Pakistan’s religious parties have responded with one voice to a statement of PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif that he stood by the Ahmadi community “who are like our brothers.”
They have condemned Sharif and questioned whether he “still is a Muslim.”
“It is ironic that religious parties who were silent when over 70 members of the Ahmedi community were killed in attacks by Pakistani Taliban militants are now active in condemning anyone who sympathises with them,” comments columnist Fasi Zaka.
The President of the Khatam-e-Nabuwwat Conference which was held in Sargodha over the weekend questioned whether Sharif could be considered a Muslim “because he has accepted the Ahmadis as his brothers.”
The Ahmadi community in Pakistan, declared non-Muslim by the parliament in the 70’s, continues to suffer from persecution and discrimination.
Members of the community, mostly educated professionals, are routinely attacked and abused for their religious beliefs while the government looks the other way.
Analysts say that it is in this context that the attack on Ahmadi mosques by Taliban extremists should be viewed.
“After facing limited success in attacking Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies, the Taliban are targeting the minority communities in a bid to gain sympathy with the mainstream Sunni Muslims in Pakistan.
It is a dangerous line to follow. In Karachi, the Taliban are blamed to be behind the killing of members of the Shia community over the past couple of days. Sindh Governor Dr Ishrat Ul Ibad says that the move to cause disharmony between Karachi’s communities “can have disastrous consequences.”
But the new frontier, say observers, is not Karachi but Punjab province, which is the country’s most populous area and also its political heartland.
Religion has always played a part in garnering votes in this traditional and conservative heartland of Pakistan.
The local minister for minorities privately says no one takes him seriously. And with religious extremism on the rise here, the government does not seem to have a plan to tackle the growing influence of extremist parties.
Growing poverty in South Punjab, a long neglected part of the province, has meant that parties like the Jamaat-ud Dawah have made inroads there.
The government claims it has now come to an agreement with religious organisations and parties to supervise the teaching at Madrassas in the area. Not so, say local observers, who argue that in many instances the religious parties have been given a free hand and train and teach at will.