Pakistani minorities, non-Muslim citizens of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and human rights organisations have refused the newly formed minority commission by the government of Pakistan, as it was constituted by an executive order rather an act of Parliament. Moreover, its membership process is not transparent. Many Muslim members are included, while Ahmadi community is excluded because of the pressure from the right-wing Muslim groups.
By Aftab Alexander Mughal 13 May 2020
(14 May 2020) – The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) was notified on 11 May by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony (MRAIH). The cabinet approved it on 5 May, but it opposed the inclusion of the Ahmaddiya community’s representative. Pakistan’s civil society organisations, lawyers, media persons across the country opposed the newly formed body, because it is established through the executive order than the act of Parliament.
Executive Director of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), and Chairman People’s Commission for Minority Rights (PCMR) Peter Jacob observed that government had tried to mislead public opinion by creating a toothless body for minorities through a cabinet decision. Jacob has been campaigning for instituting a statutory National Commission for Minorities Rights, which Pakistan has pledged to under international norms several times without delivering on it.
The former Senate (upper house of the parliament) chairman Mian Raza Rabbani declared it illegal, as its formation is in violation of a judgment given by then Chief Justice of Pakistan Tasaduq Hussain Jilani on 19 June 2014. Dr. Shoaib Suddle’sone-man commission on minorities filed a petition in the Supreme Court on 7 May and informed the court that the Ministry of Religious Affairs is non-cooperative in establishing a council for the protection of minorities’ right in the light of court’s 2014 ruling. Suddle’s commission was established by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in January 2019 in the light of apex court’s landmark judgment of 2014, in which the court required government to establish council to protect minority rights. The verdict came after the sue moto case of the supreme court. Peter Jacob, a veteran human rights activist, told The Diplomate, “The Suddle Commission was an implementation commission working purely on the judicial orders. Therefore, it is not a substitute to a permanent National Commission for Minorities Rights.”
There will be 6 official and 12 non-official members on the commission. Chela Ram Kewlani, a Hindu by faith, and a leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the ruling party, has been appointed as the chairman of the commission, who will serve the commission for a three-year term. Minority rights organisations demanded that the chairman should be a neutral person rather member of the ruling party. The commission will formulate suggestions for development of a national policy to promote peace and harmony in the country and ensure effective participation of minorities into the national life.
Human rights organisations ask the government to establish an independent commission through an adequate, fair and consultative process, where minorities are consulted.
Furthermore, it should be done by the parliament rather as a body in Ministry of Religious Affairs. Furthermore, its members’ selection criteria were not transparent. There is no representation of Schedule Casts in the commission, who formed the biggest section of the Hindu community. It should be an autonomous body as The National Commission on Human Rights, the National Commission on the Status of Women, and the Commission on the Rights of the Child.
A Christian political leader Sarfraz Clement said, “the way the commission has formed will not resolve minorities issues, such as cases under blasphemy laws and forced conversion of Christian and Hindu girls. Moreover, the issues like, church property disputes, and denationalisation of Christian schools.”
Interestingly, two members of the commission are Muslim. The six official members are from various ministries, all Muslim, and the chairman of the Islamic Council of Ideology (ICI) is also Muslim. Minority leaders said if non-Muslim cannot be part of the Islamic Ideology Council, a constitutional body, then why include Muslim members in the minority commission? They claimed that the inclusion of Muslims and bureaucrats will undermine the representation of minorities.
Th members of the commission belong to the Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Parsi and Kalash communities. The three Christian members of the commission are: Roman Catholic Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw of Lahore, Prof. Dr. Sarah Safdar, and Mr. Albert David. There is no representation of Ahmadis.
Rabwah Times, a digital media publication of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan, stated that originally on 29 April, the cabinet ordered to include the Ahmadis in the commission, but later Imran Khan’s cabinet backpedalled after being pressured by the Muslim religious groups. As the news about the inclusion of the Ahmadi members in the commission surfaced, many Muslims strongly condemned the government’s move. Some anchors of the current affair TV shows also took hard-line on this issue. However, international organisations, such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), showed their concerns on the issue and demanded that the government should immediately reverse its decision against the Ahmadis, a persecuted community in the country. In the latest development, the Punjab Assembly demanded through a resolution on 12 May that Ahmadis should be included into the body if their top leadership submit a written request by accepting their status as non-Muslim. Ahmadis were declared non-Muslim by the parliament in 1974. Muslims perceive them as heretic; therefore, they are badly treated socially and politically.
A petition was also filed at Islamabad High Court (IHC) by Shohda Foundation of Pakistan against the federal cabinet’s decision and requested that the court should issue a direction for the inclusion of Ahmadis as non-Muslim in the NCM.
This is not the first minority commission. The first commission was constituted in 1990. Later, it was re-formed several times with changing governments.
Pakistan is an Islamic country, where non-Muslims are considered minorities under the constitution. According to the national population census 2017, Muslims make up 96.47% of the total population, while minorities make up only 3.53%. Hindus are 1.73%, while Christians are 1.27%. Other minority communities include Ahmadis, Sikh, Kalash and Schedule Casts. Generally, minorities face discrimination and experience persecution because of their faith.