LONDON — On the issue of Ahmadi Muslims being a frequent target of blasphemy laws in Pakistan, Knox Thames, a former U.S. adviser on religious minorities in Asia, said it has become quite dangerous to be an Ahmadi in Pakistan.

Thames, a visiting expert at the United States Institute of Peace, said at a podcast with Peace for Asia that Ahmadis, who had left from colonial India to Pakistan during partition in 1947, view themselves as within Islam and claim their Muslim identity as a critical part of their faith.

“Islamic schools of thought generally have viewed Ahmadi ideology as outside of Islam,” Thames said.

“Though ideological tensions remain between neo-revivalist groups and traditionalists, the situation in Pakistan has moved beyond the illogical, and efforts have increased to erase the Ahmadism to make it equivalent to blasphemy.”

Thames also recalled the large-scale riots in 1953 where hundreds of Ahmadis were killed, and the livelihoods of thousands more were destroyed.

“Since then, we have observed a slow slide towards marginalization, discrimination, and prosecution, and today, in the entire cottage industry, this encourages boycotts, castigates Ahmadis, excludes them from the society, and even incites violence against them,” he said.

While many countries like the United Kingdom have introduced an official faith, Pakistan has actually declared who is not a part of their established religion, he added.

The expert also said that during the rule of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the premier had catered to Pakistan’s right-wing by amending the Constitution to write the Ahmadis out of the Islamic faith literally.

Thames said Abdus Salam, the first Muslim man to win the Nobel Prize, was not celebrated due to his Ahmadi faith, and textbooks never mention his success.

Despite this, Thames said that every Ahmadi Muslim he has met is very patriotic towards Pakistan.

“That love is never returned to them by their government, laws, or many people of the society,” he said.

Lamenting that Ahmadis are illogically shunned aside despite being very entrepreneurial and having the ability to be a growth engine for the country, the U.S. visiting expert said that Prime Minister Imran Khan had also invited an economist — also an Ahmadi — from the prestigious Princeton University to join his Board of Advisors.

He was later pushed out of the advisory council due to his faith.

Speaking on restrictive voting rules against the Ahmadis, Thames said that it is a challenge throughout South Asia, where extreme forces are seen using a ballot box to enforce their religious beliefs.

“There is a climate of impunity that exists across Pakistan that if you challenge the extremist interpretations of faith, then you risk your life,” he said.

“Extremist forces are so politically active that they can intimidate government officials not to arrest any person who is accused of murdering others in cold blood.”

“Some communities have become so twisted that they celebrate the murder of a person instead of saving a vulnerable community.”

In April, the European Union raised concerns over Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws as they are “often misused to silence opponents and their defenders and to discriminate against religious minorities” and pointed Ahmadi Muslims are probably the most at risk.

Ahmadis, a four million-strong minority group in Pakistan, has faced death threats, intimidation, and a sustained hate campaign for decades.

Last year, a 168-page report by the UK-based All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Ahmadi Muslim Community had revealed details about the discrimination the Ahmadi community has been facing in Pakistan.

The report titled “Suffocation of the Faithful – the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan and the rise of International Extremism” categorically says that persecution against the peace-loving community intensified following the partition of the Indian subcontinent and the formation of Pakistan.

“This culminated in the events of 1974 when Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto turned the anti-Ahmadi movement into fully-fledged state-sponsored persecution,” states the report.

“He enacted a 1974 Constitutional Amendment specifically targeting Ahmadi Muslims, declaring them ‘not Muslims for purposes of law and constitution.’ It was a watershed moment in Pakistan’s history.”

(With inputs from ANI)

(Edited by Amrita Das and Saptak Datta)

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