"It is not something that we can control”, was what the SHO of the local police station said to the Ahmadi men, watching the burning down of their fellow community members’ homes in Gujranwala the night of July 27.
Arshad Mahmood, one of the eye witnesses of the arson from the Ahmadi community of Gujranwala had reached the neighborhood where a mob of some 250 men had gathered to intimidate Ahmadi residents.
Attack on Ahmadis
Mahmood told me the mob was pelting stones at Ahmadi homes and beating down doors with batons. When the violent mob – which included some neighbors from the street of Peoples’ Colony where the incident took place – dragged a motor cycle out of one of the houses and set it on fire, the police voiced their helplessness.
Mahmood says the SHO ran from the spot once he saw people getting aggressive; he tried to pacify the mob by offering them an FIR against the Ahmadi boy who had allegedly committed blasphemy. Some from the members of the mob went to the station with him but eventually the size of the mob got bigger in Peoples’ Colony.
Those who had gone to get an FIR registered rejoined later; the fire spread from one house to another; roads were blocked and two police vans with constables from the local police station silently looked on, hoping that the local peace committee cleric’s pleas on the microphone would distract the mob – which it never did, as was realised at the cost of four deaths.
Mahmood and other community members say the police managed to recover the dead bodies of two minor girls Kainat, Hira and their grandmother Bushra from one of the houses after 12am. The rest of the trapped residents, mostly women were rescued by the kinder Barelvi and Wahabi neighbors.
How things fall apart
There is now a ‘system’ in place for the ongoing discrimination and decimation of the Ahmadi community.
When clerics and anti-Ahmadi individuals who are trying to intimidate local Ahmadis fail, they go to the police and file a complaint. Then, a group of policemen go to the administration of the Ahmadi community, and ask them to do whatever it is the clerics want them to.
The community says, the act demanded by the clerics is against their faith, so the authorities get pro-active and for the sake of maintaining peace in the area, actually commit the hurtful acts which the bigoted clergy were threatening to do themselves.
Three years on, no justice for 86 dead Ahmadis
This is pretty much the standard procedure used by the Punjab police to counter any threats to peace given out by mob-minded clerics whenever an allegation is imagined against the Ahmadi community.
Over the last few years, the has been an increase in the number of incidents where the police goes to the Ahmadi community, asking them to “co-operate”, and further, acts on covering theKalima with a black sheet from the place of worship's facades, demolishing minarets of the community’s place of worship, removing scriptures from their shops or just the word “Muslim” from their gravestones or scratching away the name of a Pakistani citizen from his shop name-plate because it resembles a Muslim name, like Muhammad Ali.
However, unlike the last few years where police complicity prevented bloodshed, more recent attempts by the police to control hate campaigns against Ahmadis have not worked out according to the ‘system’ in place.
In May, Khalil Ahmad was murdered while he was in the custody of the Punjab police in Sharaqpur district. Maqsood Ahmad, a local from the village of Ahmad told me that the hate campaign instigated by clerics from nearby villages after an open congregation of the said clerics in Kot Abdul Malik had resulted in the Kalima, MashAllah and Bismillah being removed from the façade of two Ahmadi houses in May. Then came the alleged blasphemy FIR registration, which led to the police hunting down the four accused Ahmadis.
The locals insist Ahmad’s murderer was not carried out by a teenager, as the official police record states, but by a married father at least in his early 20s, who worked at a doctor’s clinic.
“The police wanted a cover for their criminal negligence, they allowed a grown man with a weapon to enter the police station,” Maqsood said.
Tahir Malik has dealt with many cases of Ahmadi persecution as the Faisalabad area Ahmadi administrative committee’s member – including grave desecrations and numerous 298-C FIRs, where the police have blatantly snubbed the rights of Ahmadis by siding with the mobs and clerics.
Malik says the attempt to speak to senior police officials has been futile, “pursuing senior police officials never helps, as they are the ones who give out such orders”. He adds,
Who do we go to speak to for the violations of our rights? Are we aliens? At least give us the right to breathe.
A senior police officer of the Punjab police, behind a closed door conversation says there are no legal means available for addressing this matter of discrimination against religious minorities, even when it comes to minorities within Islam and their cases of blasphemy against each other.
In the case of Ahmadis, the police mostly does end up hurting an already persecuted community as there is no legal cover - hence, the complicity.
He admits that the Pakistani police still operates like the colonial force that it was conceived to be by the British. The police want as little focus on itself in the matter, which results in snubbing the persecuted community.
Whenever I have spoken with a DPO or an SHO in the Punjab police in a town where an incident of Ahmadi persecution has occurred and the police have taken an active role in curbing the zealots by committing an act of harming the Ahmadis, the responding officer goes out of his way to explain to me their well-meaning cause…
“As you know this is what the law says about the Qadiyanis.”
The faith-based killings of Ahmadis has reached their homes in the past as well, men have been shot dead in front of their homes. But the arson attack of July 27 is a rare incident as it killed babies, a woman and critically injured another woman. Eight faith-based Ahmadi killings have taken place, according to the community’s data and reported cases in 2014 so far.
While the Pakistani mainstream Urdu media contributes to the dehumanisation of the Ahmadis by hiding the facts and motives of the arson attack and never bothering to report on hate crimes and faith-based murders of Ahmadis across Pakistan, the area police would at most, face transfers.
In a month’s time anti Ahmadi conferences will take place openly in Punjab and the business of bigotry will continue to thrive.
*Names of individuals were changed on their request to protect their identities.