On the 25th December 2010 Pakistan celebrated the 134th birthday of the father of the nation, Quid e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Dignitaries such as Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad Khan and Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah of Sindh were among those who visited the Quaid’s Mazar to pay tribute and offer fateha in gratitude for his achievements.
While I too am grateful to the Quaid I am also ashamed because we have yet to realize his vision of Pakistan as a modern and enlightened state. He created Pakistan for Muslims, then a minority of a united India, because they suffered politically, socially and economically under the Hindu majority. He seized the opportunity to liberate them.
Quaid e Azam also left his country a vision. 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 treat all citizens as equal under the law he enjoyed the support of all of the religious minorities – Hindus, Paresis, the Ahamadiya community and the Christians. Quaid did not want them to flee the country and he understood their problems. He assured minority leaders of the 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, Christians in particular stood by Quaid in the hope he would fulfil his ambitions, knowing that for them they would mean religious freedom.
He was a great human being who, having witnessed injustice, was largely inspired by fairness and who did not want minorities to suffer similar disadvantages as Muslims had previously endured. 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 promised the minorities in Pakistan equal rights, privileges and obligations like the majority. “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,” he said. “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
According to his vision Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslim would cease to be Muslims – not in the religious sense, he explained, “but in the political sense”.
It is clear that today’s Pakistan differs vastly from the vision of the Quaid. Instead we are becoming a theocratic state of the very sort he condemned. Of course it can be argued that we have democracy. But do we have real democracy in our country as the Quaid himself envisaged?
It is a sad fact that what passes for “democracy” in Pakistan is often really either a civil dictatorship or a sort of monarchy. Our leaders are not elected democratically but tend to inherit their power dynastically – 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, and it might help to explain the paucity of democratic freedoms which other countries enjoy in abundance. Just count how many minorities’ elected MPs or senators are in our parliament and this soon becomes evident. I do not even know of any minority member who is a member of the Central Executive Committee of any political party, and martial law is not to blame for that.
Compare democracy in the UK, where I live. Every citizen of the state is, on principle, treated equally. 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. The UK parliament has growing numbers of Asian and non-white MPs, peers and MEPs (Member of European Parliament) and many of them are Pakistani Muslims who have been able to progress without being discriminated against on the basis of either their country of origin or their religion. The appointment of Saeeda Warsi, a Pakistani Muslim, as the chairperson of the ruling party, the Conservatives, demonstrates how far religious minorities can advance in the Government. It serves as a reproach for our failure to honour the Quaid’s promises to our minorities, who are not even allowed to dream of such equality.
Consider another example – India, one of the world’s biggest democracies. There, the present Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh is Sikh, AK Antony, 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 earlier examples that likewise demonstrate the tolerance, equality and freedom that should be the fruits of successful, functioning democracies. From 2002 to 2007 India was ruled by minority leaderships and the population of one billion, especially Hindu majorities, comfortably accepted minority politicians without questioning their loyalty and integrity. The economy is growing under their leadership, while other countries flounder in recession. The US, Britain and the EU are keen to develop their business relations with India.
Religious and social harmony is prized and nurtured by these societies. On the Eid Ul Azha, for instance, Mr Cameron invited Muslim community leaders to 10 Downing Street to celebrate. President Obama once also invited Muslim leaders to America for Aftari.
Indeed, religious minorities are not just being well looked after in these countries but are being indulged. In the UK they are especially encouraged to be politically active and all three mainstream parties – Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats – have Muslim groups affiliated to them. Everybody is treated equally. Funds are dedicated to promoting social cohesion with the aim of building a peaceful, tolerant and just society.
This was the vision of our Quaid and today it is a disgrace that we do not consider our own minorities as equals. It is equally scandalous that on some occasions they are barely 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 religious minority’s constitutional and political rights through inserting several articles to the constitution of 1973 like 2A, 41(a) 93(a) etc to bar them from participating and fulfilling their roles in the government. As a result they have never been stakeholders in the political process. 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, which repeatedly affirmed the right of minorities, pre and post Pakistan, and promised equality regardless of their colour or creed.
No government or politicians appear willing to accept that religious minorities are being discriminated against and persecuted religiously and politically. Nobody appears willing to accept that they have no real representation, that they are despised because they are non-Muslim, that they are trapped in poverty and deprived of their rights. Politicians trot out the mantra that “minorities are enjoying equal rights in Pakistan” and reports to the contrary are strongly condemned.
The reality is that the situation in Pakistan is so bad that the world is horrified by it. It is rightly being interpreted as a slide toward extremism and it threatens the unity of Pakistan and is destroying the vision of Jinnah.
It is to the shame of Pakistan that we have passed laws discriminating against religious minorities. Now, they feel insecure and worried about their future. Their places of worship have been wrecked, their holy books desecrated, Christian villages have been set ablaze, women forced to convert to Islam, and innocent people killed while murderers escape justice. We gave them the token of proportionate representation in parliament as a sop. But 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.
Remember that when earthquakes and floods ravaged our country Christians around the world generously donated money to help our people irrespective of their religion. They have a right to question us about the death sentence of Aasia Bibi.
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 time to reciprocate.
It is not as difficult as we think. We can also raise ourselves as a respectable and proud nation if we follow the footsteps and teaching of our Quaid. We must wrestle free from our prejudices and make ourselves first Pakistani, and then Sindhi, Blouchi, Pakhtoon and Punjabi second, as was said by Jinnah. The Quaid offers the only light visible in this darkness.
As fellow human beings we need to understand the pain our minorities are feeling. Just remember the time of pre partition and sympathise with them. 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 and it does no credit to Pakistan and the Quaid-e-Azam.