Ahmadi Exclusion in Minorities Commission Is Unconstitutional
All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law
Last Wednesday, i.e. 29 April 2020, the federal cabinet approved in principle the inclusion of Ahmadis in the National Commission for Minorities. This was a first as the Ahmadi community were declared as non-Muslims in 1974 through the Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan.
There were two setbacks to this initial plan. On Thursday, Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain refused the inclusion of Ahmadis on the basis that they do not accept themselves as a non-Muslim minority nor do they accept the Constitution of Pakistan. On Friday, the Ministry sent a summary on the formation of the minorities commission to the cabinet, arguing that Ahmadis should not be included in the commission because the matter is ‘very sensitive’ on religious and historical grounds.
The Ministry’s recommendation is unconstitutional and should be deemed void: the notion that the Ahmadis must accept the Second Amendment to be granted rights or representation as a minority group contravenes Article 25 of the Constitution. Under Article 25 (Equality of Citizens), all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law. This is not a religious question but a matter of the unconditional rights enjoyed by all Pakistani citizens.
The Ministry is correct to point out that the matter is sensitive on religious grounds, given the legacy of the Secondment Amendment and the General Zia’s Ordinance XX which prohibited Ahmadis to engage in the practice of Islam and the usage of Islamic terms and titles. These legal tenets set the pretext for the community’s systematic persecution, including social boycott, expulsions from schools and violence such as the May 2010 Lahore massacre in which two Ahmadi mosques were attacked and 94 people were killed.
However, to cite the sensitivity surrounding the Ahmadis’ ongoing persecution as a reason to exclude them betrays the rights that all Pakistani citizens enjoy under the Constitution. The Ahmadi community is as entitled to be represented in the Commission as any other minority group is. Indeed, the Ahmadis are the third-largest minority in Pakistan and forming a Commission without an Ahmadi member would negate the very purpose the commission was constituted for.
There is also a misconceived notion that one must accept the Constitution (in particular the Second Amendment) to be able to enjoy the benefits the Constitution confers.
In the United States, there are groups that oppose and call for the repealing of the second amendment regarding the right of the people to keep and bear arms. Yet they are still treated the same as any other tax-paying citizens. One could go further and say that the conditionality of rights is precisely the sort of argument that would have gained traction in Nazi Germany, to the detriment of Jews that were denied of their citizenship and livelihoods.
Not only is criticism of laws a lawful act, it is a fundamental right. Under Article 19 (Freedom of Speech, etc), every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression. If members of the Ahmadi community do not accept the Second Amendment, they have an inherent right to vocalise their objections and enable their concerns to be taken forward in the political process.
Many citizens disagree with certain laws, but that is conducive to the kind of discourse which leads to the evolution of fairer rules. It does not mean that they should lose their right to be treated as equal citizens and contribute to a more inclusive society. This is all the more important, given increasing scrutiny of minority treatment in the region and the condemnation of the Modi government’s atrocities against Muslims.
The writer studies in London with research interests in political philosophy and human rights.