Beyond Platitudes: How Naya Pakistan Can Fulfill Its Commitment To Protecting Minorities
In December 2018 Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a proclamation that his government would show Prime Minister Modi how minorities should be treated and in July 2019 he again highlighted how minorities are treated in Islam and how they were protected in the State of Madinah and in Islam. All of that is indeed true but there has been little action in forwarding any minority rights policy. The administration should be commended for the steps it has taken, but concrete measures which can solidify these protections remain absent. The government’s commitments on this front remain largely remain empty words, so far.
Pakistan was a country that was formed as a consequence of not granting a large minority its rights. Its founding father along with so many others spent decades fighting for minority rights by asking the British government to create effective legislation to protect Muslim rights. These discussions repeatedly happened, leading finally to the creation of Pakistan and that very effective minority that spent 100 years asking for rights suddenly found itself a majority. And sadly it began doing the very thing it had spent 100 years fighting.
Despite the constitution enshrining equal rights and freedom of religion, Pakistan remains a country which has failed in protection of both. In such cases, the government is expected to pass effective legislation which can strengthen and protect those rights. However Pakistani governments past and present have remained blind to this. It has only increased the plight of minorities in Pakistan.
In 2014, The Supreme Court of Pakistan passed a landmark judgment in a suo moto case on a church bombing in Peshawar. In that judgment, Justice Tasadaq Hussain Jillani highlighted the plight of minorities in Pakistan and ordered the government to immediately pass effective legislation protecting minority rights. He also ordered the government to constitute task forces which would bring forth policies to protect minorities, promote a curriculum that would enhance cultural-religious harmony and tolerance, create especially trained police forces which would protect public sites associated with minorities and national commissions to oversee it all. This judgment was notable for its acceptance that Pakistan does not have any constituted minority rights forums, commissions or legislation.
Post this order, the national assembly saw the presentation of three bills for creation of a national commission for protection of minorities and all three stand forgotten now – since none were passed. The ministry for religious affairs, which focuses solely on one religion, stated that such a commission already exists since 1992 but failed to take into account that the said commission is nothing more than a committee of people who have done absolutely nothing to advance minority rights, since there exist no rules of business nor legislation to allow the commission to work effectively.
The Sindh government did pass its own national minority commission bill in 2015 which awarded the commission many powers including checks on government, protection of minorities as well as powers to act upon complaints about violations of minority rights with powers of a civil court in accordance with the ‘Code of Civil Procedure 1908’ for attendance and document presentation. It also looked to establish human rights courts in Sindh. However the commission cannot provide relief and can only ask the provincial government to initiate proceedings and deliver all information collected upon the complaint. Although this has helped many members of minority communities, a commission is by no means a sword or shield with which minorities can protect themselves.
The current government is in power in three provinces along with the center. It can immediately pass legislation which can expedite minority rights cases through summary proceedings as well as creation of separate courts for their cases along with harsh punishments for those that violate these rights. The government can do much more right away to legislate on protection of religious places and to prevent forced conversions. These legislations can go a long way in protecting minorities and make Pakistan a safe haven for all.
Prime Minister Imran Khan must be lauded for all the steps he has taken so far but it must be understood and stated very clearly that these do not constitute the level of protection for minority rights that the 21st century demands.
The State of Madinah didn’t just allow minorities to barely practice their religion or faith. It protected them and took severe and harsh actions against those that looked to violate their rights.
PM Khan’s words will remain empty till the parliament, under his guidance and administration, looks to pass effective minority rights legislation which will see creation of commissions, special courts, special procedures, special protections and safeguards for the protection of minorities. And on that day, he can proudly state that he took inspiration from the State of Madinah, and display it not just for India but for all of the world to see.
The writer is a lawyer and an animal rights activist working through his association B.R.U Law Associates and the NGO Pro-Nature. He can be reached via [email protected]