Pakistan’s 70 years and its minorities. By Nasir Saeed
|Quaid-e-Azam and his companions were enlightened and firm believers of modern democracy. But soon after the death of the Quaid, the Parliament passed a divisive Objectives Resolution and Pakistan began its journey towards an Islamic state.
We are celebrating Pakistan’s 70th Independence Day. We have travelled a long way but, in all these years, among many other things we have not been able to decide whether Quaid-e-Azam wanted Pakistan to be an Islamic or a secular state.
Proponents of both sides have valid arguments, but we have failed to reach a unanimous agreement. We haven’t been able to establish our national narrative, an important clause of the National Action Plan against terrorism. Early this year, ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tried to raise a consensus, but failed.
At Independence, religious minorities were 23 percent of Pakistan’s population, the share has since reduced to a mere three percent
I fail to understand how and where our priorities of national interest are set. Nations that gained independence around the same time as Pakistan are doing much better than us, especially politically.
Quaid-e-Azam and his companions were enlightened and firm believers of modern democracy. But soon after the death of the Quaid, the Parliament passed a divisive Objectives Resolution and Pakistan began its journey towards an Islamic state. Many intellectuals still believe that was a mistake but nobody has tried to rectify it.
In 1973 Constitution, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made Islam our state religion. Later, Ziaul Haq cut minorities from the political mainstream and made them 2nd class citizens of the country through a separate electoral system for them. This was totally against the Quaid-e-Azam’s vision.
Religious minorities, and especially Christians who supported Quaid-e-Azam in his struggle for Pakistan, have time and again manifested their loyalty and sincerity. Post-independence they played a vital role in the development of the country, but today they feel ignored and the most vulnerable community in Pakistan.
At Independence, religious minorities were 23 percent of Pakistani population, the share has since reduced to a mere three percent. All of our prime ministers and presidents have recognised and praised minorities’ services for Pakistan, but this praise has been nothing more than political rhetoric.
Schools and colleges run by Christian missions have played a significant role in educating the Pakistani nation. Several prominent bureaucrats and politicians have been educated at such schools and colleges, which were nationalised in 1972 by the Bhutto government. Though many institutions were later returned to their original owners, there are still several Christian schools and colleges that remain under government control.
The founder of Pakistan had called for equal citizenship status for religious minorities. He even set an example by appointing Joginder Nath Mandal as the new country’s law minister and Sir Zafar Ullah Khan as its foreign minister.
But instead of following in the Quaid’s footsteps, our politicians and government have passed discriminatory policies and laws against them, under which they feel insecure and are living in fear.
Therefore, a large number of Hindus and Christians continue to flee the country, the Anglo-Indian Christian community has almost vanished from Lahore while Goans Christians continue to shrink in Karachi.
Government institutions are openly pursuing discriminatory policies and preaching hate against minorities, even forcing them to do the least respected and most menial jobs. In recent years, I have seen several discriminatory jobs adverts despite Pakistani Constitution’s Article 27 providing safeguards against discrimination in services (employment).
We are a nation that is teaching and promoting hatred and intolerance against non-Muslims (our own citizens) in our school and colleges. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) published a detailed research report on this issue. Apart from Pakistani minorities, several international organisations have expressed their concerns. But it is all falling on deaf ears. Politicians who enter the Parliament on reserved seats for religious minorities are widely considered subservient to their national political party leadership.
For almost 25 years, minority communities have been demanding dual voting rights and according to some reports, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had agreed to this suggestion. She also promised to change the blasphemy law, but was ousted from power before she could fulfil her promise.
The blasphemy law is considered a root cause of minorities’ persecution, and its misuse is widespread in the country. Christians consider themselves targets of this law, demonstrated by several churches being attacked and several Christian towns and villages, like Sanglahill, Gojra, and Joseph Colony, being burnt. Early this month Christians marked Gojra’s 8th anniversary where eight people were burnt alive. In the same year a judicial inquiry report was prepared and submitted to the government by Mr Justice Iqbal Hameedur Rehman. He made several recommendations to stop the communal violence and chalked out certain objective guidelines for the protection minority rights but all of that has remained in vain.
Forced conversion of Christian and Hindu girls is another issue and several national NGOs have published detailed reports on it. The media has also reported several cases but it does not seem enough to attract the federal government’s attention. Even when the Sindh assembly passed legislation to stop forced conversion, the governor refused to sign the bill.
There is no doubt that minorities have been suffering for decades. The government, politicians, and even the judiciary are aware of the situation. In 2014, the Supreme Court ordered the establishment of a task force for the protection of minorities, as well as a national commission for minority rights. The order has yet to be implemented.
Several international organisations and countries consider Pakistan a dangerous country for minorities and have raised their concerns with our government.
The world has changed but we are still trying to live in medieval times. Religious minorities see no future in Pakistan. We need to change our political and social culture to ensure equality, security and protection for our minorities. It is time to take appropriate steps to make Pakistan progressive and enlightened as envisioned by the founder Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Published in Daily Times, August 14th 2017.