The National Assembly of Pakistan passed a resolution yesterday calling for the protection of religious minorities and their places of worship. The resolution called on the government to take the necessary steps to protect religious holy places from attack including the deployment of special police units to protect religious building in areas where terrorists could attack. Pakistani religious leaders have had mixed reactions to the passing of this resolution. Some hail it as progress. Others claim it is useless because religious minorities are already protected by the constitution. What matters now is action. Will Pakistan take the necessary steps to protect religious minorities?
5/16/2014 Pakistan (Asia News) – A resolution passed by the National Assembly yesterday has met with a mixed reaction among religious leaders, activists and members of civil society.
Adopted unanimously, the motion calls on the government to take appropriate measures to protect the holy places of religious minorities, including the deployment of special units at sites located in sensitive “areas at risk of terrorist attacks”.
The initiative’s main sponsor is Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a lawmaker from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), but it has broad support across the political spectrum.
“This House strongly condemns the attack on holy places of minorities,” the resolution said. Equally, it called on “the government to safeguard the holy places” and “prevent any [. . .] incidents in the future”.
Although not binding on the Pakistani government, the measure is highly symbolic and could have practical implications for the near future.
Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad/Rawalpindi, calls the move a “positive step” that could send “a positive signal in the context of strong tensions”.
The Pakistani Ulema Council spokesman Muhammad Hafeez noted that, in the past, attempts were made to set up an Authority to “protect places of worship” but “corrupt” elements in society ended up undermining the project. “I certainly hope this does not happen again,” he said.
For Fr Arshed John, from the Archdiocese of Lahore, this is an “encouraging” step because each outbreak of violence against minorities “is associated with an attack on places of worship.”
Harish Chand, a Hindu religious leader from Sindh, backs the initiative because “in the past Hindu temples were targeted by attacks.” He hopes that “this step does not remain only on paper.”
By contrast, Paul Bhatti, a former federal minister for National Harmony and leader of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), does not mince his words. For him, “a resolution in the Assembly was not necessary”.
According to the Constitution of Pakistan, he explains, the head of state has a duty to protect the places of worship of religious minorities. Islamic law too requires that “places of worship be protected,” which is a “government responsibility.” Hence, there was “no need for a resolution.”
For the Catholic leader, it is more important to remember that most of the times people involved in serious crimes against minorities are not investigated, like in the Joseph Colony case in Lahore where more than a hundred houses were burnt but the perpetrators are still free.
“It is a meaningless resolution,” Bhatti insists. What counts is “to apply existing rules and protect the innocent, who are too often the victims of violent extremist groups.”