AS Christmas is celebrated today around the world and in Pakistan, it is worth reflecting on this country’s chequered record regarding its religious minorities, including but not restricted to the Christian community.

Arguably, one of the biggest stories this year was the acquittal of Aasia Bibi — who spent years in jail on allegations of blasphemy — by the Supreme Court.

There is reason for hope in the fact that the judgement was announced in difficult times, but there is also the reality that the verdict was followed by a right-wing backlash from some sections of society.

Read more: Pakistan rejects 'politically motivated' listing as violator of religious freedoms by US

Indeed, Mr Jinnah’s words — that carry special significance on the occasion of his birthday today — that Pakistanis are free to go to their respective places of worship, and that religion has “nothing to do with the business of the state”, have yet to translate into a secure reality for the minorities.

The truth is that minorities in Pakistan do not feel safe as society has moved far from the intentions of its founding father, and the state has done little to rein in those who spew venom on adherents of a faith not their own. It has simply stood by as various minority communities have for years been relentlessly targeted by hardline groups.

Whether it is the Christians of Gojra, the Hazaras of Balochistan, the Hindus in Sindh, or the Kalasha people of Chitral, despite all the laws on the books Pakistan has proved a formidable environment.

Read more: Target killing of Hazaras

The only hope lies in the stringent implementation of the law, where those that harass and threaten beleaguered communities are pursued and successfully prosecuted.

This was envisioned as a country where minorities have exactly the same rights as the majority population. It will not do to target religious differences that have for centuries made this region unique.

The dark clouds under which Pakistan’s religious minorities labour are a reality that will require much effort to dispel. It is time to return to Mr Jinnah’s vision.

Published in Dawn, December 25th, 2018

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