Pakistani minorities and the British parliament. By Nasir Saeed

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Over the past few days stories of Pakistani minorities’ suffering have been reverberating in the UK’s House of Commons, House of Lords, and the British and international media. A debate about Pakistani minorities’ suffering was held in the House of Commons on February 11. On 24th February the All Parties Parliamentarians Group (APPG) on international freedom of religion or belief released its report about Pakistani minorities and on February 27 BBC News broadcast a report on the plight of Pakistani Christians who fled Pakistan and applied for asylum in Thailand.
The report highlights the treatment of Pakistani Christians in Thailand, shows how they are forced to wait years for a decision, all the while trying to avoid arrest for overstaying due to delays in the system that are no fault of theirs.
On February 11, a debate initiated by Siobhain McDonagh was held in the British parliament. She gave a detailed introduction about the Ahmadiyya community’s suffering in Pakistan and then later on several MPs joined in. Around 19 MPs including two Muslims, Naz Shah and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, also expressed their views and congratulated Siobhan McDonagh for securing this debate. The cases of Tahir Mehdi Imtiaz, Salmaan Taseer’s and Shahbaz Bhatti’s killings, and the Christian couple Shama and Shahzad who were burnt in a brick kiln furnace, were specifically highlighted.
Every honourable member appeared to be well conversed and concerned about the deteriorating situation of our minorities. The debate continued for almost for two and a half hours, and Foreign and Commonwealth minister Mr Tobias Ellwood called it a phenomenal debate.
These are the same issues Pakistani minorities continuously complain about, including forced conversion to Islam of Christian and Hindu girls, a biased curriculum, and the misuse of the blasphemy law. Yet I don’t remember if in Pakistan we have ever discussed minorities’ issues in such detail.
In fact we don’t consider them and their issues worthy of discussion. Sadly their own representatives — who are duty bound to raise these issues in parliament — instead seem to be subservient to their party leaders. Several Christian politicians have fled to America, Canada and Europe with their families and have applied for asylum. Some have moved just their families and when the time comes they will join them. The situation of the Christian religious leadership is similar.
Pakistani Christian leadership, religious or political, is not only corrupt and disconnected with the community, but it also lacks vision. They enjoy the status and financial benefit in the name of minorities, but in fact they have no concern for them. However, the Ahmadiyya community seems much more concerned.
Although the APPG is new, I think it will be an effective and strong voice for Pakistani minorities, and particularly Christians, in the House of Commons. Whether their own representatives raise their voice against their suffering in the Pakistani parliament or not, they now have several friends in the EU parliament, Europe, Canada, America and particularly in the British parliament.. They continue to raise their voices against the suffering of Christians, and the Pakistani Government may have to change its policies. We shouldn’t forget that several MPs are asking for the imposition of conditions on aid being given to Pakistan. Pakistan takes the most grants from the UK - £324 million has been promised for year 2015-16.
Although the British government has been avoiding these imposing conditions, Mr Ellwood seems under pressure. He told the house that in August last year he expressed his concerns about religious freedom and the misuse of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. He also raised the issue with the Pakistani high commissioner in London, and gave his assurances that the next time he meets the Chief Minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, he will raise it with him, too. He also emphasised the need to encourage and further advance greater maturity of the justice system in Pakistan.
Also, Lord Alton, vice chair of the AAPG on International Freedom of Religion or Belief has also released its report on Pakistani minorities. It says “members of the Pakistani Ahmadiyya, Christians and Hindu Communities face violation of fundamental rights including the right of life and the right of liberty and security”. It further states “that Christian women face persecution and discrimination because they are Christian. “Christian women, alongside women of other religious minorities, face a real risk of abduction and are target of conversion and forced marriages because of their faith”.
The report recommends that the Department for International Development (DFID) should prioritise the promotion of freedom of religion or belief when engaging with Pakistan, one of the main recipients of aid (more than £1 billion over the past two years). Aid should be channelled to those organisations and programmes “that can demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of freedom of religion or belief”. Undoubtedly it is a big statement, and although we can raise our eyebrows in vain, it is true and I don’t believe it to be an exaggeration.
To collect all the accounts of Pakistani Christians’ suffering, he travelled to Thailand in September last year to meet Pakistani Christians. Then in November he organised a hearing in the House of Lords on Pakistani religious minorities. Besides Amnesty International and several powerful Christian organisations, Hindu, Shia and Ahmadiyya representatives also contributed, though the main focus remained on Christians. What an irony that the issues which need to be discussed in the Pakistani parliament are being discussed thousands of miles away in the British parliament.
I am not sure if this will cause any shame to the Pakistani government and Christian representatives in Pakistan, but I certainly feel embarrassed that these issues can be discussed in international parliaments, but not our own.
Despite being aware of the ongoing suffering of minorities, still, there appears to be no will to address the matter. In 2014 the Pakistan Supreme Court ordered the establishment of a National Council for Minority Rights, and a special force to protect their worship places. Just to avoid contempt of court, the government has formed a dysfunctional national council for minority rights.
It is a challenging situation for Pakistan as all the rhetoric and reiterated promises with minorities are being proved wrong. Some may consider it interference in the internal matters of the Pakistan, and it may taint its national honour, but I don’t think that will be appropriate conduct. Instead we must ask ourselves what we can learn from the UK about how to treat minorities.
Instead the Pakistani government either does not have time to think about its minorities, is intentionally turning a blind eye and ignoring its responsibilities, or doesn’t consider itself under any obligation. The cries of minorities are not being paid any attention. When their own country has turned its back to them, someone somewhere has to speak for them.
Courtesy: Daily Times – Pakistan

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