Former president General (retired) Pervez Musharraf has said that he has his sympathies with the minority Ahmadi community living in Pakistan.

Musharraf was asked to comment on why he did not remove the religious section from the Pakistani passport to which the former president said that “I would like to pass this question”.

He said the sensitivity of the question did not allow him to answer it, adding that he has many close friends who belong to the Ahmadi community.

“I have my great sympathy with Ahmadis. I’m saying that because many of my very close friends have been and are Ahmadis,” said the former president at the George Washington University.

“I think you are a community which is very educated and very progressive and very dynamic. I mean every word of it.

“So, therefore, one should favour you yes. But one has to see the bigger issue of Pakistan and turmoil within Pakistan. One has to balance sympathies towards your community with realities on ground.”

Responding to another question on the anti-Ahmadi laws in Pakistan, Musharraf said he considered religion to be a personal matter. “I don’t believe in interfering in that domain. But unfortunately the Muslim world is divided on this (issue).

Pakistan declared Ahmadis non-Muslims in 1974 and they are often targeted by Islamist militant groups.

Last month a suspected militant shot and killed an Ahmadi lawyer over blasphemy allegations in province. Latif was from a prominent Ahmadi family and was a cousin of Pakistan's 1979 Nobel physics laureate Abdus Salam.

In 2015, thousands of Muslims torched a worship place of the Ahmadi sect in another town in Punjab on Eid Milad-un-Nabi.