Pakistani Christian leader calls for a strong and rooted party for minorities
by Jibran Khan
Cornelius Mohsin, an entrepreneur with a passion for politics, has lived for years in the U.S.. Friend and collaborator of Shahbaz Bhatti, he may return to his country of origin and contribute to the emergence of a political movement that promotes the rights of minorities and better schooling. The project is welcomed by the Bishop of Islamabad, who ensures the support of Catholics.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) - The situation of religious minorities in Pakistan, the violence perpetrated in the name of the blasphemy law, exclusion of Christians from the political framework and the creation of a strong movement, able to impose itself on a national level to protect the rights of all citizens. These are among the many issues addressed by Cornelius Mohsin, Pakistani Christian leader, in an interview with AsiaNews. He has lived for some years in Philadelphia, the United States, but never lost touch with his country of origin. Mohsin emphasizes the importance of education for the development of Pakistan and does not exclude the possibility of a return home, to work in the political and institutional framework to protect the rights of non-Muslims. A project also welcomed by the Bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi Rufin Anthony, who sees him as a "new hope", because he is a "political expert" able to lift "the hopes of minorities after the death of Shahbaz Bhatti." "We would welcome Mohsin with warmth in Pakistan - adds the prelate -, the Catholic Church will support him in the battle in favour of minorities in Pakistan."
Cornelius Mohsin, 65, was born in Rawalpindi and since the 1980s took part in the political life of the country. A close associate of Shahbaz Bhatti, he moved to the United States, where he set up a business. He studied at the University of Rawalpindi and has always pursued dual activities as a politician and businessman. He speaks of his intention to leave America and return to Pakistan to resume the political struggle and the battle to protect religious minorities.
Here, below, an AsiaNews interview with Cornelius Mohsin:
How would you rate the political reality of Pakistan and the role played by Christians and minorities?
The political process in Pakistan is still in its infancy, because for most of the last 64 years power remained has firmly in the hands of the establishment, and since it was replaced by a civilian government, it has never been able to move freely, to apply its own ideas. Even today the majority of politicians of the first band has been reared and nurtured by the army, to which they respond with the obligation to promote its political agenda. The growth of real leadership is always blocked by different elements which make reference to the establishment.
Unfortunately, as regards the reality of the Christians, they were never able to give life to a national leadership capable of defending the problems of religious minorities of Pakistan and as citizens.
The Christians did not have a say on the occasion of the great events that have marked the country's recent history: the split in 1971 between West and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the fight against terrorism in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in New York, economic, social decisions, the battle against corruption and so on. Secondly, there are attempts to amend the 295 law of the Pakistan Penal Code - the infamous anti-blasphemy provisions, ed - and the approval of Shariah in the National Assembly, which was rejected by the Senate. For a short period of time we had Shahbaz Bhatti in the national political landscape, but his voice was silenced by murder. And the current leader Paul Bhatti – Shahbaz’s brother - seems to have failed in his task of facing the challenges posed by the current reality. There is clearly a need for a strong and well established organization to protect minorities, one that has a leadership of worth.
Do you think that the Pakistani government is doing enough to control extremist religious sentiments?
So far I have not seen any serious effort by the executive. There are federal agencies responsible for overseeing the application of the law, which does not affect even the fundamentalist groups. And when some elements are caught, the court orders their release for lack of evidence. The television show and social media programs dedicate themselves to promoting hatred, intolerance for other religions, including Jews, Hindus and Christians. Still, the Parliament has failed in the task of promoting the application of the law so that these elements can be adequately controlled.
How do you view the current status of the religious minorities in Pakistan?
Pakistani Christians are still considered second class citizens of Pakistan. There are constitutional discriminations as well as social discriminations and with both of them non-Muslims are suffering in there. Every day you can easily read stories of forced conversions, dispossession of land, desecration of cemeteries, Hindus and Christians, kidnappings of young girls non-Muslim discrimination in school, at work and a general hatred and widespread. Not to mention the cases of blasphemy ... families are victims of provocations and threats and civil justice is not achieved easily. Ex-governor Sulman Taseer’s murderer has been treated as a hero. At the beginning, the birth of Pakistan was made possible thanks to the presence of a moderate Muslim leaders such as Ali Jinnah, with a promise to make Pakistan a country in which there is equality among religions, sects and faiths and that is still missing in Pakistan. We need to adopt a multi-prong, out of box strategy for improvement in the condition of religious minorities.
Do you think is it the lack of leadership is responsible for the current status of the religious minorities?
I absolutely agree with the statement. Today we see so called leadership divided in integration or segregation without giving attention to our particular set of problems which can only be addressed if we have nationwide minority political party which makes alliances with mainstream parties with a special focus on the minority agenda. Otherwise we will always be divided into small factions, and we are not able to capture the attention of the Muslim leadership at the national level. We need to develop a strong party, rooted in the territory and with a wide participation, with a leadership with vision, commitment and ability to achieve the objectives.
Do you think that amending the Blasphemy laws will change the condition of the religious minorities as demanded by many minority parties?
The blasphemy law is one part of the bigger problems which non-Muslims are facing now. Some religious entities, major political parties are convinced and some court decisions are proof that the misuse of blasphemy law is occurring in most cases. Therefore we must begin dialogue to make them understand where we are coming from. This should not be done on TV talk shows but in private. However there are other areas which are never touched by our leaders, we do not have true and fair censes of non-Muslims in Pakistan. International agencies speak of a given around 8-10%, which is probably underestimated and does not take into account the Ahmadis. Representation in assemblies is inadequate thus ineffective, representation in assembly should ensured by reserve seats for non-Muslims. After the death of Shahbaz Bhatti, there is no-one in the executive to represent the minorities, then how can they be part of the political process and how they can assume positions of power ... And also from the social point of view it is difficult to obtain health care, education, work. You need a package of planned and sustainable socio-economic development, to help minorities have active role and become future players in Pakistan.
Which political party in your view can bring a change in Pakistan?
Any movement that is not part of the establishment and any party that wants to see a tolerant, moderate, democratic and prosperous Pakistan. I do not see a party capable of reaching 2 / 3 in parliament in the near future, but an alliance between some parties - including the PPP, MQM, ANP - could be considered less evil at the political level and enjoy our support.
Mr. Mohsin, how important is education for the future of Pakistan?
Education is very important and plays a vital role in the life of each country. In Pakistan, the schooling rate is very low when compared with the nations of the area. The government spends less than 2% of GDP on education and our schools do not meet the standards of the world average. However, there is the desire for better education among the people, which is essential to secure the best opportunities in rural areas. Pakistan must tagare the defense budget, which is about 8% of total GDP. And the entry of private channels, internet and social networking is slowly changing the country for the better. Education involves more awareness and more democracy, and an improvement of society. Perhaps it is precisely for this reason that the government does not want to invest in education ...