The surprise on the part of the former minister for religious minorities that there were Jews in Pakistan underscores how thoroughly their presence has been erased from history there. “Pakistan census poses question on remaining Jews,” from Reuters:
ISLAMABAD – The Pakistan government census on civil servants raised curiosity on Thursday about one of the Islamic Republic’s smallest and most low-profile religious minorities — the Jews.
The 2003 census, released on a government Web site last week, showed none of the 234,933 government employees declared themselves to be Jews, though 10 had done so in the previous census three years earlier.
“Whatever happened to the 10 Jew civil servants?,” read a headline in The News daily, Pakistan’s biggest-selling English language newspaper, on Thursday.
But, for many people the real news was that there were still any Jews living in Pakistan, given Pakistan’s longstanding antipathy towards Israel and Zionism.
Even a former minister for religious minorities was taken aback that there were Jews in the country.
“I never thought there were Jews in Pakistan. I have never seen them or met them, even when I was a minister,” remarked Colonel S.K. Tressler, who served in President Pervez Musharraf’s first cabinet in 1999.
“I was also surprised to see the report that there were Jews in the government service, also.”
Officials who conducted the census couldn’t say whether the Jews had retired, converted, migrated, died, or simply chose to mark themselves in an “Other Religions” category.
The census depended on what answers respondents submitted, and Jews might have chosen not to disclose their religion.
“In the latest census, they might not have indicated their religion. If it is not there, it will not reflect in the census,” Saeed-un-Nisa Abbasi, of the Establishment Division, which looks after civil service affairs, told Reuters.
The existence of Jews in Pakistan is seldom acknowledged, although the mostly Muslim country has sizable Hindu and Christian communities, who between them make up about four percent of Pakistan’s 160 million people.
The number of Jews living in Pakistan today is unknown, but must be very tiny.
There were a couple of thousand Jews living in Karachi and Peshawar before the partition of India and the formation of Pakistan in 1947.
Their families mostly migrated from Iraq in the 19th century.
A 55-year-old woman, who converted to Islam from Judaism when she married, remembered attending services at a synagogue in Karachi.
The woman, who asked not to be named, says all of her relatives have migrated to Israel, the United States and Europe, and she hasn’t seen any people from her old faith for years.
“I have been separated from them for a long time,” she said.
A commercial plaza now stands where the synagogue used to be, she added.