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Chaudhry Muhammad Zafarullah Khan in connection with the independence of Libya. The delegation said Pakistan’s Foreign Minister had presented the feelings of the people of Libya before the United Nations in a remarkable manner. It is through his efforts that Libya is now on the threshold of independence (Libya achieved independence on January 1, 1951). Libya can never forget the services rendered by Pakistan and its respected Foreign Minister and for this is sincerely grateful to Pakistan. (The news was carried by papers dated June 21, 1950).

The spontaneous reaction of Mr. Awny Dejani, a Palestinian Arab, who was a senior member of the Saudi Arabian delegation to the 1950 United Nations General Assembly Session, to one of Muhammad Zafarullah Khan’s speeches before the United Nations supporting the Arabs cause, was epitomised in the following words jotted on a piece of paper and sent to Zafarullah Khan on the conclusion of his address:

“You were God-sent to us, Sir. No words of mine or expressions from my heart could convey to you, Sir, our indebtedness to your leadership. God bless you, Sir, and keep you for us.”

This was the view from Syria:

“Zafarullah Khan will be given a tremendous welcome in the Syrian capital. He raised his voice in defence of humanity, justice and righteousness at every political gathering and at every international forum. Zafarullah is the person who bent all his energies in representing the causes of the Arab countries and as such his name will ever be written in gold in the history of the Arabs. His conscience is saturated with faith; his conversation is marked with reason and logic. He always keeps in view true and unalloyed good of humanity. In welcoming Muhammad Zafarullah Khan today we are welcoming a person of faith, belief and humaneness who wants to see the establishment of a pure, clean and exemplary society in the world, who desires to bring about an environment of brotherhood and camaraderie in which human life could flourish unimpeded and no human being could usurp the rights of another fellow human being.”20

Abdur Rahman Azzam, the great Egyptian statesman, wrote the following in Al-Jareedah:

“It came to me a great surprise that you (i.e. Editor of the newspaper) accepted an opinion expressed by the Mufti about Qadianis or Chaudhry Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, as an effective religious fatwa. If this principle is accepted, the beliefs of human beings, their honour and prestige and their entire future will be at the mercy of the views and opinions of a few ulema. Fatwa is sought and given on a definite and unambiguous matter. Even fatwa pronounced in this manner does not carry more weight than that of an opinion. Nor is it necessary that others should accept it. Islam does not permit papaey of ulema and gives them no authority to pronounce anyone beyond the pale of Islam. Everyone who believes in the Unity of Allah, and in Muhammad (peace be upon him) as His Prophet and turns of Ka’aba for prayers, is surely a Muslim. Such one needs no certificate for being a Muslim. It is utterly against the interest of Muslims to call any sect as heretic; one of the cardinal principles of Islam is that one should not doubt the faith of the other. We know for certain that Zafarullah Khan is a Muslim by profession and by practice. He has been successful in defending the cause of Islam all over the world. Whatever stand was taken in defence of Islam, he was always its successful protagonist. It was for this reason that he came to be respected by all and the hearts of Muslims all the world over were filled with sentiments of gratitude for him. He is one of those ablest leaders who have the knack of skilfully resolving national and popular problems.”

The point of quoting these glowing references to Pakistan’s first Foreign Minister is to show that far from being a darling of the West as some quarters in Pakistan want to portray him as, Sir Zafrullah Khan was universally hailed by the Arab and Islamic world as a Champion of Palestine and the Third World. Sir Zafrullah Khan is not the only Ahmadi who has contributed to Pakistan. Dr Abdus Salam was another Ahmadi of whom the nation has every right to be proud of.

It would be a great tragedy if Pakistan’s Muslims drive out this tiny community, which has contributed so valiantly to Pakistan in all spheres. Unfortunately one fears that this is precisely where we are headed. It is time to resolve the identity crisis that has plagued us for the last 7 decades at long last and make Pakistan a truly progressive and modern state which treats all its citizens equally, regardless of what their religion or sect or gender is. Only then can we fulfill the promise with which we started so long ago. Let us hope 2018 is such a year when we finally wake up to the needs of the present.


1- Jalal, A., 2002. Self and sovereignty: Individual and community in South Asian Islam since 1850. Routledge, page 457.

2- Dhulipala, V., 2015. Creating a New Medina. Cambridge University Press.

3- Jalal, A., 2002. Self and sovereignty: Individual and community in South Asian Islam since 1850. Routledge. Pages 459-460

4- For this see Gilmartin, D., 1988. Empire and Islam: Punjab and the making of Pakistan (pp. 39-72). Berkeley: University of California Press.

5-February 1948 speaking to Parsis Page 102-103 Jinnah Speeches and Statements 1947-1948, Oxford 1997

6- Page 125 Jinnah Speeches and Statements 1947-1948, Oxford 1997

7- Page 153 Jinnah Speeches and Statements 1947-1948, Oxford 1997

8- Page 154 Jinnah Speeches and Statements 1947-1948, Oxford 1997

9- Page 223 Jinnah Speeches and Statements 1947-1948, Oxford 1997

10- 845, Zaidi, ZH (ed) (1993) Jinnah Papers: Prelude to Pakistan, Vol. I Part I. Lahore: Quaid-i-Azam Papers Project

11- P. 61, Jinnah Speeches and Statements 1947-1948, Oxford 1997


13- Speeches and Writings of Mr Jinnah, Jamiluddin Ahmad (ed.); Vol. I; p. 148

14- Jalal, A., 2002. Self and sovereignty: Individual and community in South Asian Islam since 1850. Routledge. Page 375

15- Sunday Times, London 9th April 1933

16- Official Reports Volume #3 Page No. 3892

17- Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah Papers, Vol VI, Page 165, Also see Jinnah Ispahani Correspondence compiled by Z H Zaidi

18- The Statesman, Delhi, dated October 8, 1947

19- Ibid dated October 11, 1947

20- Al Ayyam 24 February 1948