Bina Shah on why Pakistan can’t afford to cede any more space.

Freedom of Faith
Bina Shah, Dawn, December 24, 2017

JAN Figel, the EU’s special envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion and belief, came to Pakistan this month on a mission to highlight the importance of minority protection to the government, religious leaders, and civil society. His message: ensuring justice and well-being for its non-Muslim people works only to Pakistan’s benefit. But given Pakistan’s abysmal track record on protection of minorities, are we really ready to do the hard work on rule of law and justice to meet the standards that the international community expects from us?

Pakistan has signed the 1948 Declaration of Universal Human Rights, in which freedom of religion and belief is a cornerstone, which, as Figel pointed out in a talk on education and pluralism in Karachi, is a litmus test of other freedoms and a marker of human dignity. Our performance in this area so far has been, in a word, disappointing, and the international community has taken notice. It’s no secret that Pakistan’s status as a GSP Plus partner with the EU could be jeopardised by our inability to protect our religious minorities.

Rather than promoting the values in the Declaration of Human Rights, successive governments have striven to weaponise religion and use it as a tool of military and political power. Meanwhile, propaganda from political conservatives ties human rights to some sort of Western agenda meant to do Pakistan harm. The results have been disastrous. Today, as Pakistan confronts the latest round of attacks on imambargahs and churches, and the religious right’s protests in Islamabad last month, we can’t afford to cede any more space to those who would hijack Pakistani society and destroy its most vulnerable members.

Figel’s position as special envoy for freedom of religion and belief was created by the European Parliament to address the humanitarian crisis and the mass atrocities in Syria and Iraq carried out by the militant Islamic State group, the kidnapping and mistreatment of women, and the persecution of religious minorities including Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, Shia and even Arab Sunni communities.

Urging these communities towards reconciliation, rather than revenge, was a Herculean task, given the years of bloodshed and hatred engendered by the power vacuum after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the rise of IS, and the horrors of the Syrian war. Yet Figel described stakeholders in Iraq — religious leaders, civil society members, and political leaders — coming together to put forward a vision for their nations’ futures as a civil state based on equal citizenship, not a tyranny of the majority based on the racial or religious superiority of one group over the rest. The key word that kept coming up again and again in discussions: karama, the Arab word for dignity.

Pakistan can find its way out of the morass of religious persecution if its people are ready to take bold steps, embarking on a long process of legislative and political reform. But we must internalise, first, the importance of human dignity, and realise that our differences do not diminish each person’s value and equality in society. We must make the connection between religious persecution and the detriment of our society. Finally, Pakistanis must take ownership of this process of education and reform, relying on the EU or other foreign powers only for support, not to direct the entire agenda.

There are 44 million children out of school, and Figel isn’t the first to point out that uneducated people are more vulnerable to the vicissitudes of extremism. Many have urged regularisation and registration of the madressahs in order to prevent them from being misused as training grounds for religiously motivated violence. Yet our madressahs have been educating huge swathes of children whose parents can’t afford any better. We can’t replace this broadly accessible, albeit low-quality network with a high-quality education that remains inaccessible, and thus of little relevance to our society. We must strike a balance between egalitarianism and elitism in the education system in order to save Pakistan’s children from being infected with religious intolerance.

The EU will hold what Figel calls “strategic engagement consultations” on the process of implementing reforms that will benefit Pakistan’s religious minorities. But our society will first need a mental transformation for any legal or political process to be truly effective. We must replace our indifference to the plight of our religious minorities with a sense of responsibility and duty towards them. Women and men of conscience must refuse to use religion to manipulate the uneducated into doing violence upon their brothers and sisters of other faiths and creeds.

It will take courage to undo years of miseducation, intolerance and denial to create a vision of Pakistan as a peaceful, tolerant and pluralistic society. But our own dignity as a nation is at stake. After all, there’s no point crying for the Palestinians or the Rohingya when we’re acting like their tormentors in our own country.

مملکت الباکستان کا صوبہ البنجاب

رفیع عامر

دو قومی نظریے کے نام پر حاصل ہونے والے پاکستان کی حاکم اشرافیہ کو جس پہلے چیلنج کا سامنا تھا وہ یہ تھا کہ اب اس نئے ملک میں جس میں درحقیقت ایک سے زیادہ اقوام موجود تھیں کس طرح ایک قوم بنایا جائے – دو قومی نظریے کے جھانسے میں یہ تو کہہ دیا گیا کہ برصغیر میں دو قومیں آباد ہیں ، مسلم اور ہندو ، لیکن پاکستانی اشرافیہ کو یہ علم تھا کہ قوم کی تعریف مذھب سے نہیں بلکہ ثقافت سے تعبیر ہوتی ہے – نئے نویلے پاکستان میں اکثریت بنگالی قومیت کی حامل تھی جن کی وہی ثقافتی جڑیں تھیں جو مشرقی پاکستان میں بسنے والے ہندو بنگالیوں کی تھیں – اسی طرح پنجابی ، بلوچ ، سندھی ، پشتون اور دیگر اقوام تھیں جن کی ثقافت کی تاریخ برصغیر میں اسلام کی آمد سے پرانی تھی اور مذہب ان ثقافتوں کی بنیاد میں تو نہیں صرف حاشیوں میں موجود تھا

اس صورتحال میں پاکستان کی اردو سپیکنگ اشرافیہ نے فیصلہ کیا کہ ایک متبادل شناخت اور ثقافت کا تعارف پاکستان کو ایک قوم کا تاثر دینے کے لئے ضروری ہے – سو پاکستانی عوام کو باور کرانے کی کوشش کی گئی وہ بنگالی ، پنجابی ، پشتون وغیرہ بعد میں ہیں ، پہلے وہ پاکستانی ہیں اور غالب اکثریت اس سے بھی پہلے مسلمان ہے – اس متبادل شناخت کے لئے ایک متبادل تاریخ بھی گھڑی گئی جس میں ہندوستان پر حملہ آور ہونے والا ہر مسلمان پاکستانیوں کا ہیرو ٹھہرایا گیا ثقافت کی بنیادی اکائی چونکہ زبان ہوتی ہے چنانچہ یہ طے کیا گیا کہ نئی پاکستانی قوم کی ایک ہی زبان ہو گی ، اردو

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Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on need to ensure participation of all in Pakistani society

HRCP laments lack of state efforts to ensure equitable participation of persons with disabilities in Pakistani society

 December 18, 2017

With the International Day for Persons with Disabilities observed worldwide on 3rd December 2017, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) laments that despite the Pakistani government being a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) since 2008, little has been done to promote the rights of persons with disabilities or to ensure their equitable participation in society.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Commission stated: “HRCP laments the government’s continued lack of interest in implementing its obligations under the CRPD.  As a country, therefore, Pakistan remains very far from the purpose of the Convention, “to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity”.  The exclusion of persons with disabilities from the recently concluded national census is a glaring example of this.”

“Further complicating this problem, persons with disabilities often face hostile and derogatory attitudes at the family, community and societal levels.  The recent incidents of school children with disabilities enduring physical assault and torture at the hands of bus conductors, while travelling to their institutes in Lahore and Gujranwala, demonstrate the lack of societal regard generally and any recourse to protection systems for persons with disabilities in the public sphere. Infrastructure in both public and private spheres is not designed to be accessible to those having special needs.  Virtually no specialized education and employment or training opportunities are available to this group of society.  Consequently this means that persons with disabilities largely remain disfranchised from society, both in economic and social terms.”

“It is imperative that the government takes notice of this neglected segment of society and devises inclusive policies, services and facilities to allow persons with disabilities to contribute fully to society. The government must realize that the greater the attention it pays to the rights and needs of its citizens with disabilities, the more integrated, inclusive and tolerant the nation will become.”

Dr. Mehdi Hasan

Chairperson

 

 

Asma Jahangir & HRCP demand parliamentary probe of Faizabad sit-in

“Pakistan can develop only under a democratic system. Moreover, the judiciary should give justice rather than becoming involved in political balancing acts. The judiciary should not look at political cases in a political way”

Dawn, December 17, 2017

Supreme Court lawyer and human rights activist Asma Jahangir has called for a probe by a parliamentary committee to ascertain as to who was behind the recent Faizabad sit-in and from where a new lot came despite a successful operation against religious activists.

Speaking at a press conference after a meeting organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) at a hotel here on Saturday, she said: “We don’t want a judicial commission on it and demand that only a parliamentary committee should investigate the matter.”

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Pervez Hoodbhoy on Why is Pakistan’s establishment mainstreaming jihadis?

Operation Zarb-i-Azb’s success has persuaded the army that deviant militants can be successfully crushed.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, Dawn, December 16, 2017

FOR three decades Pakistan’s military establishment has stoutly denied supporting violent religious groups irrespective of whether a group’s target lay across national borders or, instead, its goal was to achieve specific political objectives within Pakistan. But today the military’s attitude is more ambivalent.

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