On the 25th December 2010 Pakistan celebrated the 134th birth anniversary of the father of the nation, Quid e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. People from all walks of life, including Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad Khan and Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah of Sindh visited the Quaid’s Mazar (grave) to pay tribute and offer fateha (prayers) and a ceremony of a Changing of Guards at the Mazar was held. I watched a few programmes and read articles about the Quaid but there was something crucial missing. According the newspapers, Quaid e Azam’s birthday was celebrated with zeal and fervour but this was not so evident. But then again perhaps I missed something. Although I am grateful to the Quaid for Pakistan at the same time I am ashamed because we all know that the Quaid’s mission is not complete. I regret that we have as yet been unable to make Pakistan a modern and enlightened state as he had envisaged. Pakistan was created for Muslims, who were then the minority of a united India, because they were suffering politically, socially and economically. These were the grounds for a separate state for Muslims labouring under the oppression of the Hindu majority. Quaid understood clearly that Muslims, as a minority, would never be able to rise politically, socially and economically and therefore he grasped to accept the chance, when it arrived, to lead them to a better, more just, life offering them opportunities they had so far been denied.
Initially, Quid e Azam was a member of the congress and struggling to liberate India from the British Empire. But he grew progressively disappointed with the Hindu leadership because of the prejudice and actions against Muslims by some of its members. At the request of Dr llama Iqbal, he finally decided to join the Muslim league. This organization was never founded to achieve a separate country but to safeguard Muslim rights. The minority’s situation was not much different than today’s minorities but under the great leadership of Quaid e Azam, the Muslim league was transformed into a force which achieved the separate state of Pakistan.
Emerging triumphant from his quest for a separate state Quaid e Azam also decided to become the leader of the new political, religious and cultural entity. He saw himself as the leader not only of the Muslims of Pakistan but of all of its citizens including religious minorities. Because of this conscious decision to view all as citizens he enjoyed the support of all of the religious minorities including Hindus, Paresis, the Ahamadiya community and the Christians. Quaid was never in favour of migration and was well aware of the problems of the minorities. Therefore he assured minority leaders full protection of the state and guaranteed that they would have equal rights under the law in the new state of Pakistan. While Hindus decided to migrate to India because of attacks on some Hindu settlements such as Jhelum and Attock, Christians and other religious minorities stood by Quaid in the faith and hope that he would eventually accomplish his vision for a strong, enlightened and modern state where everybody would be equal; where every citizen would have full religious freedom and religion would not be a discriminating factor in the business in the state. Apart from being a great leader, a great politician and a great lawyer, he was also a great human being who, having witnessed injustice, was largely inspired by a vision of fairness. This meant that he did not want the religious minorities to suffer similar disadvantages as Muslim minorities had endured at the hands of the Hindu majority in India. He made this explicit in his first speech to the constituent Assembly of Pakistan, meeting in Karachi on 11th August 1947. In this, his presidential address, he made it very clear to minorities, to the Muslim majority and the world precisely what his vision of Pakistan entailed.
The minorities in Pakistan would enjoy equal rights, privileges and obligations like the majority, he explained, and they would also have religious freedom. He stated that: “You are free; 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. He added that Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslim would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense ... but in the political sense.”
Unfortunately, it is abundantly clear that today’s Pakistan differs vastly from the vision of the Quaid. Instead of being a modern and enlightened state, we are heading towards a theocratic state, of the very sort that was condemned by the Quaid. Those who differ in opinion from me could of course counter that we have democracy in Pakistan. But do we have real democracy in our country as the Quaid himself had desired, proposed and pursued? His vision for Pakistan was that minorities would have equal rights. This is still far from being achieved. Can we say with all sincerity that we have atttained any of the qualities envisioned and are we honouring any of the guarantees given to minorities by our Quaid? Again, it could be argued that Pakistan is a young state and that most of the time there has been military dictatorship and that democracy has not been given enough time to flourish in the country. But who is responsible for that? We have only ourselves are to blame because we have either forgotten or neglected all the teachings of our Quaid in his quest for a glorious Pakistan.
It is a sad fact that what passes for ‘democracy’ in Pakistan is often really either a civil dictatorship or a sort of monarchy. After all, our leaders are not elected democratically but rather inherit their power dynastically through their families. Consider the transfer of power from Bhutto to Bhuttos, Sharif to Shrifs, Khan to Khans and Chaudhry to Chaudhries. This does not come close to the vision of the Quaid or any other great democratic leader in history. Indeed, in such a frail democracy there appears no place for the religious minorities who were guaranteed equal rights in the state of Pakistan. Just count how many minorities’ elected MPs or senators are in our parliament and this soon becomes evident enough. There is perhaps not a single one and yet there are still those who would deem it a democracy. I do not even know of any minority member who is a member of the CEC (central executive committee) of any political party. We simply cannot blame martial law for marginalisation of minorities because, as far as I can see, all the governments, whether civil or army were essentially the same, with the exception of Zia ul Haq, which was not just detrimental for minorities but for Pakistan in general. Minorities are paying a very heavy price with tears and blood and may continue to do so until we have true followers of Jinnah and honour the guarantee given for equal rights by Jinnah.
Compare democracy in the UK, where I live, and where every citizen of the state is, on principle, treated equally. Indeed, great care is taken to protect the rights of minorities and the vulnerable. This is an example of the kind of state envisaged by our Quaid, who said: “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.” The UK parliament has a number of Asian and non-white MPs (member of British parliament), MEPs(member of European parliament) and even members of the House of Lords. At least five MPs are Pakistani Muslims, several Pakistani Muslims sit in the House of Lords and there are at least two Pakistani Muslim MEPs. Previous governments appointed a few ministers too. They were discriminated against neither on the basis of the country of origin nor their religion. Moreover, Saeeda Warsi a Pakistani Muslim is the chairperson of the ruling party, The Conservatives. The fact that Pakistani Muslims can advance so far in the Governments of other countries is a remarkable achievement. So why is it that we cannot uphold what the Quaid promised to minorities our own country? Minorities – even those who are from Pakistan - cannot even be allowed to dream of it.
Consider another example - our neighbouring country, India, one of the world’s biggest democracies. There, the present Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh is Sikh, the Minister of Defence is Christian and the head of the ruling party, Sonia Ghandi, is a Roman Catholic. This is by no means unique for India. There are a number of past examples that likewise demonstrate the tolerance, equality and freedom that should be the fruits of successful, functioning democracies. Go back to the years between 2002 to 2007 and you will see that India was completely ruled by minority leaderships and the population of one billion, especially Hindu majorities, had no problem accepting Dr. Abdul Kalam as their president, Manmohan Singh as their Prime minister, and AK Antony as their Defence Minister. Nobody has ever questioned their loyalty and integrity and India’s economy continues to grow under their leadership even at a time when many other countries went into recession. US president Barak Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and several other European head of states are keen to develop their relations with India. While we are dependent on these countries they are looking to do business with India.
Religious and social harmony are prized by these societies as valuable. On the Eid Ul Azha, for instance, Mr Cameron invited Muslim community leaders to 10 Downing Street to celebrate Eid. Likewise, President Obama once also invited Muslim leaders to America for Aftari (opening of fast during Ramadan). There was a time when the Pakistani High Commission in the UK would organise a Christmas party but not any more. Such gestures might have been stopped because of the recession but I suspect this is not the case and reflects, rather, how little we care about and respect our minorities while other countries are looking after theirs.
Religious minorities are not just being well looked after in the UK but in several other western countries too. The UK government specifically goes the extra mile, however. Religious and ethnic minorities are especially encouraged to participate in the country’s politics and now all three big political parties, Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats have Muslim groups inside their parties. There is no concept of minority wings such as those that political parties have in Pakistan and everybody is treated equally. Apart from political integration, the British government especially places emphasis on religious and social cohesion. The aim is to build a peaceful, tolerant and just society and a special budget is dedicated to this end.
This was the vision of our Quaid, but unfortunately Pakistan is still miles away from it and in danger of losing it completely. It is a disgrace that we even not consider our own minorities as equal citizens of Pakistan. It is equally scandalous that on some occasions they are not even considered human beings by the extremists but are labelled as kafir (infidels) spies and allies of the west which, perhaps deliberately makes them all the more vulnerable and insecure.
We have failed to protect and safeguard the religious minority’s constitutional and political rights, under the Islamic provision of the constitution of 1973 and several articles like 2 (article 41(2) and 91(3)) etc. to bar them from participating and fulfilling their roles in the government and as a result they have never been stockholders in the government’s decision making. Although the 1973 constitution is considered the most liberal and democratic constitution so far, it fails to match with the vision of Jinnah’s Pakistan. Jinnah repeatedly affirmed the right of minorities on several occasions, pre and post Pakistan, and assured that they would be treated equally in Pakistan regardless of their colour or creed. His government devised policies deliberately intended to create a sense of security and confidence within the religious minorities of Pakistan.
Today’s situation of the minorities is completely opposite to the vision of the Quaid. Yet no government or politicians are willing to take responsibility or even accept that religious minorities are being discriminated against and persecuted religiously and politically. Nobody is willing to accept that they have no real representation, that they are despised because they are non-Muslim, that they are poor and that they are deprived of their equal rights. The politicians who are responsible always repeat the same statement in Pakistan and abroad that “minorities are enjoying equal rights in Pakistan” and any reports which are published about the treatment of minorities are strongly condemned.
The fact is that the situation in Pakistan is so bad that the world is horrified by it. The people who live in functioning democracies know what Pakistani still refuses to accept. Denying these reports about the state of our nation means denying equal rights and religious freedom to the religious minorities. It is an extremely worrisome situation because such thinking is allowing the country to slip toward extremism, threatening the unity of Pakistan and destroying the vision of Jinnah.
Apart from the constitution, it is to our shame that we have developed and amended several laws which discriminate against religious minorities. Now, they feel insecure and worried about their future. Their worship places have been rampaged, their holy books have been desecrated, Christian villages have been set on fire and innocent people have been killed while few are brought to justice. Their women have forcefully been converted to Islam and nobody has been ever questioned. We have kept their mouths closed by giving them proportionate representation in parliament but how long for? We cannot continue to deceive the world. Our own people are enjoying equal rights in the western countries but here in Pakistan we are treating our own minorities unfairly because of their religion. We need to understand that the world has become too small and the reality of what is actually going on in Pakistan cannot be covered up for too long. The truth has an awkward habit of finding its way to the surface. Why don’t we just accept the truth and change our policies to fit Quaid E Azam’s vision and give minorities the equal rights that they deserve?
It is not as difficult as we think. We can also raise ourselves as a respectable and proud nation as our Quaid has given to us a beautiful country full of natural resources; the only thing we have to do is follow the footsteps and teaching of our Quaid. We will have to raise ourselves above all the bigotries and make ourselves first Pakistani, and then Sindhi, Blouchi, Pakhtoon and Punjabi second as was said by Jinnah. For a strong and prosperous Pakistan, we have to follow in the footsteps of our Quaid who offers the only light visible in this darkness.
We are living in the 21st century and it is not possible to treat our minorities like slaves. As fellow human beings we need to understand and feel the pain they are suffering. Just remember the time of pre partition and sympathise with them. We have to give them the equal rights, protection and political and legal safeguards they are demanding. The world has become a global village and when such disasters as earthquakes and floods ravaged our country Christians around the world generously donated money to help our people irrespective of their religion. If we expect funding from them and the West, which we have needed, then they have the right to question us about the death sentence of Aasia Bibi and many other issues Pakistan related to minorities. Listen and be attentive to the cries of your own minorities as the sound of the weeping is beginning to cause great sorrow beyond your borders.