The real National Action Plan
Equality of citizenship
In their recent about-to-publish research, “Equality of Citizenship in the Parliament” both, very beautifully, proved that the solution to our problems lies in ultimate equality of the citizens
You are free; you are free to say anything; to the nation and to its “servants” but that has nothing to do with the business of the State. The State of Pakistan replied to Mr Jinnah, its founder, soon after his suspicious demise. From Liaquat Ali Khan, the first premier, until now, the state is trying its best keep Jinnah’s mouth shut but somehow, he continues to remind from his Samanid’s inspired Mausoleum that the future and fortune of this nation belongs to his 11 August 1947 speech to the constituent Assembly of Pakistan.
The nation of 200 million “citizens”, hanging between the jurisdictions and functioning of special, military and anti-terrorism courts, bleeding heavily in FATA, KPK, Balochistan, Sindh, GBT and parts of Southern Punjab, is finding solutions to its problems in anti-terrorism laws and National Action Plan but in vain. Protection of minorities’ bill and minority rights commissions are failing to do any favour. Why? Because of all these laws, efforts, and APCs never tried to treat our citizens equally.
For us, SP Singha the only, first and last non-Muslim speaker of the Punjab Assembly is not an indelible personality. Wing Commander Mervyn Middlecoat, Janitor Pervez Masih, Akash Bashir, Haroon Javed Masih, Dr Abdus Salam, Dorab Patel, Ardeshir Cowasjee, Julius Salik and Bapsi Sidhwa are second-grade citizens of the state. In such frightful times, there are a few who still think that they need to advocate for the equality of all citizens in Pakistan. Zafarullah Khan and Hifsa are two such instances in Pakistan.
In their recent about-to-publish research, “Equality of Citizenship in the Parliament” both, very beautifully, proved that the solution to our problems lies in ultimate equality of the citizens. Specialisation may solve the problem for a short span of time but actually it deepens the divide in the longer run. Zafar, now the executive director of Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Services (PIPS), thinks that the war on terrorism can be won if the parliament repeals discriminatory laws against the minorities (Muslim and Non-Muslim) and a conducive environment for them is present in the country. Human rights are guaranteed in practice, without discrimination or threat of faith-based discrimination or violence. “Acceptance of diversity is the biggest National Action Plan”, Zafar said.
Hafsa Zafar, Executive Director of The Centre of Civic Education Pakistan, wrote that time had arrived for meaningful reforms and tangible steps to improvethe conditions of religious minorities in Pakistan.
- Review the constitutional and legal instruments on the statute book that put religious minorities in a disadvantageous position and vulnerable situations.
- Political parties as the agency of interest articulation shall adopt ‘inclusive culture’ of political participation by disbanding their separate wings for religious minorities and take tangible steps to mainstream them in the party structures at the federal, provincial and local levels.
- In order to ensure adequate representation of religious minorities in the representative democratic institutions increase the number of reserved seats in the National Assembly of Pakistan and all provincial assemblies that are corresponding to the increase in their population.
- The system of party lists for reserved seats be democratised to make it more transparent and inclusive to accommodate the genuine concerns of the religious minorities.
- Affirmative actions shall be taken to support and facilitate the religious minorities to directly contest constituencies in the elections for local, provincial and federal level democratic institutions.
- Religious minorities shall be given decision making and policy formulation positions in the governance structures including ministerial positions, and adequate representation in reforms committees like the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms.
- Honour the pledge made by the founding father of Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah on 11 August 1947, in his maiden speech.
- 11 August shall be celebrated as the day of ‘Equality of Citizenship’ instead of the Day of Minorities as officially designated in 2009.
- Create an empowered statutory Minorities Rights Commission in the country and provide the religious minorities’ an effective representation in rights based institutions like the National Commission for Human Rights and the National Commission on the Status of Women, etc.
- Take concrete steps to ensure strict adherence to job quotas reserved for the religious minorities.
- Undertake long-awaited educational reforms to highlight the contributions of the non-Muslims in the creation of Pakistan and their role in the development of the country.
- All intended reforms process must listen to the political and thought leaders of religious minorities as the major stakeholders.
Time has arrived for meaningful reforms and tangible steps to improve the conditions of religious minorities in Pakistan. The current practice of seeing Jinnah’s speech cited above as the ‘abandonment of the two-nation [Hindu-Muslim] theory’ shall be left at once because otherwise, our future is being ceased. In today’s world, recognition comes for those states where discriminations and bars are not imposed against a particular class for religion, caste or creed and another. A deliberate attempt by the state to ensure that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state is the call of time before the words of MA Jinnah, the father of the nation, who led the movement for an independent Pakistan, losetheir significance completely.
Our curriculum, even after multiple efforts to humanise it, is still targeting minorities to the fullest. This is because of the fact that in our curriculum design boards and committees, pure humanists are absent
For this the role of political parties is indispensable. Through them, the promotion of electoral turnout among marginalised and under-represented members of society can be done. Additional support, of course, can be sought from the civic and voter education programs specialised for such segments by the civil society organisations.
Community boards can also foster the inclusive participation through social audits and participatory process of local decision-making. Access to information by empowering the poor, women and minorities through civic engagement programs is also a way out but for this the need for an independent and pluralist media, information and communication technologies (ICTs) and e-governance is vital.
A beautiful instance was just displayed by the Sindh Assembly which passed the bill titled ‘Pakistan Minorities Rights Commission Act, 2016′. On 19 June 2014, a judgment of the Supreme Court of Pakistan gave hints to the lawmakers in this regard after a Church in Peshawar was attacked. In this judgment, the apex court directed the government to develop a strategy to promote religious tolerance in the country. It also coined the idea of constituting a “national council for minorities” to monitor if the rights guaranteed by the constitution to the minorities are being provided in real or not.
Sindh, however, has surpassed all other provinces in such lawmaking, by passing the “Protection of Minorities Bill” with provision for the life sentence against forced religious conversions. The legislators of Sindh also mandated a 21-day period for adults to consider their decision to convert and forbid minors from choosing another religion of their free will.
This week, on the eve of Eid Milad-un-Nabi, a charged mob in Chakwal besieged an Ahmadi place of worship. Our curriculum, even after multiple efforts to humanise it, is still targeting minorities to the fullest. This is because of the fact that in our curriculum design boards and committees, pure humanists are absent. Dr Bernadette L. Dean, a senior educationist and former member of the government-appointed advisory committee for curriculum and textbooks reforms, left the country ‘fearing for life’ after receiving threatening calls and facing a ‘hate propaganda campaign’. She was the torch bearer of the curriculum reforms committee that was trying to remove nothing but to include the text that would encourage the acceptance of minorities in Pakistani society.
Her fault was nothing, except she tried to teach the students that Islam is not the only religion in the world. She tried to make children accept the difference of opinion and religion. The textbooks she were facilitating to design were meant to create a generation that would celebrate diversity and accept the difference of religion and opinion as a normal and human characteristic.In Pakistan, even writing on such issues and showing concern for these activities can put your life in real danger. In 2014, The Crisis Group Asia Reported, “In Pakistan, it was found that historical facts were distorted and social as well as physical science teaching was aimed at fostering religious intolerance and xenophobia.”
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom report also noted that “Pakistan represents one of the worst situations in the world for religious freedom”. The report found that violations reached unprecedented levels because of growing incidents of sectarian violence and attacks against minorities.
If Pakistan and Pakistanis want respect in the community of nations they need to teach their children the beauty of diversity. The curriculum needs to be softened. My heart cries for every soul that departs because of this extremism in our country.
Can we work on the real national action plan?
The equality of citizenship.