What should Pakistan’s Christians do? – Ayaz Amir



Once upon a time under-class Mohajirs in Karachi, residents not of Clifton and Defence but depressed localities, used to be an object of scorn for other communities, regularly picked upon by the mostly Punjabi police and treated roughly in public transport, mostly owned by Pakhtuns. Not considered of much account, they were called ‘tilyars’…a word of sarcasm and scorn.Then on the scene arrived the MQM which went about organising the ‘tilyar’ community. The Mohajir under-class was known previously for its docility. Under the banner of the MQM it acquired confidence, muscle and a sense of purpose. In a famous speech MQM leader Altaf Hussain exhorted his community to sell their TV sets and acquire weapons.Soon the Mohajir under-class was standing up to other communities, starting its own credo of violence and terror in the process. Karachi which had known nothing of the sort became imbued with a culture of militancy. Today the MQM dominates the socio-political skyline of Pakistan’s largest city, its centre of commerce and industry.

There had always been in Pakistan the Deobandi school of thought, co-existing easily and without conflict with other denominations and sects of Islam. The occasional sectarian clash did occur but it was rare. However, under the impact of the Afghan ‘jihad’, in which Deobandi religious parties stood in the forefront, sectarianism and bigotry acquired harder edges in Pakistani society.

The Americans had no idea what dragon’s teeth they were scattering. Every form of extremism we see sprouting in the world of Islam today has its origins, direct or inspirational, in the first Afghan ‘jihad’…the parent or the founding father of all that has come afterwards.

Pakistan, to wild American applause, did more than its share to stir that witches’ brew. Hence it was only natural that it should also carry most of the consequences. The Pakistan of today is not the Pakistan of Jinnah. The very notion is laughable. It is the child of the Afghan ‘jihad’. Our strategic geniuses went about creating that thing of fantasy called ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan. All they succeeded in doing was putting Afghanistan’s imprint on Pakistan. History provides few examples of such a complete reverse conquest.

It was from their involvement in the same enterprise that some of our religious elements acquired their ‘takfiri’ mindset, declaring who was of the right path and who stood outside the pale of Islam…and therefore liable to be put to the sword. From this mindset arose the attacks on the Shia community. A country where for the most part sectarian harmony had prevailed was now torn by sectarian violence.

Not the Shiite community as a whole but elements in it responded to this situation by taking the path of militancy themselves. Thus it was that in Pakistan was first born Sunni militant Islam and then Shia militant Islam. It will be recalled that at the time of the sit-ins in Islamabad the interior minister, finding little else to say, came up with the warning that amongst the agitators were trained elements of a religious outfit. Right or wrong, he was referring to activists of the Shiite Majlis Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen.

At the time of the Hazara killings in Quetta in 2012, there were protest sit-ins in various cities. In Lahore at a sit-in in front of the Governor’s House, two young men approached me – both educated abroad, both holding good jobs. Faces taut and a fierce light in their eyes, they asked me whether it would not be better for them to give up everything and take up arms in defence of their community. When the state abdicates its responsibility of protecting its citizens this is what happens.

Barelvis have always identified themselves with a softer version of Islam, more into such activities as visiting shrines and distributing and receiving ‘niaz’ – food blessed by prayer. But as a response to the times in which they find themselves, they too are updating their approach and methods.

During the recent sit-ins the followers of Dr Tahirul Qadri and adherents of the Sunni Ittehad Council led by Sahibzada Hamid Raza (both of them of the Barelvi denomination), along with their auxiliaries of the Majlis Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen, not only stood up to the vaunted and somewhat feared Punjab Police but more than once put its geared-up formations to ignominious flight. Imran Khan, not easily drawn to excessive sentiment, has repeatedly praised the courage of these activists during the harsh police crackdown on the evening of August 31.

This is a lengthy preamble, leading to one question: what should the Christians of Pakistan do? Now that the Pakistani state has given ample and repeated proof of its inability to protect them, what should their response be? Should they as good Christians continue to turn the other cheek, as they have done since the country’s birth, or should they too await the arrival of a Christian Altaf Hussain to teach them the virtues not of passive but active resistance?

The blasphemy law and its increasing misuse at the hands of some of the most illiterate dregs of society is no longer a question of the sanctity of religion or the honour of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). More than anything else it is a reflection of the growing weakness of the Pakistani state and its inability to fulfil its primary responsibility of protecting the life, honour and property of its citizens.

The burning to death of a Christian couple in Kasur is not so much an attack on the Christian community as an assault on what remains of the fair name of Pakistan. That rampaging mob which set upon the poor and hapless couple – the woman pregnant and a mother of three – and the maulvis of that particular village and two adjacent villages who used their mosque loudspeakers to fan the winds of hatred, did what they did because there was no one to stop them. They had little fear of the consequences. Who is to blame them? The Punjab chief minister has come up with nothing more terrifying than another inquiry.

If this had been an isolated incident there could have been words of extenuation. But the Kasur outrage is part of what is now a general pattern – violent mobs setting fire to Christian houses in Gojra, a violent mob setting Joseph Colony in Lahore on fire, an Aasia Bibi persecuted in Sheikhupura on charges of blasphemy, a Rimsha Masih a target of hate in the outskirts of Islamabad, blasphemy accused assaulted in jail, a Mumtaz Qadri emptying a Kalashnikov magazine into the body of the Governor (Salmaan Taseer) he is supposed to protect and the ruling party of which the governor is a member not finding the suitable words or gestures to honour his memory or condemn the cowardly assault on him.

There’s more to this: lawyers and sundry sections of society hailing the killer as a ghazi of the faith, showering him with rose petals during a court appearance, and a former chief justice of the Lahore High Court feeling not the slightest qualm in hastening to act as his defence lawyer.

Come to think of it, there is a logical roundness to our attitude. What if our standing in the world is not too high? We can at least deal with our minorities. This is on a par with the psychology of wife-beating. The world may be too rough for us to handle but how dare the wretch at home not know her proper place?