The story of Pak physicist Abdus Salam points to a tale of a country digging its own grave by continuing to persecute its minority communities, writes PN Khera.india Updated: Dec 01, 2006 00:52 IST
Last week was the 10th death anniversary of Pakistan’s greatest scientist, Abdus Salam, who received the Nobel Prize in 1979. Yet, there were no observances in his homeland, at least not official ones. That is because Pakistan no longer recognises him as a Muslim. Its hero, instead, is a man who has done more to endanger mankind through his actions than anyone else, AQ Khan.
Salam’s Ahmadiyya community was declared ‘non-Muslim’ through a constitutional amendment passed in 1974. This fact is recorded in their passport documents so that they cannot travel to Mecca and Medina as pilgrims. Despite such persecution, Salam refused to surrender his Pakistani nationality.
Salam was a member of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, a member of the Scientific Commission of Pakistan and Chief Scientific Advisor to the President from 1961 to 1974, the year he was declared non-Muslim. Pakistan’s space research agency, Suparco, was also created by him.
But when he died, he had to be buried in a private graveyard in Rabwa, the home town of his Ahmadiyya community, whose name has been changed to Chenab Nagar by a State proclamation to rid it of its Ahmadi associations.
Moreover, after his burial, the orthodox Sunni clergy went to his grave to ensure that the kalima prayer had not been recited and that no symbols of Islam were displayed on his tomb. Indeed, the local magistrate insisted that the wording on his tombstone, ‘Abdus Salam the First Muslim Nobel Laureate’, be changed to ‘Abdus Salam the First Nobel Laureate’.
The tragedy of Salam reveals as nothing else does the furies that are riding on the back of Pakistan. The persecution of the Ahmadiyya community obviously has wide sanction, initiated as it was by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a civilian President, and intensified in the regime of his successor and persecutor, General Zia-ul Haq. The persecution of the community actually intensified at the time that Salam was awarded the Nobel.
When the faculty of Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad wanted to invite him for a lecture, the student body opposed it tooth and nail, and he was not permitted to enter the university. On the other hand, Salam received a hero’s welcome in India when he visited his former maths teacher. He won many hearts in India when he placed his medal around his aged teacher’s neck.
Though Punjab had never been an enthusiastic supporter of the creation of Pakistan, the highly-educated Ahmadiyya community played an important role in stabilising the State during its early years. Muhammad Zafrullah Khan, the man who so brilliantly argued Pakistan’s case in the United Nations from 1947 to 1955, was an Ahmadiyya. He was appointed by Jinnah as Pakistan’s first foreign minister in December 1947 and served till 1954.
Another Ahmadiyya was Lt Gen Akhtar Hussain Malik, who had planned Operation Gibraltar and Grand Slam, which began the 1965 war with India. Both are now non-personas in Pakistan.
The Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan are still under constant siege, with fundamentalist groups going out of their way to persecute them using the dreaded weapon of apostasy. But the fate of the Ahmadiyyas is now also being visited on Shias in Pakistan.
Because of their sheer number — some say 20 per cent of the country’s population — and the presence of neighbouring Iran, Pakistan has not officially declared the Shias apostate. However, some clerics like Mufti Wali Hasan of Jamia Al Alomia Al Islamia, Karachi, have not hesitated to issue fatwas declaring them as ‘kafirs’ or unbelievers.
For the last three decades, the Shias have been at the receiving end of a great deal of violence in Pakistan, mainly in the Punjab province and the commercial capital, Karachi. In the late Eighties, a virtual civil war was created in the northern areas of J&K, when tribals from the North West Frontier Province attacked the region.
This violence has continued over the years and the Pakistani authorities have undertaken a programme of pushing in Sunni migrants to alter the sectarian balance. As recently as in 2004, several Shia workers of Suparco were killed by sectarian Sunni terrorists. These have led to a steady migration of Shia professionals — doctors, engineers and so on — from Pakistan.
With such demons around, Pakistan does not really need external enemies. Its task is obvious: to get the extremist djinn back into the bottle. To do that, it needs to make certain choices. And there are no prizes for guessing what they are.
PN Khera is Editor, Asia Defence News International