07/10/2014, 00.00
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Islamabad: a National Commission will be set up to protect religious minorities

by Jibran Khan
Both government and the opposition agree to set up body to protect non-Muslims from violence and attacks. The ten-member commission will include fours Muslims, two Christians, two Hindus, a Parsi and a Sikh. For activist, this is an "encouraging sign" that minorities have a right to representation. For Lahore priest, it is a "step forward".

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - After a year of continued delays and postponements, the Pakistani government and opposition parties have agreed to set up a formal body to protect minorities and promote inter-faith harmony.

The new entity will be the National Commission for Minorities and should include ten members from different religious backgrounds: four Muslims, two Christians, two Hindus, a Parsi and a Sikh.

On 7 June, the Supreme Court of Pakistan issued a ruling, requiring the government and the main state institutions to take concrete measures to ensure minority rights.

"Mere textual pledges in the constitution, though important, are not enough to ensure that those rights would be honoured in practice," read the 32-page judgment authored by Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani.

As a Christian delegation met with a group of lawmakers in Islamabad this morning, they welcomed the decision to set up the new commission.

Christian leader Rizwan Paul, who attended the meeting, is pleased with the government's decision to "be serious" about the difficult issue of protecting minorities.

For Muslim human rights activist Aqeel Syed Mehdi, this is an "encouraging sign" for minorities, who now enjoy in all respects the "right to representation."

Fr Arif George, from the Archdiocese of Lahore, agrees. "This is a step forward in terms of security," he said.

"I hope and pray," he added, that the commission will be "able to work in an effective way" so that the country will be "as its founder Ali Jinnah imagined it" in his famous speech to Parliament of 1947, namely a land of pluralism and religious freedom as well as a secular state with equal rights for Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, etc.

With a population of more than 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, the second largest Muslim nation after Indonesia.

Almost 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunni, whilst Shias are 20 per cent. Hindus are 1.85 per cent, followed by Christians (1.6 per cent) and Sikhs (0.04 per cent).

Violence against ethnic and religious minorities is commonplace across the country, with Shia Muslims and Christians as the main target, with things getting worse.

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