Glimmer of hope for Pakistani minorities. By Nasir Saeed


The situation of minorities in Pakistan has been rapidly deteriorating for the last several years, and European and American heads of state have not only expressed their concern in the media, but have directly addressed Pakistani governments.
It is believed that because of pressure from MPs, the church and civil society, during the visit of the Pakistani Prime Minister to the UK in April, Prime Minister David Cameron directly raised the issue of the misuse of blasphemy law and forced conversion of Christian and Hindu girls.
Apart from the Commonwealth, UNO and EU, international organisations of human rights have been repeatedly expressing their concerns over the treatment of religious minorities and misuse of Blasphemy law in their reports, statements and correspondence.
The USCIRF (US Commission on International Religious Freedom) constantly raises its concern about human rights violations and treatment of minorities with the Pakistani government, and earlier this year said that Pakistani blasphemy laws are incompatible with international human rights laws and even recommended Pakistan be designated as country of particular concern (CPC) which could result in sanctions.
At the launch of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission’s annual report, Secretary General Mr. I A Rehman said Pakistan is becoming an increasingly dangerous country for religious minorities. The MSP (Movement for Solidarity and Peace) revealed in its report that 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls, aged between 12 and 25, are forced to convert to Islam every year.
This revelation has shaken the international community but nothing seems to have an effect on Pakistani politicians and the government, as the minorities are not considered true citizens, but aliens and not their responsibility.
There was a time when Pakistani politicians used to say that minorities were a sacred trust, and the last time I heard this was from Benazir Bhutto, when she was speaking to Christians in a public meeting in Lahore in 1985, after her exile.
Although I never heard this sentiment voiced again, the mindset and policies towards minorities remained unchanged and that is why since the inception of Pakistan, until now, no government has ever bothered to make legislation to protect minorities’ rights. There has been lot of rhetoric and even promises, but nothing done practically –something Pakistani politicians are very expert at.
Pakistani blasphemy laws continue to be used as an excuse to intimidate and harass the minorities, attack and desecrate their churches, set fire to Christian villages and towns, imprison innocent people, and even for vigilante and extra judicial killings by mobs and by the police. But no one has ever been questioned or brought to justice, and instead they have been given a silent consent to carry on free from impunity.
Christians consider themselves the main target of blasphemy laws but recently Hindu temples have also been set on fire, and Sikh’s holy book was desecrated – again with no one being punished.
A judicial commission was formed to investigate the Gojra incident but the report was not made public, and nor were the recommendations implemented. This clearly shows how sincere and serious the government and politicians are with minorities of Pakistan.
Minorities have been forced into such desperation that Hindus have started fleeing to India, and Christians to the Far East, to save their lives and to protect their next generation’s future.
The country their forefathers and Christian politicians chose for them and supported Quaid e Azam to achieve, is rapidly becoming a chamber of death for them and the country and institutions they work day and night for, and shed their blood and sweat for does not recognise them. It was Christians who not just served the nation in medical and educational fields, but their services are huge in income tax, police, post office and especially running the railway successfully.
Sir Victor Turner, founder of the civil servants of Pakistan, Samuel Burke, pioneer of the foreign policy and S P Singha, Speaker who voted in favour of Jinnah and because of whom Punjab became a part of Pakistan - where Christians are most discriminated and mistreated now a days, are just a few whose services for Pakistan in the early days cannot be forgotten but today no one even knows their names. It has all been sacrificed to promote the ideology of Pakistan and to promote hatred against Christians.
However, it seems that Christians’ and other religious minorities’ prayers have been answered at last, and the time has come to wipe their tears and heal their wounds as the Chief justice of Pakistan, has recently ordered the formation of a National Council for Minority Rights in his decision over the suo motto case on the Peshawar church attack last year.
Apart from the federal attorney general, and additional advocate general of Punjab, there were several representatives of NGOs present to witness these historic moments. It is of course an historic day as Christians and other religious minorities have had a long standing demand to set up an independent and autonomous commission for minorities’ rights, to protect minorities’ rights, but until now none of the governments paid any attention. The chief justice has also said to form a task force to ensure religious harmony and protection of the rights of minorities.
The chief justice started reading the order by stating: “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety (taqwa) and good action.”
It was further stated in this order that those responsible for religious hate speech on social media must be brought to justice and children who face harassment at their schools because of their religious beliefs should also be protected.
He added that the apex court would ensure the protection of minorities’ rights by setting guidelines in this regard.
The chief justice also expressed his regret that constitutional provisions relating to the protection of minorities rights had not been enforced in the country.
India already has a similar commission for minorities, and its decisions are respected. But it is too early to say how helpful this commission will be to protect the minorities in Pakistan, while for the last several decades a hate agenda has been promoted through governmental policies, and school curriculum.
Extremism is on the rise and especially when Blasphemy laws are still on the statute book. Keeping in view the government’s treatment of minorities, it is difficult to say whether government will take interest immediately implement the order. In 2012 President Asif Ali Zardari signed a bill to form an independent and powerful National Commission for Human Rights Bill, but that is still pending.
The Supreme Court’s order has raised minorities’ hopes and formation of this commission could prove the beginning of the end of misery of religious minorities. Therefore, the Apex court should set a time frame, monitor this whole process, and make sure funds are provided by the federal government and that the commission is powerful and autonomous, otherwise no one can stop the inevitable extinction of minorities in Pakistan.

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