This post is part of our Special Coverage Pakistan Votes 2013.
A popular cricket-star turned politician, whose campaign and rallies have been drawing young urban voters with the slogan “Naya Pakistan” (New Pakistan), irked some supporters by distancing himself from the country's persecuted minority group the Ahmadis.
Imran Khan was reacting to fatwas or decrees issued this week by some Islamic clerics and an Islamist party forbidding Pakistanis from voting for him because he is “an atheist” and “an Ahmadi agent”. The country's historic elections, to be held on May 11, 2013 are days away. Khan's party, a new player on Pakistan's political scene, is proving to be a real challenger to the country's established parties.
Khan's statement on Ahmadis
On the official website of his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf PTI, Khan endorsed the constitution of Pakistan, which declared Ahmadis non-Muslims in 1974 and prohibited Ahmadis from calling their faith Islam and their houses of worship mosques in Pakistan.
Pakistan is the only country in the world to have officially declared that “Ahmadis are not Muslims.” The official PTI press release on May 2 states:
PTI totally subscribes to the article in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan on the Ahmadis. It is not part of the PTI agenda to seek amendment of the said article in the Constitution.
This is a political conspiracy against me as a person and PTI as a party …Those Ulema [religious scholars] who label me as kafir [atheist] and tell people that voting for PTI is haram [forbidden by islamic law] in their fatwas [religious decrees] would have been better advised to follow the rules of giving fatwas and ascertained my belief before issuing the same.
A video with Khan directly speaking into camera [ur] was also uploaded on the site on May 2, but was later removed.
Fashion Designer Zarlasht Faisal travelled across the country to attend Imran Khan rallies leading up to the election. Before she was aware of the fatwas, she wrote on her public Facebook page on May 2:
As an ardent PTI and IK supporter, am absolutely appalled by the statement about Ahmedi's on the PTI website; This is seriously disappointing
Religious decree issued against Khan
Imran Khan's statement came in response to a video making the rounds on social media showing a woman that seemed to be representing PTI asking for Ahmadi votes from an Ahmadi spiritual leader. The video propelled several Islamic scholars to issue fatwas against voting for Khan on May 1.
Fazlur Rehman used every word that would foment hatred against any person in the conservative masses of Pakistan. He called Imran an agent of “Americans, Jews, Ahmadis and a person of ill character”. “A person who could not make his own children Muslim nor Pakistani, is dreaming of becoming prime minister of Pakistan and making the country an Islamic welfare state,” [the] Maulana [religious scholar] said. — Lol! Where is Election Commission?
A day after Rehman's statement, a grenade was thrown at a PTI office, injuring three people. This was the first attack targeting the party in the run up to the elections, although the campaign trail has been bloody for other parties.
Khan's young supporters react
A post by Pirzada on Facebook churned hundreds of comments within hours. One follower responds:
Bilal Fazal: I am going to vote for IK [Imran Khan] after this Fatwa. This is the kind of fatwas that has made Pakistan a bloody and in-livable place. god help Maulana's followers by giving them hidayat [guidance] and rochni [light] to see it through.
@ImaanHMazari: There was no need for him to act so defensive. This has now resulted in the impression that their [Ahmadi] persecution is justifiable. Bad move, IK.
On her personal blog she adds:
I believed in the change he talked about even when I left PTI because I believed that he was a man who wouldn’t bow down to the extremists when he came to power. My belief in him has wavered as his recent actions have been very disheartening to a Pakistani who believes in equal rights for all, regardless of religious beliefs. What is even more upsetting is that I, along with many other Pakistanis, feel helpless and out of choices. If not Imran Khan, who am I going to vote for?
In a Facebook thread on her own profile with dozens of comments, Zarlasht Faisal says:
A very irresponsible statement, but I still have a LOT of faith in him. Fact of the matter is…its a hate mongering law entrenched in our psyche since 1973…its going to take a lot more than talk during a run up to an election campaign to change it.
On May 4, she wrote a longer post explaining why she continues to support Imran Khan.
In 1973, the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (Benazir Bhutto's father) bowed down to pressure from religious parties and amended the constitution to declare Ahmadis non-Muslims through an act of parliament. In 1984, Pakistan's military dictator Zia-ul-Haq introduced more sting into the law by forbidding Ahmadi's from “posing as muslims.” Which means they cannot call themselves Muslim, or their places of worship mosques, or even say the Muslim greeting in Arabic, asaalamu-alaikum (peace be upon you.)
Since then, hate crimes against Ahmadis have been on the rise. Many fear for their safety in Pakistan and live in the shadows. With Ahmadis at the center of this latest political point scoring game, many young Ahmadis have bravely starting tweeting and mentioning their struggles on Facebook.
Nadir, a 30 year-old Ahmadi currently based in Australia, writes on his private Facebook page (used with permission):
Tough being an Ahmadi. First your parents tell you to be proud and love your country, then everybody starts killing each other and you're told to not return to Pakistan as you may either get killed/kidnapped or never promoted in any job, if you get one; the police can't help you even if its the other persons crime against you or your family, neither can the courts. Kids these days are told not to tell anyone they're Ahmadi, if they do, they get thrown out of schools or beaten or killed or failed or isolated. It's a shit cake I tell you, some serious identity fracture.
An anonymous left-leaning Facebook group called Traitors of Pakistan posted a picture and quote of the country's revered founding father on May 4 that says:
Ahmadis are Muslims, If They Say They are Muslims and No One, Not Even the Sovereign Legislature, has the Right to Say Otherwise.” – Muhammad Ali Jinnah, 05 May 1944.
The quote was shared by hundreds of young Pakistani Facebook users and generated hundreds of comments with many questioning the Ahmadi status as non-Muslims in Pakistan.
Story updated on May 5 22:19 GMT, to include an additional post from Zarlasht Faisal.