Saturday, 11 April 2015

Pakistan’s minorities under attack, Salman Ali

Pakistan’s minorities under attack, Salman Ali

Seventeen people were killed and 80 injured in two churches during the Youhanabad incident, which happened because of an acute failure of leadership and worsened for the same reason. It was a sad incident that left the entire nation in mourning. We all expressed deep grief and sorrow over the loss of innocent lives. We all know that Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, while addressing the first constituent assembly of Pakistan as its president, said, “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. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state.” These were the words of the father of the nation as the first governor general of Pakistan but for Pakistan’s minorities these words ring hollow.

The US Commission on Religious Freedom said in a report published in 2014 that conditions in Pakistan had “hit an all-time low” and governments had failed to adequately protect minorities and arrest the perpetrators of crimes against them. From 1947 to the mid 1960s, the governments of Pakistan were largely secular in policy and judgment. However, Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation and forced implementation of Islamic shariah law in Pakistan marginalised the Christian minorities and caused intense persecution. The government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Ziaul Haq’s more stringently Islamic laws transformed Pakistan. In 1971, East Pakistan became independent as Bangladesh and a large chunk of Pakistan’s Hindus and Christians were delinked from Pakistan. Pakistan became a culturally monolithic, increasingly Islamic state with smaller religion minorities than ever.

Since 1947, minorities in Pakistan have faced several problems and threats from Islamic extremists, politically motivated violence or the Taliban. The fact is that there are no minority rights in Pakistan. In each province, all over Pakistan, murders of our minorities are rampant, making life miserable for them. Pakistan is a country in which discriminatory laws and violence against the minorities are a major concern, according to Human Rights Watch’s (HRW’s) 21st Annual World Report. The religious demographic of Pakistan consists of a majority of Muslims, who constitute 95 to 97 percent of the population. The other three to five percent consists of Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis. Here I am, a confused citizen of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Islam teaches brotherhood, peace and friendship with all religion, so why the killing and discrimination of minorities?

Without shilly-shallying I will agree that every politician since 1947 has used religion for their own benefits and political power, whether it was against the people or in their favour. In fact, all governments that have ruled Pakistan after 1977 have been unjust to the minorities and indigenous communities, which became evident in 2011 when a minority rights group ranked Pakistan as the sixth most dangerous country for minorities.
Article 2 A and 36 of the Constitution of Pakistan vow to protect the Muslim and non-Muslim minorities of Pakistan but are not being implemented practically. Since 1986, the blasphemy law has been frequently used to intimidate and persecute religious minorities and to settle personal vendettas. Hundreds of innocent people have been imprisoned, forced to leave the country or killed by religious fundamentalists.

Minorities should be given their rights and security but Pakistani officials, lawmakers and law enforcement agencies are ignoring this matter. New laws need to be passed against people who are not in favour of interfaith harmony to protect non-Muslims, who are threatened by the omnipresent bigots ready to spread hatred at the drop of a hat. A law that encourages Christians to speak out against the atrocities they face in the name of the blasphemy law, most often used by Muslims to settle personal scores, should also be passed. We are in dire need of legislation and parliament needs to act. It is my observation that peace, prosperity, brotherhood and tolerance have vanished from our lives. It is the responsibility of the majority to ensure the rights of the minority. But this process is not happening in Pakistan, where the majority is killing the minorities. In a country where sectarian terrorism has consumed thousands of lives and minorities have been forced to live in fear, Article 20 is nothing but hollow words.

Unfortunately, the minorities have not been given full political and civil rights in Pakistan. Under the law, no non-Muslim, no matter how intelligent or capable, can become the president, prime minister, senator, governor or the chief justice of Pakistan. The government must realise that the loyalties of the minorities cannot be won by depriving them of civil and political rights; they can only be won by giving them more opportunities to make decisions about their future. Our diversity should not be taken as a threat but as an asset. Only this can bring peace and harmony to various groups and people.

Sadly, I believe that minorities will not get all their rights in a flash. A continuous political process is required for the restoration of these rights, to create awareness amongst the Muslims and Christians living in Pakistan, to respect each other and share our values and wisdom for the good of all, to support freedom of religion, spiritual expression and the rights of all individuals as established by national and international laws. I believe that a democratic political process can maintain laws and rules to bring politically motivated violence, religious extremism and intolerance to an end, so that a liberal, moderate society can come into being.

The writer is a social and political activist who lectures in media studies. He can be reached at

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