06/08/2011, 00.00
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Punjab: Christian cannot be Minister of Finance

by Jibran Khan
Post awarded to Muslim Mian Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman, already Minister of Education and Health. At first the post was to go to Kamran Michael, the current Minister for Human Rights. The Muslim members of the Provincial Assembly against the fact that a Christian presents the budget. Condemnation from minority leaders and civil society.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - Mian Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman, leader of the pro-Muslim Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N), is the new finance minister of Punjab province. He already holds the portfolio for Education and Health and will be called in the coming days to submit the annual budget, before the members of the Provincial Assembly. In recent days the ministry post has been the focus of a fierce controversy given that it first seemed that the portfolio of Finance would be assigned to the Christian Kamran Michael (PML-N), former head of the ministry for human rights and minorities . However, the opposition of the radical wing of the party blocked the appointment.

Today came the appointment of Mian Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman, a 44 year old businessman who graduated from the University of Lahore, a member of the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz, a liberal party in economic terms, but radically conservative on social issues. As a new provincial minister of Finance, he shall be called by June 10 to submit the annual budget. This is the third portfolio to be allocated to the Muslim politician, the son of a prominent local politician and related to two members of the National Parliament.

The provincial government of Punjab wanted to end the controversy raised in recent days, when the Finance portfolio was assigned - at first - to the Christian political Kamran Michael (pictured), the PML-N leader and former head of the ministry for Human Rights and Minorities. The appointment followed the break-down of the coalition between the PML-N and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), leading to a reshuffle in the seats of provincial government. With the post of minister, the Christian politician was to present the annual budget.

However, a substantial fringe of his party was against the possibility that a Christian - and not a Muslim – would fill the post. Michael was also unable to attend the meeting of the provincial government – to discuss issues surrounding the economy - precisely because of his Christian faith.

Interviewed by AsiaNews on the latest case of discrimination against minorities, the bishop of Islamabad calls on the PML-N party "to decide what kind of message they want to send to the world community." Accepting this kind of bigotry and intolerance, said Msgr. Rufin Anthony, "will confirm the worst impressions about Pakistan and the PML-N in particular." He adds that the Christian politician is a citizen of Pakistan like everyone else, and therefore should enjoy equal rights.

Haroon Barkat Masih, president of Masihi Foundation strongly condemns the episode. His organisation accuses the party of giving in to the lunatic fringe, while the Anglican Bishop of Lahore Alexander John Malik talks of "shameful hypocrisy". Rizwan Paul, Life for All, said that minorities "all contribute to the growth of gross domestic product and compares Raja Riaz, the leading exponent of the PPP and the chief minister of Punjab to the Taliban, for his " extremist views ". Condemnation also comes from Mehfooz Ahmed Khan, a Muslim leader, contrary to this episode of "discrimination" who also urges the court in the city to "take action".

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