Recent comments from a member of Pakistan’s current ruling party, aimed at inciting hatred against religious minorities, has pushed the country’s inability or unwillingness to protect religious minorities to the forefront. In response to these comments, Pakistan’s ruling PMLN party has merely made public statements condemning the comments of its member without further action. This theme is common following attacks on religious minorities, especially Christians in Pakistan. Throughout the past 70 years, Pakistani Christians that have endure instances of violence or discrimination have also had to endure the promises of politicians for protection and justice that are as quickly made as they are broken. Will this ever change or will Christians remain second-class citizens in Pakistan?
10/20/2017 Pakistan (Daily Times) – Following Captain Safdar’s recent comments aimed at inciting hatred against religious minorities, the ruling party found itself with its back up against the wall. Thus it was swift to don the mask that offers public proclamations of equal rights for all in Pakistan. Yet underneath, the face remains the same.
The Prime Minister distanced the PMLN from the good captain’s poisonous words. Then came the turn of Nawaz Sharif to do the same, which he duly did. Yet, talk is cheap. Meaning that if the ruling party had been serious about taking one of its own to task over such inflammatory remarks — it would surely have revoked Safdar’s parliamentary membership, no questions asked. That it didn’t suggests that the latter was simply reading aloud from the real PMLN manifesto.
It would not be amiss to say that the party represents the country’s most forceful political force, with an overwhelming majority of its members seeking to fulfil personal objectives at the expense of the masses, whom they repeatedly bulldoze into silence by way of the undemocratic wielding of wealth and power. Indeed, it was during its previous regimes as well as those of its political forefathers that crushing discriminatory legislation was introduced and the Constitution duly amended. This inevitably impacted both the social standing and the presumed moral worth of Pakistan’s minorities; in short, jeopardizing their national civic life. It is, therefore, hard to take seriously this particular government’s lofty claims about providing everyone with a safe environment.
Twenty years ago, Shanti Nagar, a traditional Christian village in Sindh, was attacked by thousands of Muslims, carrying placards that read: “Kill the Christians”. And they did just that. It was one of the worst incidents of spontaneous violence against this community. Some 1,000 Christian homes were razed as well as four churches; with around 2,500 fleeing for their lives.
Both Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif, who had just seen their party win a landslide victory, travelled to Shanti Nagar to show solidarity with the local Christians there. It was a most superb public relations stunt, with television crews filming the pair as they ‘rebuilt’ a brick wall. Naturally, they vowed to bring the culprits to justice. Yet this never happened.
Fast-forward to 2009 and we come to the Gojra killings, whereby a group led by the banned sectarian outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba launched an attack against the Christians community there, when it burned to the ground some 40 houses; leaving eight dead and many more injured. The subsequent report into the incident pointed the finger of accusation at the PMLN over the performance of law enforcement agencies on its watch; which had not only failed to act on tip-offs prior to the massacre but had also booked a number of Christians on false charges of involvement in the violence. Almost as if to vindicate these findings, the suspension of two police officers proved to be a mere temporary measure. They were soon back on the force. Equally alarming was the election of the local PMLN leader for the area to Parliament in the 2013 general elections. Those Christians who could seek asylum abroad did so. Yet even here they faced persecution of sorts. Meaning that many were left stranded in Thailand with little assistance from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) following reassurances by a particular minority member of the government that Pakistan’s Christians faced no such threats to their very lives.
Then in March 2013, came the next wave of anti-Christian terror. In Joseph Colony, a Muslim mob burned down some 200 houses, dozens of small shops as well as two churches. Unsurprisingly, false allegations of blasphemy proved the trigger for more murderous violence. The then president, Asif Ali Zardari, ordered an inquiry while the then provincial law minister, Rana Sanaullah, pledged to take all necessary measures to secure justice for the Christian community. In reality, all that happened was that Sarwan Masih, the individual at the center of the blasphemy storm, was convicted under the most brutal legislation that General Zia had ever introduced and that the PMLN has refused to do away with.
The main issues of governance in Pakistan are linked to the quality and equal application of legislation. Most of the time, our lawmakers tend to forget that the country is also home to religious minorities and that these are almost entirely dependent upon the 97 percent-majority Muslim population for their very security. It may be true, in theory at least, that religion remains the cohesive force that unites all sections of this society. Yet minorities remain a distinct group with different religious affiliations; and for too long have successive governments failed to recognize this.