December 5th, 2021
Speakers for the session titled Impact of Extremism on Religious and Sectarian Minorities held on Day One of the Asma Jahangir Conference 2021 – Challenges to Human Dignity, noted that from the moment of its inception there has been an inherent confusion within the state machinery regarding its treatment of religious and sectarian minorities in the country.
Renowned public intellectual and moderator of the session Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy pointed out that right after the inception of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah delivered a speech in which he declared that minorities are free to practice their religion, a speech which was never repeated. It’s abandonment came soon when “merely 20 months after his death the then PM of Pakistan Liaquat Ali Khan introduced the Objective Resolution as a preamble to the constitution of the country.
The Secretary-General of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Harris Khalique, went one step further by highlighting the fact that even Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who is normally considered a liberal politician, was confused about the place Islam would have in the new state he was founding. “Jinnah talked about inclusion and exclusion at the same time,” said Harris while pointing out that while he did deliver the ‘you are free to go to your temples’ speech he also repeatedly declared, multiple times, that Pakistan will become a laboratory of Islam. And the passage of the Objective Resolution can be linked to this desire to create a modern ‘Islamic’ republic.
Mr. Laal Chand Malhi, a member national assembly from the ruling PTI, started by lamenting how Pakistani Hindus are considered Indians merely based on their religion. He did not mince his words while criticizing the role of the council of Islamic Ideology (CII) in creating an environment of impunity for religious extremists in the country. “The council of Islamic ideology has 20 members all of whom are Muslims and this constitutional body is tasked with protecting the rights of minorities. Take the example of the anti-forced conversion bill, where a notorious perpetrator of this crime Mia Mithu was invited to give his opinion on the bill. And after the meeting the council raised 42 objections on the forced conversion bill,” he declared.
Rights activist and member of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Kalpana Devi, started her speech by asking the audience “How can we (Pakistani Hindus) prove our Pakistaniyat?” Taking the discussion towards a lighter tone Kalpana Devi remarked that minorities in Pakistan are constitutionally barred from becoming heads of state. Though they are given positions in departments like excise and taxation for the procurement of alcohol (for the Muslim majority).
Qamar Suleman, the representative of the Jama’at-e-Ahmadiyya Pakistan, reminded the audience that the role of the state is to provide peace and security to the people and not to pass moral judgments on the religious beliefs of people. He believes that the Pakistani state and those running it bow down before extremists because they are a more coherent and organized voter base and if the civil society wants to push back against these elements they must organize and unify themselves as well. Pointing towards the recent agreement between the government and the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) he said that negotiating and compromising with extremists will never placate them as they are not after acceptance but absolute power. He heavily criticized the 1984 law which criminalizes his community for ‘posing as Muslims’ narrating personal experiences to establish his points. “My brother-in-law was kidnapped and shot to death, my daughter’s house was burned to the ground, such is the condition of my community in Pakistan,” he concluded.
The session ended with a brief address by the famous human rights lawyer and advocate Jalila Haider who highlighted the plight of Pakistan’s Shia community in general and the Hazara Shia community in particular. She expounded upon the recent killings of Hazara coal miners in Balochistan and the massive anti-Shia rallies conducted by Sunni Muslim groups in the aftermath of the Muharram processions to bring to light the extreme discrimination faced by Pakistani Shias. She concluded by stating that if the current situation persists Shias will soon be placed in the same category as Ahmadis, remarks which according to her caused an uproar from within her community when she delivered them at the last Asma Jahangir Conference.