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Pakistan: Minorities suffer rising extremist onslaught

Ahmadis are not allowed to designate their place of worship as a mosque or inscribe Koranic verses on their tombstones. Asadullah Ghalib, the head of the publication wing for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community network, said 228 Ahmadis have been killed and 24 of their mosques demolished since 1984.

Ahmadiyya Times | News Watch |
Source/Credit: IOL News
By Sajjad Malik | December 19, 2012

A 50-year-old Hindu temple was torn down this month in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi. Two days later, more than 100 tombstones marking the graves of members of the Ahmadi Muslim minority were desecrated in the eastern city of Lahore.

Aggression against religious minorities, mostly by Muslim extremist groups, is escalating in Pakistan.

“Minorities are victims of deteriorating law and order, which the extremists are exploiting,” said Peter Jacob of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, a non-profit group working for the rights of religious minorities.

Analysts said authorities are helpless to resist the attacks as they battle a Taliban-led insurgency in the north-western tribal region and an armed separatist movement in the south-western province of Baluchistan.

In the meantime, religious minorities are proving easy targets for religious hardliners because of their weaker position in society, political analyst Hassan Askari Rizvi said.

Hindus, the majority of whom live in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh, said they are often harassed by Muslims to sell their land and belongings and migrate to India or the West.

Jethanand Kohistani, president of the Pakistan Hindu Council, said 1 000 to 1 200 Hindus migrated to Canada, the United States and India this year alone because of fear of attacks.

“How can someone abandon his homeland?” Kohistani asked. “Sindh is our motherland. We leave it in anguish.”

The Ahmadi Muslims have been systematically ostracised since parliament declared them non-Muslims in 1974.

Ahmadis consider their spiritual leader, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a prophet, which is a sinful act for other Muslims because they believe Mohammed was the last prophet.

Ahmadis are not allowed to designate their place of worship as a mosque or inscribe Koranic verses on their tombstones.

Asadullah Ghalib, the head of the publication wing for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community network, said 228 Ahmadis have been killed and 24 of their mosques demolished since 1984.

Another Ahmadi leader, Saleem Uddin, said attacks on his community have increased in the past couple of years.

“The (extremist) mindset in Pakistan is responsible (for these attacks), and as the laws of government are against us, we have not seen the government taking any measures to provide us any security,” Uddin said.

Shi’a Muslims, meanwhile, are mostly targeted by Taliban militants, who are Sunnis and consider them heretics.

Independent researcher Hasan Murtaza told McClatchy Newspapers, a US newspaper chain, that 456 Shi’as were killed this year across Pakistan, more than double 2011’s death toll and the highest number since Pakistan came into existence in 1947.

Majlis-e-Wehdat-e-Muslimeen, a Shi’a body, said 80 Shi’as were killed in November alone.

Non-Muslims make up about 4 percent of the country’s 180 million people. Hindu (1.6 percent) and Christian (1.59 percent) minorities are frequently targeted in the Sunni-majority Islamic republic. Shi’a Muslims make up about 20 percent of the population.

Jacob’s organisation recorded 1 415 cases of forced conversion from 2000 to 2011, including 554 Christians and 662 Hindus who were forced to become Muslims.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have also been wielded against minorities.

In August, a Christian girl was charged with blasphemy after being falsely accused of burning pages of the Koran, charges that could lead to the death penalty. She was acquitted by a court last month.

More than 1 150 people have been charged with blasphemy since the charge was introduced by military dictator Zia ul Haq in 1986 to garner the support of right-wing Muslim parties, officials said.

“Those charged under the law are 520 Muslims, 455 Ahmadis, 148 Christians, 20 Hindus and eight other people whose religion is not known,” Jacob said.

He said at least 39 people have been killed over the blasphemy laws, including Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian and minister for minority affairs who was gunned down last year after demanding changes to the laws.

The same year, Punjab governor Salman Taseer was also killed by a member of his elite guard for supporting a woman who was incarcerated on blasphemy charges.

Paul Bhatti, an adviser on national harmony to Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, blamed “anti-Pakistan groups” in the country for trying to destabilise Pakistan using religion “as a tool to divide the people.”

“We need to spread interfaith harmony and create public awareness to tell people that these things have nothing to do with religion,” said Bhatti, a Christian and the brother of Shahbaz Bhatti.

The government is also pushing for legislation against the targeting of religious minorities, he said, adding that the blasphemy laws are being misused and need to be revised. – Sapa-dpa

Read original post here: Pakistan: Minorities suffer rising extremist onslaught

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