Should not Pakistani Christian MPs rise to the occasion. By Sheraz Khurram Khan
07 Dec 2005
It is stating the obvious that Pakistani Christian community is confronted with a host of issues including social and constitutional discrimination, their marginalization, denial of fundamental rights and outright indifference of government when it comes to hammering out a solution of the problems confronting them. I won`t enlist the other injustices being inflicted on Christian community and on other religious minorities` communities in Pakistan. I have not spared them because they are less horrendous than the mentioned ones but they have been left out as enumerating the injustices is not the focus of this piece of writing but to discuss as to who is most responsible for ridding the minorities communities of the perilous situation they are plunging into day by day.
The government of course is responsible for protecting rights of religious minorities in Pakistan and in Ã¢â‚¬ËœMusharraf`s enlightened PakistanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ there is indeed no room for maltreatment and bullying of minorities communities because how could moderate people even think of doing harm to weaker segments of society. Sadly enough, turning of Pakistani society into a moderate one is only a wishful thinking.
In the absence of desired response from government regarding ensuring protection of rights of invulnerable sections of society, who else is expected to rise to the occasion and effectively raise the voice for rights of minorities? Aren`t elected Christian representatives supposed to do this job? After all what is their job? Were they voted to power to play the role of silent spectators in provincial and national assemblies? If they did not have a gall to speak for the rights of oppressed religious minorities of this country then why did they step into politics? They should have opted for some other job. Their failure in some area other than politics would not have affected the entire community. It would have strictly stayed confined to them or maybe to their families.
Did a sizable number of impoverished, already marginalized second class citizens of this land give them mandate so that they attend the assemblies` sessions and come back after thumping the desks with full force without taking into consideration the repercussions of their act on the hapless people, who gave them mandate. It is mere avarice; perks and privileges that have kept Christian MPs sitting on treasury benches not deliver the commitment they made to their electorate. Blaming Parliamentary Secretary for minoritiesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ affairs, Mushtaq victor for his failure to do justice with his job is egregiously unfair because after assuming the post he is least supposed to project minorities` rights. His job specifications include commending the man wearing two caps of President and Chief of Army Staff, President General Pervez Musharraf, giving nod to anything said by PML President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and PML Secretary General Syed Mushahid Hussain. His conscience, if he has any (I have serious doubts though) is more satisfied when he toes the party line but perhaps Ã¢â‚¬Ëœpricks of conscienceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ do not let him sleep if he has to raise his voice on the assembly floor for the rights of minorities. In fact he is a very worldly wise man and is a possessor of retentive memory. He is aware of the statements he keeps on issuing like " Minorities are enjoying their rights in Pakistan", So, how a man of his `calibre` do the Ã¢â‚¬ËœmistakeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ of flaying the incidents of killings, abductions, raping of Christian girls and torching of places of minorities` worship. If he does make the `mistake` he may be fired from the slot, which would leave the entire Christian community of the country `leaderless`.
Much to the disadvantage of Christian community in Pakistan they are in no dearth of elected representatives of the ilk of Mushtaq Victor. Akram Masih Gill`s total allegiance to PML and blatant indifference to the cause of Pakistani Christians is also case in point. I had not met him in person before November 13. I had gone to Cathedral church Lahore (near regal chowk) in connection with writing of biography of Archbishop Lawrence J. Saldanha. As I was coming out of the Bishop house I saw a man dressed in black suit alighting from his car. He was talking to someone on his mobile from Sanglahill. He asked me if the Bishop was in and I nodded in affirmative. After learning that I was a Christian and a journalist he told me he was going to attend a press conference on Sanglahill tragedy in Lahore Press Club, saying he had come so that the bishop could also accompany him.
I thought Akram would flay the horrible incident in categorical terms in the press club but the poor chap hardly said that dispute over gambling between Kalu Sunaira and the blasphemy accused, Yousaf Masih had sparked violence? Akram`s failure to speak at the press club is beyond my comprehension. Why couldn`t he say in presence of assembly of journalists that a fight between gamblers does not mean that some 3000 mad people should set ablaze churches, houses and other buildings of Christian community in that area? Why he failed to say that the local government representatives failed to ensure law and order on that fateful day? Why he couldn`t say: " I categorically condemn this incident of religious extremism and fanaticism". It was not only expected of him but of each of the elected Christian representative? Many Labour MPs did not go with the party line when British Prime Minister Tony Blair moved the terror bill in the House of Commons to allow police to detain terror suspects for up to 90 days without charge, rather than the existing 14 days. MPs rather voted instead to extend the time limit to 28 days. In total 49 Labour MPs voted against the government including 12 former ministers. Forty-six Republicans joined 43 Democrats and one independent in voting to define and limit interrogation techniques that U.S. troops may use against terrorism suspects. If Labour and Republican Senators have the nerves to call a spade a spade then why cannot elected minority representatives follow in their footprints? None of the Labour or Republican MP let any fear stop them speaking up their mind.
After having discussed `performance` of elected Christian MPs gluing to treasury benches it would be good to draw a comparison between them and those sitting on opposition benches. While the elected Christian MPs after having joined PML fail to deliver what`s the matter with those sitting on opposition benches. If they fail to speak while they are part of opposition I fear they would become dumb if their party happens to make government next time. What are they doing then? Well, they have restricted their struggle for minoritiesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ rights to slogans and press statements. All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) Chief Shahabaz Clement Bhatti is pretty good at airing statements with no follow-ups. A leader is not supposed to only make statements in the wake of incidents of brutal injustice and discrimination but in fact he must lead the people from the front If expatriate Pakistani Christians in the UK could stage protest against Sanglahill tragedy what failed Pakistani Christians to come up with a matching response? The answer is simple-- MNAs Mushtaq Victor, Haroon Qaisar, a lady parliamentarian from Balochistan and Akram Masih Gill who are in the government did not bother to give a protest call. What to speak of elected minority MPs from provincial assemblies. They have other `important` matters to fix, how could they waste their time on condemning incidents like Sanglahill.
Given the failure of the elected Christian MPs the Christians in Pakistan should realize the importance of choosing the right candidate during elections. If they continue to make bad choices then their plight is destined to stay pathetic and miserable.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad,