05/16/2012, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Islamabad: Paul Bhatti proposes University for the Arts and Religions to counter persecution

He presents the idea at a seminar on forced conversions. New laws should be adopted to protect non-Muslims from the practice. Ultimately, only education will lead to the nation's progress. He also proposes the creation of polytechnic colleges in poor rural areas with quotas for minorities.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - Education and knowledge are the path to fight social injustice, marginalisation and violence that affect the victims of forced conversions in Pakistan, said Paul Bhatti, special national harmony adviser to Prime Minister Gilani. He spoke at a seminar in Islamabad organised by his ministry and the federal government, titled 'To stop forced conversion of religion'. In his address, he laid out two proposals to improve the country's education level. One would see the creation of a University for the Arts and Religions. The other calls for the establishment of polytechnic colleges in rural areas with special quotas for minority communities.

Paul Bhatti, brother of Shahbaz Bhatti, federal Minority Affairs minister slain by Muslim extremists on 2 March 2011, is pursuing his work to improve the country's development and boost equality between Muslims and non-Muslims.

In yesterday's meeting in the capital, sponsored by the National Harmony Ministry, he called on intellectuals, philosophers and activists of all faiths to contribute to the nation's development. A special role, he added, belongs to the National Commission on the Status of Women and to the Council of Islamic Ideology who are called to make useful suggestions and proposals.

Urging the authorities to review existing rules regarding forced conversions that have failed so far to stop this trend, Paul Bhatti offered concrete solutions to "help poor peasants from minority communities move into the main stream of economic and social development through long-term solutions."

In order to achieve this goal, he said he would ask public and private banks to offer them small loans. However, only knowledge and education can lead to real development for the nation and for those relegated to the margins of society.

One of the proposal the prime minister's adviser made would see the creation of "polytechnic colleges in rural areas with quotas for non-Muslim students." Only this can create "job opportunities and economic uplift for the oppressed classes of society."

In terms of interfaith harmony, Paul Bhatti proposed the establishment of a University for the Arts and Religions in Islamabad.

It would the first of its kind in Pakistan. "All religions would be taught with equal dignity and value," he said. It would be a way to promote a "tolerant and peaceful nation" in the world.

Finally, Bhatti suggested that minorities should be given a bigger quota of seats in the Senate, the National Assembly and provincial assemblies.

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