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ICC Note: As Pakistan prepares for national elections later this month, political parties once again are voicing their stance on the rights of religious minorities, including Christians. During each election cycle, politicians promise safeguards and affirmative action for religious minorities, but these promises rarely get turned into action. Will this election cycle be any different?

07/09/2018 Pakistan (Dawn) – Come election time and political parties become vocal about their stance regarding the rights of religious minorities in the country. Despite the endless promises of safeguards and affirmative action, in practice, these parties rarely translate those assurances into action, and they remain mere lip service.

In 2013, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), poised to win the most seats in the country, presented a manifesto which promised the introduction of a job quota for religious minorities in “educational institutions and public sector jobs including diplomatic missions”. Five years on, religious minorities await its implementation.

In the aftermath of a deadly attack on All Saints Church in Peshawar in 2014, then chief justice of Pakistan Tassaduq Hussain Jillani took suo motu notice of the state of religious minorities in the country and issued an eight-point directive to improve their situation. They include: job quota, educational quota, protective police force to guard places of worship, a national commission for minority rights, etc. At the time, the PML-N led government had vowed to see the implementation of the directive through, but in practice, pushed the matter aside.

Does this mean that parliamentarians in the assemblies are not doing what they are meant to do? Mary James Gill, who recently served as an MPA of the PML-N, says that she has had reservations over the system of a separate electorate and the way minority candidates are brought to the assembly. She says that although they should be more active, they have no training or capacity-building exercise that could help them serve their constituencies in a better way. This is a gap that was being filled by NGOs, even though their role, too, has been minimized.

“Let me clarify, most parliamentarians have not read the manifesto properly and [do not know] what it promises,” she says. “Despite the problems many minority parliamentarians have tried to be as vocal as possible. Not everything has been changed as promised, but some things have.” She highlights the need for a roadmap to address issues of religious minorities, but she feels that those in the corridors of power are not interested. “Everything has to go through the minister, and that is where the voices of parliamentarians are slowly and eventually muffled,” she shares.

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