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February 27, 2017 7:38 am

How Pakistani Law Enshrines Extremism and Emboldens Terror

avatar by Ammar Anwer

Email a copy of "How Pakistani Law Enshrines Extremism and Emboldens Terror" to a friend
People running for cover inside a Pakistani hospital after a suicide bomber detonated himself. Photo: Twitter.

People running for cover inside a Pakistani hospital after a suicide bomber detonated himself. Photo: Twitter.

Pakistani extremists have killed nearly 50,000 people since 9/11. But government ineffectiveness in Islamabad has stymied all efforts to contain terrorist violence. The Pakistani government and military are often not on the same page, or have chosen a narrow and selective approach towards extremism — i.e., fighting one group while simultaneously supporting another.

For instance, former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf has acknowledged that Pakistan cultivated and possessed a soft spot for the Afghan Taliban. In addition, Pakistan has failed to take a firm stand against Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, a radical outfit famous for its hateful rhetoric against India. The US designated the group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2001, and the United Nations designated it as a terrorist outfit in 2005.

But lately, signs of hope have started to emerge in Pakistan’s effort to combat terrorism. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief of Staff General Raheel Sharif seem to agree about extremism, and also seem to lack the selective approach that their predecessors often adopted. For example, more than 250 people have been arrested for propagating hate speech, and a ban has been imposed on loudspeakers, which were often used to promote sectarian violence.

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In addition, has Pakistan launched a host of military operations against militants, including 2014’s Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which targeted militant groups including the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Haqqani Network. As a result, most of North Waziristan is now controlled by the Pakistani military.

The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2015, complied by the international research group the Institute for Economics and Peace, analyzed the impact of terrorism on the global community. The report conceded the success of Zarb-e-Azb and stated, “Pakistan was the only country in the ten most impacted countries that saw a decline in deaths” — although it still ranked third in the world.

But Pakistan still has a long way to go to eradicate Islamist extremism.

Pakistani law remains an obstacle to accomplishing this goal, because its constitution paves the way for religious intolerance — as the following examples show:

Declaration of Ahmadis as non-Muslims

Discrimination against Ahmadis began shortly after Pakistan’s inception in 1947. In 1953, a series of violent attacks was instigated against the Ahmadiyya community in Lahore. The Lahore riots resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Ahmadi Muslims.

In 1974, due to the strong pressure from fundamentalists, Ahmadis were officially declared non-Muslims under Pakistani law. To this day Ahmadis suffer religious discrimination and persecution, while the state shows no inclination toward amending the law or eradicating this discrimination.

Ehtaram-e-Ramadan Ordinance

The Ehtaram-e-Ramadan ordinance was passed in 1981 during the tenure of General Zia-Ul-Haq, and is part of the constitution. It prohibits public eating during Ramadan’s fasting hours, and is a blatant violation of religious freedom for non-Muslims and secular Muslims. The ordinance requires that restaurants remain closed during fasting hours. Violations are punishable by up to three months in prison or a fine.

But vigilantes often take this law into their own hands. For example, during the last Ramadan holiday, an elderly Hindu man was badly beaten for eating publicly.

Pakistan’s contentious blasphemy law

Blasphemy is the act of insulting, or showing contempt or a lack of reverence for God. The Pakistani blasphemy laws are now enshrined in section 295 AB and C of the Penal Code; their goal is to protect Islam.

Pakistan uses this controversial law at a level unparalleled in any other country, and this ordinance has had a disproportionate impact on minority communities. Minorities, which comprise just 4 percent of Pakistan’s population, have been targeted in more than half of the 702 total blasphemy law cases. This goes against Pakistan’s constitution, which guarantees the right to profess a different religion, the equality of citizens and the protection of minorities.

In short, the facts are before us — though they might be difficult to face. However, as Aldous Huxley said, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”

We in Pakistan cannot claim that we are fighting a war against extremism if there are extremist tenets within our own constitution. Until we change those laws, the fight can never be won.

Ammar Anwer is an ex-Islamist who writes for The Nation, Pakistan Today and other media outlets. He believes in secularism and democracy and aspires to see Pakistan become a pluralistic state.

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