01/13/2017, 15.44
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Pakistan premier praises religious harmony, but should not forget Ahmadis and other minorities

by Kamran Chaudhry

For Nawaz Sharif, the country will be recognized as a "friend of minorities." Ahmadi Muslims however are considered heretical by Sunnis and Shias. And in December, an Ahmadi place of worship was attacked. The Government of Sindh rejects the law against forced conversions. Protests take place on the day Salman Taseer was remembered.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – While 2016 ended with a depressing note for religious minorities in Pakistan, the New Year seems to bring them good news especially after the recent address of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

"Pakistan will be strong and earn good reputation by serving minorities and Allah will be pleased. The day is not far when hen Pakistan will be internationally recognised as a minorities-friendly country ... we have to give minorities their rights, not only recognize them but also treat them with more compassion. It is part of our faith", he said on Jan 11 at ceremony at the Katas Raj temples in Chakwal district of Punjab province.

"I am at loss at how our people interpret faith and how some ulemas teach preach hate against other religions. I believe this is not lawful. We are all are equal – Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians – and people belonging to other religions; we are all one."

While the premier's condemnation of religious persecution certainly won hears of 190 Million non-Muslim Pakistanis, his personal visit to the Katasraj carries deeper significance. The Hindu's holiest shrines in the subcontinent are located a few kilometers from Dar ul Zikr, an Ahmadiyya worship place attacked by more than a thousand Sunni Muslims exactly one month ago.

The attack on Prophet Mohammad's birthday resulted in death of a 65- year-old worshipper (by cardiac arrest), burnt furniture, bullet riddled walls and piles of stones in the compound of century-old site. 600 Ahmadis left Dulmial village same day. However, the returning families are now complaining of a social boycott.

I was surprised to read the reaction of District's Deputy Commissioner. The government could not do anything to stop this social boycott, the commissioner told Express tribune newspaper last week.

Police guards alone cannot bring peace after conflict. The constitution of Islamic republic clearly states that adequate provisions shall be made for the minorities freely to profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures.

Sadly, these "adequate provisions" were never applied to Ahmadis since they were declared non-Muslims by National assembly in 1974. All state apparatus including judiciary and media has abandoned the community. Television programs who try to raise the plight of Ahmadis are closed.   

But it hurts the most when the lawmakers try to help minorities and then retreat. This happened recently when the Government of Sindh Province (southeastern Pakistan) rejected a law that punishes forced conversions with jail time, including life imprisonment. The government submission to the pressure from Islamic groups increases disappointment among minority leaders.

Another example was seen last week on roads of Lahore when heavy traffic jams, protests and shelling marked the sixth death anniversary of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer of Pakistan People's Party PPP. Taseer was assassinated for stepped up calls for Asia Bibi, a Catholic woman sentenced to die for blasphemy.

"Lahore lockdown by extremist elements is a matter of concern for liberals. We gathered to condemn violation of minority rights. We want a progressive and peaceful Pakistan", Jehan Ara Wattoo head of the PPP's social media cell told media.

Neither speeches alone cannot ensure "a progressive and peaceful" country.

The state has to make "adequate provisions" to ensure the safety of its citizens. Despite its good intentions, the government cannot revoke laws made in the name of Islam. However, it could make laws to protect Ahmadis or Hindu girls. It could enforce the recently drafted National Action Plan against violent protestors who openly made hate speeches in Lahore. It could add hardliner Islamist leaders in inter religious committees thus bringing them in mainstream.   

Critics of Sharif say most of the terror attacks on Christians occurred in his regime. However, others agree that Sharif has had a change of heart ever since he returned as the premier for the third time.

Church leaders were very happy to see government greetings for Christmas on main roads of Lahore. Many priests told me the number of pro Christian banners were unprecedented in 2016. The traditional Christmas parade of Punjab capital returned for the first time after a decade.

Sharif's visit to the conflicted district means nothing if it does not change the situation of local Ahmadis. He is also the prime minister of Pakistani Ahmadis.

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