Karachi Despatch | International

Hate speech in Pakistan’s Parliament

Politicians attacking Pakistan’s minority Ahmadi community is not a new thing. But a parliamentarian calling them “a threat to Pakistan” on the floors of the National Assembly is unusual. Still the speech by Captain Muhammad Safdar, son-in-law of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in which he said “Ahmadis should not be allowed in the military or other key institutions”, drew applause from his party members.

“These people are a threat to this country and its ideology and Constitution. Due to them, we have lost wars,” he said. When an MP from the Opposition tried to stop him, the captain yelled at him and called him “ill-fated”. Capt. Safdar also blamed a couple of Ahmadi Generals for the 1971 War defeat to India. But the Generals he named never fought the war. They were revered as heroes of the 1965 war. Military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor quickly snubbed the rant and said Pakistani forces do not discriminate on the basis of religion.

Capt. Safdar even criticised Mr. Sharif’s decision earlier this year to name Quaid-i-Azam University’s Physics department after Dr. Abdus Salam, an Ahmadi, who was awarded Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979. He is revered as the founder of Pakistan’s space programme.

After the speech, Capt. Safdar left the building chanting slogans in favour of Mumtaz Qadri, a guard who killed former Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. Taseer was killed in 2011 after he raised voice for a Christian worker in Punjab, who was booked for blasphemy. Capt. Safdar’s speech came hours after he was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau and presented before the Accountability Court for failing to declare his assets. Mr. Sharif’s family is facing investigation over corruption charges.

Opposition Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto took to the Twitter to react. “The bigotry, hatred & extremism on display in the National Assembly goes to show Nawaz league has been mainstreaming terror...” Human rights activist Asma Jahangir said Capt. Safdar had tried to incite hatred. “Nawaz Sharif should take note of his hate speech. This is totally unacceptable.”

In defensive mode

The reaction put the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) in a defensive mode. As media started to question the party about the motive, leaders distanced themselves from Capt. Safdar’s “personal views”. Mr. Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz, who is married to Capt. Safdar, later tweeted her father’s views. The former Prime Minister said Pakistan’s Constitution and religion guarantee all rights to minorities and anyone who’s saying the contrary has no association with the policy and ideology of the party.

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal also expressed anger over the comments, but refused to say if any action would be taken against Capt. Safdar. Saleemuddin, the spokesman of Jamaat-i-Ahmadiya, an organisation of the Ahmadis, remained a worried man. “Ahmadis across Pakistan felt threatened by the statement of Capt. Safdar. This has been happening to us continuously.”

Dawn newspaper wrote a scathing editorial against Capt. Safdar. “Until all Pakistani citizens are deemed equal before the law, until patriotism or the right to security of life and property is not contingent upon faith, aspirations for a more peaceful polity will remain a pipe dream,” Dawn stated. But will these critical voices help address the problem? Asked if the Ahmadi community will file a complaint against Capt. Safdar, Mr. Saleemuddin was blunt: “Our past efforts yielded no results so there is no use of filing any complaint.”

Mubashir Zaidi writes for The Hindu and is based in Karachi

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Printable version | Jun 1, 2020 7:49:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/hate-speech-in-pakistans-parliament/article19896775.ece

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