03/23/2005, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Religion back in passports

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Pakistani passports might still indicate the bearer's religious affiliation, this if recommendations by a five-member ministerial committee are accepted by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. The proposal to restore the religion column in passports meets the demands made by Islamic groups who opposed removing it in the first place to "preserve the Islamic identity" of the country.

Speaking yesterday, Defence Minister Rao Sikandar Iqbal, who headed the committee, said that the recommendation was 'unanimous'.

Human and minority rights activists have denounced the compulsory declaration of religion as a "source of intolerance".

Should the recommendation be accepted it could put at risk Ahmadiyya Muslims, who are considered heretical by other Muslims, preventing them from visiting Makkah and performing Hajj.

The change in policy came after the six opposition Islamic parties forming the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) alliance demonstrated for months against the decision to remove religious affiliation from passports. It was their opposition that persuaded the government to set up the five-member ministerial committee to review the issue.

Everything started in 2004 when the government decided to remove religious affiliation from Pakistani travel documents in accordance to the rules of the International Civil Aviation Organisation. So far 80,000 passports without religion column have been issued.

Information Minister Shaikh Rashid also said that the name 'Islamic Republic of Pakistan' will appear on the on the cover page of the passport.

Muslims constitute 97 per cent of Pakistan's population of 150 million. Christians are 2.5 per cent—Catholics number 1.2 million. (LF)

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