Refusing to Vote in Pakistan

Many readers have asked: In the Aljazeera Debate on Ahmadiyya, why would the Qadiani Ahmadiyya representative say that Ahmadis are* ‘not allowed to vote in Pakistan’*?  A Harvard-educated lawyer, Amjad Mahmood Khan, should know how to read statute and regulation.  In the debate, when I countered by saying that ‘Ahmadis had a separate electorate’, my learned opponent said, ‘there is a joint electorate’.  This duplicity is based by the Ahmadi intransigence on the issue, and if I had said ‘joint electorate’, the answer would have been ‘but we have a separate electorate’.

How is this possible? Well, Pakistan had a separate electorate before 2002, and when a joint electorate was created in 2002, an ill-drafted section 7B [PDF] was hastily enacted to create a separate non-Muslim list for only those Ahmadis about whom a complaint had been received.  The Ahmadi position was* ‘this means the situation is the same as before and we still refuse to vote’*, meaning that it was still a ‘separate’ electorate and their refusal to vote stood as before.  Can Mr. Amjad Khan have his cake and eat it too?  Like all things Ahmadi, this issue is also shrouded in double-talk and ambiguity.  What is it? ‘same as before (separate)’ or ‘joint electorate’?  Please make up your mind.

The reality is that despite this hasty last-minute rule with the possibility of a separate electoral list in individual constituencies, Ahmadis can stand as candidates in any constituency and vote for any candidate in the same polling station and at the same time as all other voters. ** In addition,** they are eligible to stand for the reserved seats for minorities and women.  The only difference is that when they go to the polling booth, their names may be on a separate list.

Let us explore further :

History of Separate and Joint Electorates

The Indian subcontinent is made up of many different nationalities.  Pre-partition India, post-partition India and Pakistan have all experimented with separate and joint electorates for various minority groups.  In fact, the Qadiani Ahmadiyya leader supported the founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah when the latter proposed, and obtained, a separate electorate for Muslims in pre-partition India.

A separate electorate for minorities guarantees a certain number of seats but increases social isolation and encourages majority candidates to ignore minorities altogether.

A joint electorate does not guarantee any seat (although Pakistan has reserved seats for minorities) but strategic voting and ‘vote banks’ can enable well-organised minorities to play king-makers and keep the attention of majority candidates.

As an illustration, the Pakistani Christian community has continued to vote, and get elected, under the separate and then the joint system, and while they rejoiced at the restoration of the joint electorate in 2002, they are now pro-separate!

Attempting to Explain the Intransigence

Presumably, the Ahmadis are refusing to vote on a matter of principle — that they consider themselves Muslims.  The pertinent election law specifically cites the Pakistan Constitution according to which Ahmadis are to be considered non-Muslim for constitutional purposes, which includes elections.  The law does not care what citizens believe or what they consider themselves to be.

What Ahmadis must understand is that the demand by religious parties for that separate list is not going to go away by refusing to participate in the political process, or exerting no effort on public relations in Pakistan while spending millions on falsely advertising their disenfranchisement in Western countries.  The demand of the religious parties is mostly due their desire to distinguish Ahmadis from Muslims and any co-operation in this regard by the Ahmadiyya leadership can surely result in some compromise solution.  It is ironic that the same Ahmadiyya who spend millions of dollars in the West to try to **distinguish **themselves from Muslims in Western countries, prefer to not do something similar in Pakistan. Why? We do not know, but we can think of at least a couple of reasons:

  1. Continuing the claims of ‘persecution’ in the West is more financially lucrative for the cult-like single-family leadership of the Qadiani community.
  2. The number of Qadiani Ahmadis in Pakistan has dwindled to a tiny number.  One of the ways a cult keeps its followers enthralled is with exaggerated reports of its ‘success’ and this is especially true of the Qadiani community.  The Qadiani community does not co-operate with census-takers on religion identification, and with a separate voters’ list, their numbers would be very easily proven.  Rough estimates based on places of worship and enrolment in universities place them close to 400,000 or so in Pakistan, while they claim to be 4,000,000 plus.  It would indeed be very embarrassing if the former number to be proven.

Behaviour when the Ahmadis were Indistinguishable

As Prime Minister Bhutto of Pakistan observed close to his death, the Qadiani community relished its role of king-maker after the 1970 elections.  This was possible as the Qadiani organisation can mobilise its followers en-masse and force them to vote as a bloc without a single exception.

While the Qadianis call this ‘obedience’ to their leader, politicians see this as a dangerous interference with multi-party democracy.  In the 1970 elections, Ahmadis made their members impersonate people who were on the rolls but did not vote in order to achieve close to 100% turnout in areas where they had control over the electoral officers.  The leadership supplied a specially imported ink remover that, when used with cut potatoes, would remove the mark that was placed on a voter’s hands after he had voted.  Since Ahmadi women all wore burqa at that time, they were very instrumental in this impersonation, and Ahmadiyya-dominated constituencies ended up with very lop-sided results in those elections.

Bhutto’s PPP and other political parties in Pakistan are well aware of this en-bloc influence and none of them is willing to roll the dice again.

Stealth Mode no Longer Possible

We see that Ahmadis prefer stealth mode elections as the ones in 1970 and thereby refuse to be distinguished in any way from Pakistani Muslims, even in a matter as minor as a separate voting list where candidacy is joint.  While seeking integration on the electoral rolls, they refuse to integrate with the Muslim community and specifically forbid, on penalty of excommunication: inter-marriages, attending funerals, visiting Muslim mosques, praying with Muslims and a host of other things that would bring them closer to the Muslim community and mend fences.

This is why we hold them to be a separate pseudo-religion, cult-like with political motives, but with all the rights and privileges of Pakistani citizens.  We invite them to accept their legal status within the umbrella of the Pakistani constitution and carry out political exercises to find common ground — political exercises in which they have a good track record.  Trying to apply foreign pressure is only going to result in research that lays bare the causes of the deliberate intransigence on this issue.

With their constitutional predicament now almost 40-year-old, if the Qadiani Ahmadiyya are still not working towards being part of the solution, they are indeed part of the problem.