Damage control does not need to come at the expense of our minorities, Capt Safdar

Published: October 13, 2017

Did this hateful diatribe represent Awan’s personal views only or was it orchestrated by the party leadership?

A few days ago, I came across a video making rounds on social media which disturbed me a whole lot. In the said video, a retired major, belonging to a newly formed political party, was openly threatening to kill the former prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif. In his view, Nawaz, by constantly reaching out to Ahmadis, had become ‘Wajibul Qatl’ (necessary to be killed).

I could not believe that someone could so openly express hatred against a minority community and incite violence against a former PM for just displaying kind and courteous behaviour towards our minorities. It was the most incendiary speech I had ever heard.

However, soon that hateful speech was overtaken by something even more repulsive. A few days ago, former PM’s son-in-law, Captain (retired) Muhammad Safdar Awan, gave a speech in the National Assembly which made me sick to my stomach.

I could not believe that the highest platform for law-making was being utilised to incite hatred and violence towards a minority in such a way. Awan indulged in the most shameful bigotry by questioning not only the beliefs but also the patriotism of Ahmadis by suggesting that the minority should not be recruited in the armed forces or the judiciary. In that hateful diatribe, Awan also raised objections on the decision to name the Physics department of Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) after Dr Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s first Nobel laureate.

I am not a religious scholar; hence I will not debate about the nature of their beliefs or their religious standing. However, I would humbly ask Awan and our entire society (since his views resonate with many) some questions. Given the fact that Ahmadis have already been declared non-Muslims, why are we bent upon prosecuting them? Why can’t we let them live peacefully or even die peacefully? After all, let’s not forget the time their graves were exhumed. Most importantly, if we collectively cannot accord basic dignity and protection to our minorities as a society, then how can we be gravely concerned about the Rohingya Muslims or other instances where Muslims or minorities are being oppressed. If anything, this hypocrisy weakens our morality tremendously.

Other than the aforementioned questions, I would also like to answer some of the questions raised by Awan. Before questioning Ahmadis’ patriotism and contributions to Pakistan, Awan should read up on our history. Because if he did, he would know that Ahmadis played a vital role in the creation of Pakistan and in this regard, services rendered by Sir Zafar Ullah Khan (who belonged to the Ahmadi community) were particularly significant. He was one of Jinnah’s most trusted lieutenants, as evident by the fact that the Quaid even named him as Pakistan’s first foreign minister. In that capacity, he represented Pakistan extremely well in the international arena and subsequently became the first and only Pakistani to act as president of the International Court of Justice.

Furthermore, Awan went on to deride the fact that the QAU physics department is named after Dr Salam. This was an extremely derogatory comment considering the fact that Dr Salam is one of the all-time towering intellectual giants of the scientific world and Pakistan’s first Nobel laureate. It is shameful that for the most part of the past 30 years, his own country has deliberately ignored him. Ironically, it was Awan’s own father-in-law, Nawaz, who finally mustered the courage and decided to honour Dr Salam by naming the Physics department after him.

Likewise, contrary to Awan’s claims, Ahmadis have also served honourably and bravely in Pakistan’s armed forces. He should educate himself by learning about some of the prominent Ahmadi officers such as Major General Iftikhar, Air Marshal Zafar Ahmad Chaudhry, Lieutenant General Abdul Ali Malik, Lieutenant General Akhtar Hussain Malik, and so on.

Compared to all these Ahmadis who have served Pakistan despite the hatred our society heaps on them, the contributions of a bigoted person like Safdar is virtually zero. He is merely married into a political dynasty and is literally dependent on their charity. If anything, he is a big political liability to Maryam Nawaz’s political ambitions.

An extremely important question is whether this hateful diatribe represented Awan’s personal views only or was orchestrated by the party leadership. Given the fact that Awan is married to the apparent heir of the Sharif dynasty, it is justified to wonder whether his hateful speech had some support from the party leadership.

If this is indeed the case, then it is a very dangerous development; simply because it shows that Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) – which for the past several years has steadily been moving towards center, is actually responsible for several progressive legislation and reaching out to minorities – is changing its course. If party involvement is indeed present, then this course reversal is motivated by the upcoming elections and the need to regain the votes of hardliners, which PML-N lost due to its relatively liberal stance in the recent years.

If the above possibility is true, then it is extremely disappointing and PML-N will lose its political progression. It is true that PML-N has been losing some ultra conservative votes but it has more than compensated the loss by gaining votes of minorities and liberals. It was those very votes that propelled the party to such a strong position in the 2013 elections. If PML-N changes its course and vote targets, it will end up losing the newfound support and may fare poorly in the upcoming elections.

Secondly, if the speech was supported by the party and its members, it could be because of the pressure the party was facing in recent times due to the removal of the Khatam-e-Nubawat (finality of Prophethood) clause from oath-taking, which according to the government was a clerical error. Pakistan Tehreek-e Pakistan (PTI) and its allies were extremely critical of the government for abusing its political power to revise such a clause. Although the government had subsequently amended the bill to restore the clause, the damage had already been done. Awan’s speech may be a deliberate effort to rectify the damage. If this is the case, then again, I do not agree with these tactics because inciting hatred towards a minority is not the right way to do damage control.

A positive development is that Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has distanced himself and the party from Awan’s speech which gives credence to the possibility that it was the latter’s personal views. This is actually a strong possibility because Awan in the past has also expressed extremist views. In the video below, Awan can be heard declaring Mumtaz Qadri a hero.

There is another video of him where Awan can be seen raising slogans against the Ahmadi community.

But even if these are his personal views, PML-N has to take a strong stance as he is their MNA. The very fact that he is Nawaz’s son-in-law makes it extremely important that he is careful of what comes out of his mouth because his words unfortunately carry weight. If Maryam is indeed being groomed for future leadership, then her husband right now is nothing but a huge political liability for her, and it’s important for her and Nawaz to keep Awan under control. If he is not disciplined appropriately, then he could end up jeopardising Maryam’s political career the same way,Asif Ali Zardari jeopardised Benazir Bhutto’s career.


Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (twitter.com/razaraja?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • salman

    So much for PMLN’s liberal credentials. But unlike others, I never through they were moving left of right even an inch. If PMLN want to appear to be a liberal party, the only option is for them to dismiss safdar, but they probably don’t have the courage to do that in case they offend their party leader and his princess , sorry I mean daughter.Recommend

  • John Bosco

    Dear Raza, Excellent article and right analysis about Safdar. It is shameful for the for liberal democratic parties who zipped their mouths. It is vital for the civil society and media to expose such people who broke the dream of Mohd. Ali Jinnah. It is also a trial and could be 1st case for Interior Minister, Ehsen Iqbal to implement atleast 2 points from NECTA which says:

    5. Strict action against the literature, newspapers and magazines promoting hatred, extremism, sectarianism and intolerance.

    9. Taking effective steps against religious persecution.

    14. Measures against abuse of internet and social media for terrorism Welldone Keep it up we need bold voices

    I could update all 20 points but the above 3 points from NECTA need to implemented immediately and the culprit should and must be punished.

    Keep it up the good work. WelldoneRecommend

  • goggi (Lahore)

    The following quote from the mass murderer Hitler (1922) is a reflection of similar fascism in Pakistan:

    “When I am in power, then the destruction of the Jews will be my first and most important task….
    As soon as I have the power to do so, I will for example let gallows next to gallows constructed in Munich on the Marien-Platz (Marien-chowk)…
    And they will remain hanging on the gallows until they stink, and they shall hang as long as it is possible according to the laws of hygiene….
    As soon as they have been tied off, the next one will come, and this will continue until the last Jew in Munich is exterminated……
    And the same shall be done in other cities until Germany is cleansed of the last
    Jew (in our case the last Ahmadi, the last Shia, the last Christian, the last Hindu and so on!).”

  • numbersnumbers

    Obviously MNA Awan was just polishing up his anti-Ahmadi credentials so critical for the coming elections! Another shining example of Pakistani progress that hopefully will make the world news!Recommend

  • Parvez

    Always interesting to read you. Anyone taking the position that these were his personal views is simply ridiculous…..standing in the Assembly as a PML -N member he represents his party.Recommend

  • Nana

    If that is the calibre of thinking of this man, Captain(r) Safdar, then he is better off behind the bars and should be deseated from the assembly. I wonder what NS saw in him to be chosen as son in law.Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    All this started from 1950s Objective Resolution, when the newly appointed Punjabi generals and the Jharkhand-Bihar-migrant bureaucrats made up their mind to give the state an official religion, just to get back at Nehru.

    The constitution needs to be amended to remove state’s religion. State should be neutral, only then such religious militias can be removed from existence.

    Gen. Ghafoor is already subtly hinting at this in his recent press conferences, so let’s see if in x number of years, Pakistan is able to modify its constitution.Recommend

  • Jamil M Chaudri

    It is high time the Islamic Republic took action against such anti-Islamic individuals as Safdar Awan. He is an embarrassment to the Muslims all over the world. The glory of Islam is the acceptance of minorities as equal citizens.
    On 1947 Aug 11, Jinnah declared: “You are free. You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”
    Such was also the image of an Islamic State carried by the Prophet himself.Recommend

  • Syed A. Zafar

    I fully agree with the writer and commend his courage to analyze the hateful speech and bigotry of Safdar Awan with honesty and eloquence. However, it would have been better if he would have exposed the bigotry, silence and double standards of other political parties of Pakistan too, like PTI, PPP, JI, JUI etc. in and outside the assemblies. Because they were and are active part of religious and ethnic persecution and passing the inhuman and unlawful blasphemy laws in Pakistan against other minorities in general and Ahmadis in particular. When it comes to the flip flop of PMLN from conservatism to liberalism and seemingly back to its roots of religious extremism for the sake of regaining the votes of hard liners, it is of course their stupidity, but what else an out of mind, down going and known corrupt party like PMLN is capable of? It has no abilities, principles and conscience, and its top leader (NS) is a dead battery now which cannot be recharged because, it is being best and maximally used by its right wing mighty masters who have already introduced a new sudden leader who can perform better for them and carry on the same given mission of Shareefs. I can be reached at: [email protected]Recommend

  • ThePrincekhan999

    PML N Is An Extremely Hypocritical Party.Before Americans They Say We Are Very Liberal.But Before Pakistani People Captain Safdar Says Ban Qadianis.

    To Please America and West They Hang Mumtaz Qadri But Now With Elections Coming PML N MNAs Are Chainting Mumtaz Qadri Zindabad

    Height of HypocricyRecommend

  • Zafar Imran

    This is an interesting analysis by Raza. But I don’t agree that Capt (R) Safdar can be harmful for Maryam Nawaz’s politics. BB case was different. Capt (R) Safdar has his own opinion and parliament is an open forum for members so it is purely legitimate to speak at that forum. In the past he also had been given show cause many times for differing from party policies. This is not the worry. The issue is that at this critical stage when country is starting a journey against corruption, such sensitive issues can distract people and can trigger anarchy (God forbid) which will grey out all the efforts which has been put in to bring the country on the corruption-free course. I think media should take it light at the moment and the speaker NA and related ministries and parliamentarians should take a note and park this issue till we sort out much bigger issues. Also writers like Raza can make it more lightweight in the best interest of the country. This is just a humble suggestion.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Frankly most Pakistanis are no different from SafdarRecommend

  • Rex Minor

    Hitler was not the first or the last one to use populist philosophies for attracting the disillusioned masses and perhaps politicians like Zulfiqar Bhutto action against the so called Ahmedis was such an act, it is unfair to expand it to non muslim minorities of pakistan.

    Rex Minor

    today Trump is compared with Hitler, who is targetting muslms pr se.Recommend