After the Partition of 1947, Pakistan was a nascent country which had to begin from nearly scratch owing to unequal distribution of resources.
Thus, in the newly-formed country, people of all faiths came up to serve in various capacities — they were appointed on merit, treated equally and as recognised only as Pakistanis. The armed forces of Pakistan also employed — and continues to do so — Pakistanis of all colour, caste and creed, and its minorities members have served the country and also paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Lieutenant Colonel Ernest Shams served in the army for 25 years. A veteran of the 1971 war, he is now an ordained Presbyterian Minister and an Associate Pastor of a Church in Lahore. Two of his younger brothers have also served in the army. They all sing praises of the equality and lack of discrimination for minorities in the army.
Recalling the 1965 war, Lieutenant Colonel Kanwal P Isaacs believes it served as a great motivating factor for the young generation to join the armed forces. “I, along with a group of friends and college mates, applied for the army and were selected. Many family members, including my grandfather, had served in the army so I had that extra inspiration as well. Commissioned in 1969, in his 28 years of service, Isaacs asserted that he never felt like an outsider and had the complete support of his fellow officers and seniors. “Even today when we meet on different occasions such as get-togethers and reunions, there is no feeling of discrimination.” Today, Isaacs works as Coordinator Synod, Church of Pakistan.
These are among many other reputed officers who served in the armed forces, such as late Air Marshal Zafar Chaudhry — an Ahmadi — who was Pakistan Air Force’s first Chief of Air Staff. His son, Lieutenant Colonel (retd) Omar Chaudhry, informed Sabaat that Chaudhry was appointed air chief by then-prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1972. “However, after the Constitutional Amendment of 1974 [declaring Ahmadis non-Muslims], there was a visible behavioural change in society and his father thought it better to call it a day and resigned,” he shared. About his own service, Omar said that within the ranks he did not face any discrimination but the targeting of minorities across the country is unfortunate and needs to be countered with a strong resolve.
It is believed that up until 1974, and later due to the Islamisation of President General Ziaul Haq, the armed forces, along with the rest of the country, were a much more tolerant and inclusive institution. Even now, the army takes pride in being an equal-opportunity institution where a significant number of officers and soldiers are from the country’s minorities.
Brigadier Rauf Ahmed Khan, who served from 1962 till 1994, said that when he joined the army, he was told “never to discuss politics, religion and women” as at some stage it may not only pollute the general atmosphere but may create bad blood between friends. He explained that in times of war, soldiers do not think of the colour, caste or creed of the individual next to them as they are all comrades and would lay down their lives for each other. He added that whenever political and religious beliefs or prejudices accentuate among the rank and file, the results have always been disastrous and adversely affect the morale of troops. Thus, it is essential that any kind of discrimination within the armed forces is rooted out at the earliest.
The nation owes a great deal of gratitude to all its heroes for their countless sacrifices over the years, from whichever religion they may be.