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Feathers of a pariah

October 24, 2013

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PAKISTAN continues to offer evidence of its lack of respect for the rights of religious minorities. This approach has been inviting censure at international forums.

A fortnight ago, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning Pakistan for violence against its Christian citizens. While the main provocation was the Sept 22 church massacre in Peshawar, reference was also made to the sack of Lahore’s Joseph Colony.

The resolution recalled that the Christians “suffer from prejudice and sporadic bouts of mob violence” and that a “majority of Pakistani Christians lead a precarious existence, often fearful of allegations of blasphemy”.

The resolution “calls for stronger action to ensure the protection of all Pakistani citizens — regardless of their religion or belief — and to bring to justice all groups and individuals responsible for carrying out acts of terror”.

Four days before the European Parliament spoke, Pakistani fanatics had given another unprecedented demonstration of their bestiality by digging up the body of a Bheel from the common Muslim-Hindu graveyard in a Badin village and throwing it in a field.

The state could not ensure Bhoro Bheel’s reburial in the ancestral graveyard and a landlord came to its rescue by offering a piece of land for burying Bhoro Bheel and other similarly disadvantaged citizens.

But no redress is in sight for the Ahmadis who were again singled out for persecution on Eidul Azha. At several places in Lahore, they were prevented from sacrificing animals. The police showed good sense by persuading some Ahmadis to avoid bringing their sacrificial animals out in public. But in one instance they failed to prevent a well-known agitator from entering an Ahmadi citizen’s house and threatening him for keeping a couple of goats there.

This was not as bad as the incident in Lahore last year when a person was identified as an Ahmadi after his sacrificial goat had been slaughtered and a cow that he had bought was in tow. He spent a night in the lock-up and was required to take the cow and the sacrificial lamb’s meat to the police station when the investigation officer wanted to decide whether or not he was to be booked for offence. Fortunately, he was not, but the incident showed the extent to which the virus of intolerance, especially against the Ahmadis, has infested the Pakistani people’s minds.

The European Parliament’s resolution should be read with the advice Pakistan has been receiving at the UN Human Rights Council since its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) began last year.

The report of the working group on Pakistan UPR, adopted on Nov 2 last, after Hina Rabbani Khar’s brave defence of Islamabad’s human rights record, contained 166 recommendations. Eight of them called upon Pakistan to guarantee the basic rights of religious minorities and repeal discriminatory laws, especially the blasphemy sections, and Namibia wanted Pakistan to also ensure that there is no immunity for those who commit hate crimes.

When the Human Rights Council discussed the report of the working group in March this year, Pakistan was urged to take steps to prosecute those taking part in religious acts of violence and step up efforts to fight discrimination and violence against minorities. The British delegate made a pointed reference to the attacks on Shias and anti-Christian riots and said the UK encouraged Pakistan to do all it could to protect minority communities.

Pakistan, in response, said: “As regards the recommendations made for the promotion and protection of the rights of minorities in Pakistan, all minorities are equal citizens of Pakistan and enjoy equal rights and protection. The extremist ideology espoused by a misguided fringe minority cannot undermine rights given to minorities by Islam and the Constitution of Pakistan….

“We agree that more needs to be done for the welfare of minorities in Pakistan. But it is important to underscore that there is no organised official intolerance toward religious minorities in Pakistan. Most cases of excess against members of minority communities are on account of personal animosities or an endeavour by a few extremist elements to impose their own agenda on both minority and majority communities.”

On another occasion, during a discussion on the report of the special rapporteur on independence of the judiciary, after her visit to Pakistan, the Pakistan representative declared:

“Blasphemy laws do not exist only in Pakistan. Similar laws are part of the legal framework in different parts of the world. Blasphemy laws in Pakistan deal with offences against all religions and apply to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Through constitutional amendment, safety checks have been introduced against the misuse of blasphemy laws.” (Emphasis added).

How many of Pakistan’s spokespersons can honestly own statements like these? What will they say if asked about the amendment to the Constitution that has checked the misuse of blasphemy laws, or when required to cite a case in which an offender against Christianity or Hinduism or against the belief of Shias or Ahmadis has been penalised?

Given the huge deterioration in the Pakistani people’s thought one should not be surprised to find some who will dismiss with hauteur the European Parliament’s call or the UN advice. But one hopes that saner elements are still there to remind the powers that be of Pakistan’s obligations as a civilised member of the comity of nations. There can be no pride or sense in unfurling one’s feathers as an international pariah.

It will not be enough to tell Pakistan’s envoys to increase elements of humility and truthfulness in their discourse at world forums or to realise that no responsible government can dismiss the wrongs done to its citizens as acts of a lunatic fringe. What is needed is visible action to end abuse of minorities’ rights so that our representatives abroad do not have to rely on half-truths and subterfuge in defending the state.