Situation of Minorities in Pakistan – by Junaid Qaiser

After the tragic events of 9/11, Pakistani establishment finally had to set aside its traditional ideological hangovers, and instead raised a different slogan, “Pakistan First”. It was a matter of coercion or choice one can’t say with a degree of confidence; nevertheless it was a visible policy shift from the ideologically loaded past. This changed thinking gave birth to new hopes and new fears for the religious minorities.

Within the category of hope one can enlist the reversion to the system of joint electorates during Election-2002 whereas the list of new fears is pretty long. At least two churches, one missionary hospital and a school became the new targets of the disposed Jihadis (holy warriors). The unprecedented electoral gains of religious right on the platform of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (United Action Council) also add to such fears.

The slogan “first of all Pakistan” or “Pakistan First” employs that all the people living in the country are Pakistanis without any consideration of color, race or religion and that all of them have equal human rights and are entitled to substantive citizenship as per the vision of country’s founding fathers. Therefore it is now expected that all Pakistanis would emerge as the moderate souls and would contribute to develop the nation to meet the challenges of new realities and requirements by rearranging their political, social, intellectual, literary and scientific values.

During the last 62 years the situation of minorities in Pakistan like the general conditions in various fields has remained a matter of serious concern. Professor Marvin G. Vonbom, of University of Illinois, USA describes this situation in her article, Civil society and democracy in Pakistan that “Pakistan is a state owned by the Muslims but from their behavior it seems as if they are a minority surrounded by hostile threats. In this way they have developed a defensive mechanism that has no rationale. These people think that strengthening of minorities would be a threat to Pakistan and Islam. The reality is completely opposite. Though the Muslim rulers in the past had provided protection to the minorities yet it is a historical fact that the minorities were not given equal political status and equal political rights.”

In political terms Pakistan experienced leadership from Quaid-e-Awam Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Zia-ul-Haq and from Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto to Nawaz Sharif all with different ideological orientations. Pakistan Peoples party and its leadership very much liberal and progressive. The other Parties representing General Zia’s legacy used the slogans of Islam to perpetuate their narrow self interests. Khawaja Khalid,an Afghan war vetern and a former Air force officer has come on the national television to disclose Mian Nawaz Sharif’s meeting no less than Osama Bin Ladan. He admits in a interview with local daily newspaper that Islamic leaders acting as Afghan war veterans had joined hand with Nawaz Sharif to block Pakistan Peoples party’s entry into power since 1988.  These leaders played their part in toppling PPP regime twice and tried to thwart the PPP in electoral processes. Khalid Khawaja also stated that after General Zia’s death, which has a huge shock for our leaders. The group planned to counter the US backed Liberal progressive Pakistan Peoples party.  He stated that we thought that an alliance of all major religious parties and it’s alliance with PML-N later in the general elections could block PPP’s way.  He also said ISI was thinking along the same lines,  we tried our best to make a MMA style (as done by the Musharaf regime of 2002-2007 )alliance with PML-N to bring these parties in power. The agencies had planned to make Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi,  the prime minister in 1988,after all stalwarts like Jatoi, were defeated, the establishment saw in Nawaz Sharif a possible player against Shaheed Benazir Bhutto ….

The ISI hastily formed IJI (a political alliance of right-wing forces);  when IJI failed to form the Government, the establishment invited shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto to become the prime minister, soon after the PPP government was formed, we decided to counter and resist the govt in 1989, establishment believe that Benazir’s Govt will demage the cause of jihad. Khawaja Khalid also recalls about five meetings took place between Nawaz Sharif and Osama Bin Ladan. He clearly stated that it was Osama who rought the Sharifs and the Saudi royals closer. These ties later strengthened by the Sharifs..

However the military regime headed by General Pervez Musharraf reached a crossroad after the 9/11 tragedies in the United States of America and to some extent had to break its nexus with the retrogressive regime of Taliban in Afghanistan. So it became a defining moment and Pakistan quite prudently decided to stand with the international community on the issues of global terrorism and human values. Traditionally Pakistani establishment had been promoting religion colored nationalism that caused a lot of damage to Pakistan and made life of the minorities pretty difficult. Nonetheless the enlightened citizens and their civic organizations continued to raise voice against that mindset.

Separating the minorities
Luckily now it is a history, but until 2001 the issue of separate electorate system remained a key political concern for the minorities in Pakistan. Historically it is true that Pakistan came into being on the basis of separate electorate as demanded by the Muslim minority in the united Sub-continent. After Pakistan’s creation the two-nation theory should automatically have ceased to exist as there was only one nation living in Pakistan. But the right wing political parties continued to consider the separate electorate as a base of the ideology of Pakistan.

The idea of separate electorate was aimed at the partition of India. Where as the minorities living in Pakistan today do not want any kind of further partition of their homeland. Similarly Quaid-i-Azam had dreamt of a developed, moderate, democratic state which is evident from his 11th August 1947 speech in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. One hardly finds any discussions on formation of a theocratic state in the pre-partition meetings of the Muslim League. The religious parties started such debate after the creation of Pakistan and ironically they were opposed to the very idea of Pakistan. Religious political parties have been opposing the idea of joint electorate due to the fear that the minorities will vote Pakistan peoples part Due to it’s liberal progressive stance and not vote for them because of their particular religious point of view.

In Quaid-i-Azam’s Pakistan, all the human beings were to be given equal rights and status but our non-political rulers in an attempt to remain in power and to suppress political forces divided the nation on ethnic, religious and sectarian lines. Whenever these rulers felt that they are confronted with a legitimacy crisis they created prejudices to weaken the people. The organizations based on religious, ethnic, linguistic and sectarian prejudices were created in our country under the same philosophy. In order to prolong his tenure in power and to weaken the Pakistan Peoples’ Party, General Zia ul Haq used religion as a tool and imposed separate electorate in the country in 1979. It may be mentioned here that all the three Constitutions passed in Pakistan in 1956, 1962 and 1973 respectively enforced a joint electorate system.

Introduction of separate electorates for the minorities marginalized them from the mainstream society and were reduced to the status of a second-class citizen having no say in the politics. This division effected the whole political environment and Muslims were also divided on sectarian bases. Since 1979 Pakistan has experienced worst form of sectarianism causing many killings. The separate electorates damaged the social relationship of minorities with their neighboring Muslims. Under this system, minorities were cut from the national main stream. They were deprived of their rights, because they had no social or political relationship with the Muslims.

Since 1985 Pakistan Peoples Party and various minority rights groups became active to campaign for the restoration of the joint electorates. After years of struggle in June 2000 these groups collected more then 200,000 signatures within 40 days of a special campaign. The victory came on January 17,2002 when the government announced that the general elections will be held on the bases of joint electorates. All the minorities and major political parties except Muslim League (N) and Muslim religious parties welcomed the decision. Initially the government took away the reserved seats for the minorities in the National and provincial assemblies, which later on at the demand of civil rights groups were restored.

The elections 2002 and 2008 campaign showed that under the joint electorates minorities got respect and honor. All the political parties and the candidates have been visiting minority community and had asked for their votes. Many political parties gave tickets to Hindus and Christian candidates on general seats.In the election 2002 From the whole country about 12 Hindu and Christian candidates contested elections on open seats on different party tickets. However only one Hindu candidate won the election on general seat for Sindh Assembly on the ticket of National Alliance.

All most all the major political parties including the religious right Muttahida Majlis-I-Amal nominated their candidates for the reserved seats.

Quaid-i-Azam’s views and the Objectives Resolution:
The founder of Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam in April 1944 said: “With regard to the minorities, we Muslims will not stand behind any civilized nation of the world. I am sure when the time comes, the minorities living in different areas of our country will see that their Muslim rulers are not only fair but also generous and why not the tradition of Islam is like that.”

On the eve of independence he reiterated that the minorities will be given full protection in Pakistan no matter to which sect they belong. Their religion, belief and faith will be fully intact and protected in Pakistan. They will have sufficient protection for their religion, faith, lives and property and their culture. They will be equal citizens of Pakistan enjoying equal rights without any discrimination of colour or ethnicity.

However the obscurantist forces who were unable to move resolutions like Objectives Resolution in the life time of Quaid-i-Azam became active right after his death and moved the Objective Resolution in the Assembly under the leadership of Liaquat Ali Khan in March 1949. This was the biggest attack on the minorities. Through this resolution an attempt was made to make the non-Muslims second rate citizens of Pakistan. This was an act of disloyalty to the Quaid-i-Azam and it logically resulted in Zia-ul-Haq’s dictatorship and passage of the Blasphemy Law.

Opposing this resolution in the parliament, Suresh Chandar Chattopadhiya had said: “In our view this resolution is totally unnecessary. What is important is that we prepare a Constitution not that we pass an ideological resolution explaining the aims and objectives of the constitution. Until now we were thinking that the religion will not be mingled with politics. Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had declared this in this very house. But the resolution which has been moved now is based on religion.” With the passage of the Objectives Resolution Pakistani politics became a part of faith.

Misuse of the Law against Blasphemy
The blasphemy laws were legislated and subsequently made stricter to ensure protection to the minorities. But their blatant abuse have shown that even the Muslims were becoming victim of these laws. The most recent example is provided by gory murder of one Danish Robart in Sialkot jail,here I also want to mention Yusuf Kizab murder in the Kot Lakhpat Jail by an activist of the banned Sipahe-i-Sahaba. Yusuf had been sentenced to death sentence under the blasphemy laws. The worst example was the suicide of Father John Joseph on May 6, 1998. Dr Joseph, the Bishop of Faisalabad, committed suicide in front of the Sessions Court, Sahiwal to protest against the death sentence of a Christian Ayub Masih, pronounced by the court under the blasphemy law.

The blasphemy law was enacted by the British to protect the religious sentiments of the Muslim minorities in the subcontinent against the Hindu majority. After the creation of Pakistan as the Muslims were no more a minority, the law should have been abolished. But it was made more stringent: Section 295-A was enacted in 1927 (Pakistan Penal Code). In 1980, Section 298-A was inserted. In 1982, Section 295-B was introduced. In 1986, Section 295-C was legislated. In 1991, life imprisonment was replaced with the mandatory death penalty in the Section 295-C.

When the blasphemy laws were not harsh and the Muslims were tolerant towards the non-Muslim minorities, the latter remained mindful of the religious feelings of the former. As the majority grew intolerant towards the minorities and the capital punishment was incorporated in the law, the cases of blasphemy started occurring more frequently. From 1948-1979, 11 cases of blasphemy were registered. Only three were reported from 1979-1986. Forty-four cases were filed from 1987-1999. In 2000, 52 cases were registered – 43 against the Muslims and nine against the Non-Muslims.

After Jinnah’s death, the ruling elite embraced the Machiavellian politics of the colonial rulers and divided the nation on religious, sectarian and linguistic bases. The blasphemy law is an integral part of this baleful politics that has made Pakistan a deeply divided society. History is full of incidents that remind us of the great love, amity, unity, and affinity between the Muslims and the non-Muslims.

Every other day we hear reports of someone being charged of blasphemy and the judges on duty award death sentence to such people when the charges are proven. In Pakistan the blasphemy law has often been used for settling personal scores. President General Musharraf had announced amendment to this law but later he had to back out. The higher court have not endorsed death sentence in any blasphemy case so far but the extremists have been misusing this law to harass the minorities. Even if the allegations prove false the person leveling such charges is not punished. Whenever such an incident takes place it harms Pakistan’s image in general. Religious fanaticism is very common in Pakistan and because of absence of a political process people tend to use force and gun for settling the issues.

General Zia regime and his legacy headed by Pakistan Muslim League created an environment in which murder in the name of Islam became a legitimate act. A number of innocent people have been charged with blasphemy and killed in the name of Islam. It is a fact that no sensible and sane person can ever think of doing any such thing. Personal enmities can clearly be seen behind the blasphemy cases. We find “personal enmities”, “fictitious stories” and “planning” behind the massacre in Shantinagar,Gojra,Sambrial and Bahmniwal. The gory drama of murder and arson staged in Shantinagar is still live in the memories of the local people. In Gojra and Shantinagar, houses of Christians were set on fire, churches were demolished, hostels for boys and girls were destroyed and thousands of copies of the Holy Bible were burnt right in the presence of the police. In Gojra innocent Women Children’s and even animals burnt alive. People have been killed and stoned to death in our country using the section of law 295 C. How many houses have been destroyed to get a house in the heavens?

Political and civil rights
There is simple formula about the rights. If political and civil rights are granted, economic, social and cultural rights automatically follow. There is no country in the world where the whole population consists of only one ethnic or social group. In all the countries several minorities groups are a part of their population. The relationship between the minority and the majority is the yardstick through which we can judge the level of freedom in a particular country. Rights of the minorities are important to all those people who respect human liberties. No such country can be called a liberal democracy that does not recognize, enforce and respect the rights of minorities.

When we talk about the rights of minorities the purpose is to promote a diverse society where people of various groups respect each other and are ready to learn from and understand each other. Such interaction forms the basis of stronger relations between the people of a diverse society. The awareness of rights of the minorities is increasing all over the world and this awareness in particularly increasing in the underdeveloped and extremist countries. The most important right among the rights of minorities is to let them participate in the decision making process.

Unfortunately the minorities have not been given full political and civil rights in Pakistan. Under the law no non-Muslim, no matter how intelligent and capable be, can’t become the President, Prime Minister, a senator, a governor or the Chief Justice of Pakistan. Many judges have been transferred from the high courts only because of their religion or sect considering the fact that holding this position they might become chief justice one day. The government must realize that the loyalties of the minorities cannot be won by depriving them of civil and political rights. Rather those can be won by giving them more and more opportunities to make decisions about their future. This diversity should not be taken as a threat but as an additional asset. Only this can bring peace and harmony among various groups and people.

Media, social prejudices and discrimination
If one glances the school textbooks or watches the programs at the state-run media they appear to be full of religious prejudice and hatred. The majoritarian view dominates in them. We find in our degree level textbooks that there are only two nations in the world: one the Muslims and the other non-Muslims. Under such conditions national solidarity cannot be developed. The tragedy with the minorities in Pakistan has been that they are always viewed with an eye of skepticism. In every field they are treated with extreme indifference and apathy. The plight and problems of the minorities have never been included in the national political agenda.

All the governments in Pakistan admitted their mistakes when they were ousted from power. They also assured that the mistakes would not be repeated in future. After being ousted from power the Muslim League (N) and Peoples Party realized that the minorities have been facing discrimination. The code of ethics issued by the ARD at the time of its formation and the commitment it had made to the nation, also included the point that no one will be discriminated on the basis of religion or gender.

One among various complaints the minorities have in Pakistan is that the Pakistani media has ignored them throughout the past 62 years. The majority community owns most of the national press and the government controls the electronic media. Our governments in the past used the electronic media only for disseminating their own views.

Religious and ethnic minorities and marginalized communities like haris (landless peasants), the newspapers often ignore kiln workers, children, women and rural areas. As far as the electronic media is concerned, the doors of electronic media are closed for the minorities. No programs about the problems of minorities are ever broadcast through the electronic media. The attitude of Pakistani media towards the poets, writers, journalists and artists from the minority communities has been deplorable. Journalists, writers and intellectuals cherishing the minority views are not given any opportunity to propagate their views.

Poor Christian girls and women become target of religious hatred and are dishonored. The culprits are not punished. The nationalization of Christian educational institutions not only affected their performance but also darkened the future of Christian youth. This has created a vacuum and a crisis.

The Christians do not get admissions in their own educational institutions. Because of the religious discrimination and social prejudices intelligent people from the minorities move to United States, Canada and European countries. In the jails minority prisoners are not given the same facilities, which the Muslim prisoners get.

When the government allots lands to the landless tenants, minority tenants are not given a share. The rulers do not find it necessary to consult the minorities while taking any important decisions regarding them. Instead of taking a critical view of their own thoughts, approach and policies the rulers prefer to adopt an uncertain and ambiguous attitude. Whenever the minorities demand their rights, they are told that they enjoy the freedom and security to go to their places of worship and offer their prayers but now it is a question of rights and equal rights rather mere security and freedom to worship.

Attacks on churches and Christian institutions: A new trend
After Pakistan’s decision to join the global war against terrorism some elements of the outlawed religious extremist organizations have launched a violent campaign to stop government’s moves to promote a liberal and progressive image of Pakistan. First, Christian churches were their target but now the offices of NGOs have also being targeted. Innocent Christians are being killed in these terrorist attacks. Despite all the measures taken by the government, religious fanaticism is still prevalent in Pakistan. From the Bahawalpur Church to the Justice and Peace Commission office and the Gojra, innocent people were brutally killed and burnt alive. All these incidents have created a feeling of insecurity among the minorities. Many more incidents of this kind are possible looking at the level of extremism in Pakistan.


Relation between minorities and state
Any society becomes isolated when conflicts of interest among various classes and groups start deepening. Among the societies of third world countries this isolation and indifference is growing very fast. Avoiding responsibilities is the biggest indicator of this trend in these societies. An individual finds the meanings of his life in a political and social background but if the polity is indifferent towards him then the individual becomes socially and politically isolated. Every individual and group creates meanings of its own existence. If that is not possible then people get into social and political isolation. The main factor behind this isolation and indifference is the society, which is based on injustice and inequality. Separate electorates promoted an unjust society in which our political institutions and rulers had no contact with the minorities.

In an unjust society people tend to find refuge in regional, religious and ethnic loyalties rather than the national loyalties. In Pakistan Sindhi, Baluch and Pathan nationalism, affiliation with ethnic, religious and minority groups gives psychological and social satisfaction to the people.

But these loyalties lead to divisions and further divisions in a society. Because of this division and uncertain social, economic and political conditions no collective Pakistani culture has taken shape so far. This cultural chaos has made people indifferent towards the society. There is no collective objective nor is there any sense of collective responsibility. So much so that we are not ready to even trust each other.

The concept welfare government emerges when through social evolution a society realizes that it is responsible for the fundamental rights of all its citizens. Unfortunately, in Pakistan governments have never been responsible for the fundamental rights. They excluded the minorities from the fold of Pakistani nation by introducing separate electorate.

The “prolonged silence” of the rulers over the problems of minorities is clear evidence that the relationship between the minorities and the state has continuously been that of disappointment, isolation and indifference.

The minorities will not get all their rights in a flash of time. Continuity of political process is required for restoration of their rights and the entire nation must work for that. We believe if the political process continues and proper laws and rules are there only then political violence, religious extremism and intolerance will come to an end and a liberal society can come into being. A real democracy, which respects the rights of all its citizens, will get roots. Democracy requires a collective diverse society and good human being are born in a diverse society. The philosophy of nationalism develops only through this process.

[Junaid Qaiser is secretary general of Pakistan Minorities Journalists Association]



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