Pakistan’s New Minority Commission: Still A Castle in the Sky

The much-awaited commission on minorities was finally approved in a Federal Cabinet meeting in May, after six years on the fence. Yet while the headline sparks hope – for the minority communities on the ground – the commission is another letdown, quality did not present itself in the waiting.

The Commission – envisaged in June 2014 by a Supreme Court ruling directing the government of Pakistan to form a commission “to monitor the practical realization of the rights and safeguards provided to the minorities under the Constitution and law” – has fallen flat.

The Commission which was set up for the minorities lacks the necessary nuts and bolts to make it effective to ensure “the practical realization” of their rights. Jubilee Campaign echoes the minority community and finds these three major flaws in the “toothless Commission”:

“The religious minority communities were not consulted while forming this commission.” 

– Archbishop Joseph Arshad

No voice One key objection to the commission is that the religious minority communities were not consulted while forming this commission. The audacity that the commission for religious minorities is excluding, from conception, the very members it was setup to aid is disheartening. The Pakistani government have done this before – they use the words of religious freedom – but do not take the pains of evaluating it. At the Pakistani Foreign Minister’s visit to the US in February he dodged a question on what Pakistan was doing to improve their religious freedom record given their designation as a Country of Particular Concern by the State Department for their religious freedom violations. He merely repeated the words, “Pakistan has religious freedom – we have churches and mosques and synagogues.” Pakistan also has Islamic blasphemy laws where hundreds have languished in prisons without a sentence, but instead the Pakistani foreign minister pointed to India.

“The inclusion of Muslim members from Pakistan Islamic Ideology in the commission will undermine the representation of minorities.”

– Joseph Francis, National Director CLAAS, supplying Legal Aid for minorities.

No representation Composition of the Commission matters. While representation might be a buzzword in the west – in Pakistan it is a necessity. Christians and other minorities are treated as second-class citizens, with limited or total lack of access to education for their children relegating them to dangerous and menial work, with laws that allow for arbitrary arrests and ignore forced conversions. The deep seated discrimination and distrust in the society make the presence of a member of your community in a commission essential to ensure your voice is heard. The goal of the commission – envisaged in 2014 – was to have a mechanism that would raise the grievances of the minorities. The 10-member commission however, looks more “like an interfaith commission rather than a minorities commission,” with two Muslims, three Hindus, three Christians and one member each from the Sikh, Parsi and Kailash communities; with two members of the Islamic Council of Islamic ideology and two other renowned clerics listening in. Moreover, there was not a single representative of the Ahmadis or the Bahais who are also persecuted in Pakistan.

“Without any statutory powers, they won’t be able to solve minority issues.”

Peter Jacob, the Catholic director of the Centre for Social Justice.

No Power In addition to the lack of representation the commission does not have any legal power to enforce its resolutions across the country, it has no constitutional powers. This is where a great disappointment lies with the minorities as it is these constitutional and legal inequalities that need to be addressed. It was this that was promised in the 2014 court ruling – a Commission through the parliament, “with the prime function to assess the implementation of rights and safeguards for minority rights, review public policies and contribute advice on policy matters.”

Here are some familiar and additional voices from the community on the commission:

“…issues like blasphemy and the forced conversion will not be resolved impartially.” –

Joseph Francis, National Director CLAAS, supplying Legal Aid for minorities.

Unless a serious effort is made to bring credibility to the commission, it will remain powerless with no effect beyond the paper trail.

Umair Jamal, journalist

“This is just an ad-hoc committee under the Ministry of Religious Affairs with no statutory powers. It was supposed to be constituted as an act of parliament. Without any statutory powers, they won’t be able to solve minority issues.”

Peter Jacob, the Catholic director of the Centre for Social Justice.

The ex-officio member of the Pakistani Minorities Commission – Qibla Ayaz, chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology does not hide his cards:

“I think there is a wide misunderstanding about this recently set-up Minorities Commission. The commission is not for the welfare of minorities and has no veto over government decisions. It is merely a forum to promote interfaith harmony and healthy discussion.

Again, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan chooses the easy way out – words and image over a chance for real change for the discriminated and suffering minorities in Pakistan.