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It is regrettable that the minorities in Pakistan have not been given full political and civil rights until date. How sad is it that a non-Muslim, no matter how intelligent and capable, cannot become the president, prime minister, senator, governor or even the chief justice.
From 1947 until now, minorities in Pakistan have faced several problems and threats from Islamic extremists, political violence and Taliban. The fact is that there are no minority rights in Pakistan.
There is no doubt that Pakistan is a diverse society in which minorities face threats from religious extremists and our society’s outdated customs. People have interpreted Islam according to their needs, and like every other religion, Islam too fell victim to orthodox dogma. As a nation, we are very religious minded and want to confirm our ticket to paradise by forcing non-Muslims to embrace Islam. The mainstream political forces divided the nation into ethnic, religious and sectarian lines for their gains.
Let’s look at the Objectives Resolution for example. In 1949, under the leadership of Liaquat Ali Khan, an attempt was made to declare non-Muslims second-class citizens, but Suresh Chandra Chattopadhyay opposed this resolution in the parliament. By this resolution, Muslims were given a free hand in all aspects, and people who belonged to another religion were left out from all segments of society. It was a step towards sectarianism, and with the passage of time, it flourished, and to date, we see its results.
Presently, Pakistan is gearing up for elections in July, which are expected to be the most aggressively contested polls in the country since the turn of the millennium. Every political party is working hard to mobilise its voters with slogans and promises. An air of uncertainty has enveloped a process essential to keeping Pakistan’s tenuous democratic credentials in place.
While speaking with a few minority friends at a town hall meeting, which was organised by a local organisation Marvi Rural Development Organisation in district Sukkur, I simply inquired if they were ready to cast their votes in the upcoming 2018 general elections. Their answers were amazing as they replied that elections are a festival for Muslims to which minorities have only been “invited”, but they have to stay “on the fringes” and not to take the centre-stage. They said not a single political party openly supported the rights of minorities in Pakistan. Few young fellows said non-Muslims should be awarded dual franchise. They should be given two ballot papers. They should cast one vote for a general seat candidate and the second to a member of their community.
Recently, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) released information on voters, and it showed an increase in minorities by 30 per cent over the previous election. That’s 3.63 million non-Muslim voters currently, of which Hindus are the majority (1.77 million).

So, will the minorities vote in the upcoming general elections?

Well, the answer can be yes and no. If we look at voter turnout in the past, we can see that minorities did come out to vote. They voted on individual preferences and for their local Muslim candidates. The murder of Christian Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, attacks on Christian neighbourhood in Lahore, and the killing of Hazara Shias in Balochistan, are some of few incidents targeting minorities in Pakistan. With such attacks pacing up, Muslim and non-Muslim minorities of Pakistan remain under constant threat from terrorist and fundamental elements. Non-Muslim minorities know that the blasphemy law can be used against them at any time leading to a death sentence with minimal proof. In these circumstances, and with almost no emphasis on safeguarding rights of minorities in Pakistan by leading political parties, one finds it hard to believe that minorities will be voting with zeal and commitment.

Article 51(2A) of Constitution provides ten reserved seats for religious minorities in the National Assembly, and 23 seats for minorities in the four provincial assemblies under Article 106. The political parties are provided reserved seats proportionally on their numerical strength in the legislature and candidates stand elected according to the order of the list provided by the party. The rationale for these reserved seats lies in the existing socio-religious situation in which non-Muslims cannot win by contesting general seats. Why this is so is a question the state has not addressed in 70 years.

Institutionalised bias and discrimination against religious minorities has created a suffocating atmosphere. It is a fact that the current minority representation through reserved seats is a farce that brings them closer into neither the national mainstream nor the business of the state. The government and political parties must realise that the loyalties of the minorities cannot be won by depriving them of civil and political rights. Rather they can be won by giving them more and more opportunities to make decisions about their own future. This diversity should not be taken as a threat but as an additional asset. Only this can bring peace and harmony among various groups and people.

While concluding, I want to request the ECP to keep an eye on all the political parties that if they restrict membership on religious grounds, then they should not be allowed to participate in the electoral process. It should be mandatory for registered political parties to allot tickets to non-Muslim candidates to contest elections on a number of seats according to the ratio of their population. Successful candidates would become representatives of an electorate that would include minorities as well.

Written By: Salman Ali
The writer is a social and political activist based in Lahore. He has done his Masters and MPhil in Communication Studies. He can be reached at salmanali088@gmail.com, and tweets@Salmani_salu
Couresty: Daily Times (July 8th 2018)

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