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MMA to safeguard minority rights, says Qazi Hussain Ahmed

ISLAMABAD: A top leader of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) has put minority groups on notice that their rights would not be affected by the grouping's surprise electoral gains.
Qazi Hussain Ahmed, who cobbled together a six-party alliance this summer along with Jamiat Uleme-e-Pakistan chief Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani, told reporters on Sunday that minority groups ought not to be alarmed by the alliance's sweep of polls in two Pakistani provinces that border Afghanistan. Its electoral success in Balochistan and North West Frontier Province, as well as its strong showing in the federal parliament election, has virtually guaranteed it a place on the treasury benches.

"Not other party can safeguard the rights of minorities better than us," he said. "Our (joint parties) manifesto is quite clear on this issue."

The MMA deputy chief shrugged off fears that the alliance would oppose the election of minority members on special seats. "We have had made provisions for them," Qazi Hussain Ahmed said. The alliance has nominated two minority candidates for seats in the federal parliament, one each from Peshawar and Quetta, provincial capitals of NWFP and Balochistan.

With 45 seats in the National Assembly, the religious parties alliance would be entitled to elect up to 20 percent of the women and minority candidates under the country's proportional representation system. Sixty women and 10 minority deputies will earn a place in the 342-member National Assembly through this system.

The alliance deputy chief, however, refused to endorse the constitutional amendments made by President Pervez Musharraf and signalled his unwillingness to accept the presence of American soldiers on Pakistani soil and their government's alleged interference in his country's affairs. "We will not accept the presence of US soldiers on our soil. We will not bargain our sovereignity at any cost," said the alliance's deputy chief. "Any party that shares our indignance at American or outside interference in our country's affairs and supports our principled stand on the reversion to the 1973 constitution will receive our wholehearted support to form the government," he added. Apart from the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League (Q)--the single largest party in parliament-- and its main ally the National Alliance, none of the parties favour the amendments introduced last July in the constitution. Religious party leaders have also vowed to resist the creation of the National Security ! Council,a supra-natonal body on te grounds that it infringed on the sovereignity of the National Asembly.