Pakistan Must Improve Its Stained Minority Rights Record
I have spent enough time in different Western countries, where Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), freedom of the press and basic human rights lubricate every cog of the state to promote the values of diversity, inclusiveness, and cohesion. However, such diverse experiences of multicultural and pluralist democracies present a plausible explanation why Pakistan’s current system has ravaged religious minorities and democratic voices to suffer alone in silence.
As with so many instances, governments are remembered for their leaders and the course they set for their country. Although religion has become incredibly fashionable, our political leaders, religious actors and public bodies have a critical role to spin the wheels of cohesive public policy and democratic values, yet so far no one has taken up this offer in Pakistan.
The unprecedented action of the European Parliament on 29th April 2021 to reassess the trade ties with Pakistan should be enough to send chills deep down the spine of the present government. Significantly, the resolution also called for the commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to immediately review Pakistan’s eligibility for GSP+ status in the light of current events, which poses a serious threat to freedom of religion and speech. The commission will also, investigate whether there are sufficient grounds to trigger a temporary withdrawal of this status.
We must be brutally honest when we trace answers to our failures before we point a finger at others. If you have missed observing why the EU Parliament voted to review the trade ties with Pakistan, then let me summarise it for you.
Firstly, Pakistan’s sequential failure to learn lessons from its failed egalitarianism that have applied pressure on media outlets and misuse of power against minorities has changed the worldview of freedom of religion and expression in Pakistan. The country’s serial incompetence to engineer policies for judicial reforms and rule of law to implement Human rights recommendations to achieve international benchmarks has positioned Pakistan in perils. The authorities’ failure to address the fault lines of misuse of blasphemy law, forced conversions, hate material in textbooks and faith-based violence has alarmed the international community by the unprecedented scale of human rights abuses.
Perhaps, the wind turbines of freedom might be spinning since the independence of Pakistan but when it comes to the protection of the rights of minorities through legislative or policy reforms, we are going round and round.
Last year, the standing committee on Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony scrapped the Protection of Minorities Rights Bill on account of frivolous observation, termed it a part of the agenda of Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs). One member of the committee even stated that a bill for the protection of the rights of Muslims in Pakistan should be presented instead.
Such dismissive attitudes when it comes to human rights have sourced grave destruction of the rights of vulnerable communities, which cannot be paid off by any amount of chest-beating. It is heart-breaking to see such marginal opportunities for legislative reforms are flushed down by entrenched lines of incompetence and racism of contemporary imperial mind-sets.
Now to maintain Pakistan’s status in the GSP+ programme the European Commission and its foreign affairs arm, the EEAS, is required to assess both human and minorities’ rights. Whereas minorities’ condition across Pakistan continues to trend negatively including thousands of crimes that go unsolved every year and perpetrators of such crimes walk away at liberty, which will never heal the personal loss as well as a national shame.
Secondly, the melting berg of tolerance and dialogue suggests how policymakers, religious actors and other stakeholders have failed to upscale democratic practices in Pakistan. Despite Western paranoia and calls for justice from the international community, the government still demonstrates no interest to advance the frameworks of dialogue and creating spaces for minorities, journalists, faith-based organisations, and human rights defenders.
The story of tight-lipped minorities tells us, the streams of systematic racism and intolerance flow unimpeded in the organs of our society. Every government appears to be sleepwalking in the crisis of growing religious intolerance, which is essentially important to rebrand the image of Pakistan in the global race.
As a result, the EU Parliament calls on Pakistan to unequivocally condemn incitement to violence and to ensure non-discrimination in access to basic services including health care and education on the grounds of religious affiliation. There is a dire need to discover new avenues for dialogue that re-focus both national and international relations on the creation of consensus.
Thirdly, Pakistan’s resources remain acutely constrained for religious minorities; from the fair implementation of the 5% job quota to the proportionate representation of minorities in the Parliament and to establish an independent National Commission for Minorities. Nevertheless, we have recklessly disappointed religious minorities on many fronts. In the meantime, the idealists of Riyasat-e-Madina seem to fall deep asleep!
Crucially, the government’s elongated blindness over the misuse of the blasphemy law, and loopholes in the criminal justice systems undermining the rule of law have planted enough seeds to provoke a moral panic as we have seen in the EU Parliament. Despite stark challenges, Pakistan’s minorities continue to serve in the armed forces, civil services, medical professions, teaching, and judiciary. They show passion and integrity in their roles demonstrating their commitment and love for their nation.
Finally, this is a plain truth that present circumstances have turned the political elite into the nation’s most untrustworthy brand. Sadly, there is not a single piece of justice in this story. However, it is never too late to step up, show compassion and take responsibility. We must not forget our life does not flash before our eyes, it is only regret that haunt us in the final moments.