04/03/2008, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Pakistani Church welcomes new government, hopes for real reforms

Qaiser Felix
In a press release the National Commission for Justice and Peace expresses appreciation for the efforts of the new government, urging it to uphold both an independent justice system and the principle of religious freedom. The Commission also urges ordinary citizens to help the government meet its challenges.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Church welcomes the new government of Pakistan that should be set up over the next hundred days, but is mindful that some important questions that concern the country have not yet been addressed. Reforms are needed to improve the human rights of Pakistani citizens, this according to a press statement released today by the National Commission for Justice and Peace and signed by the Archbishop of Lahore, Mgr Lawrence Saldanha, and its Secretary General Peter Jacob.

The prelate, who chairs the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, welcomes the new government’s desire to establish “the rule of law and justice”.

We urge the government to remove discriminations and biases in education policy, substantive and personal laws and ensure affirmative action for the marginalized communities in employment and other economic opportunities,” he said.

Pakistani Catholics (about 1.2 million or 0.9 per cent of the population in a country that is 97 per cent Muslim) have complained for years that they suffer from unjust policies at both the national but especially provincial levels.

In the remoter areas of the country Christians are discriminated in education, without the same opportunities that Muslims have, and in employment because Muslims don’t easily higher Christians.

Instead the mandate given to the present government by the people of Pakistan “clearly reflects their desire for a system based on the equality of citizens irrespective of caste, colour or creed according to the vision of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah,” the founder of Pakistan.

Issues like religious intolerance and discrimination are as important as the independence of the judiciary, media freedom and provincial autonomy.

The government should drop the negative policies pursued by the previous administration, which destroyed the good will of the nation and suppressed public opinion, and build instead serious and credible institutions that uphold human rights. As part of this it should ratify international conventions on human rights.

Under the military government of former army chief General Pervez Musharraf, which lasted from 1999 till last February, personal freedoms in Pakistan deteriorated substantially.

Under the guise of the “fight against terrorism” the military government went after judges, journalists and human rights activists.

The country’s religious minorities have fared even worse, crushed between the infamous blasphemy law (which imposes on any who desecrates Islam) and the Hudud Ordinances.

For Monsignor Saldanha, the government’s good will is not enough to make change effective. For this reason, he urged his “fellow citizens to stand firmly by the government in its efforts to meet the challenges.”

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