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Minorities demand abolition of Minority Wings from political parties

By Durdana Najam

Human rights defenders, political activists, and representative of civil society organization has demanded, the elimination of Minority Wing from political parties. According to the activists the minority wings impede the prospect of full representation of religious minorities in mainstream politics. 

In a country achieved on the religious ground, religion has been made a source of discomfort for those who were not part of the majority religious group. From the tussle to end separate electorate to the inclusion of blasphemy laws in the Pakistan Penal Code, the entire edifice of the religious structure has been endowed with discrimination against minorities and marginalized section of society. With radicalization becoming a norm and Jihad its manifestation, the struggle to enforce pristine Islam demanded an end of tolerance towards other religions or sects within Islam. As the role of the state increased in religion, the division between the Muslims and the non-Muslims increased, impacting the attitudes of the people who then aligned to the divide that best suited their interest. This was in complete negation of participatory democracy and its norms that demand equal right to all citizens irrespective of their religion. 

Pakistan is a Muslim majority country. Roughly four per cent of its population is non-Muslim. Sunnis make the majority of the population, while Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Ahmadis and other small groups form a minority. 

State policies and legislation bar minorities from governance structures. Over the years as Pakistan became more Islamized discrimination against minorities has increased. A general attitude among the hard-liner religious groups has been to equate minorities with foreign countries or treat them as outside enemies. After attacking the All Saints Church in Peshawar, the militant faction Jundullah claimed: “They are the enemies of Islam; therefore, we target them. We will continue our attacks on non-Muslims on Pakistani land.”

The political parties, toeing the line of the state have restricted the movements of the minorities within a particular sphere by making Minority Wings. Barring a few, nearly every political party in Pakistan has a Minority Wing on the lines of student and women wing. People belonging to minority say that this segregation implies that minorities in Pakistan are marginalized even within the political system. This wing for all its purpose design policies and term of references concerning minorities only that further cut them away from the mainstream. 

The downside of the Minority Wings is that even if the non-Muslims join political parties, his efforts notwithstanding his qualifications, capabilities, and services to the nation, remain confined to the minority roles.

Since the inception of Pakistan in 1947 to up until 1984, all Pakistanis voted on a joint electorate. 

In 1985, Zia introduced separate electorate for all religious minorities, including the Ahmadis. Minorities were required to declare themselves non-Muslims to vote for the five per cent minority seats of National Assembly.

In 2001, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIR) demanded an end to discrimination of minorities in Pakistan. As the international pressure mounted, General Pervez Musharraf reintroduced joint electorate in January 2002 with no segregation for Ahmedies, and they were also allowed to enjoy equal voting rights. But the pressure of the religious hardliner prevailed upon the President, and he accepted their demand of allowing the Christian, Hindu and other minorities to vote on the joint electorate, but created a supplementary voter list only for the Ahmadis. 

The Constitution’s Article 51(2A) provides ten reserved seats for religious minorities in the National Assembly, and 23 seats for minorities in the four provincial assemblies under Article 106. The political parties are given reserved seats proportional to their numerical strength in parliament and lawmakers are elected according to the order of the list provided by the party.

Experts are of the opinion that the Representation of the People Act of 1976 and the rules under the Election Commission need to be amended to bring religious minorities into the national mainstream.

Khalil Tahir Sandhu currently serving as Provincial Minister for Human Rights in Punjab Assembly, said that he was personally against Minority Wings and demanded that the representatives of the minorities should be given parity tickets just like normal candidates and allowed to contest the election. 

“Here we are talking about two amendments. One will be made in the Constitution of Pakistan to get away with the reserved seat for minorities. Two, the Political Parties Act of Pakistan would have to be amended to allow minorities to contest elections on party tickets,” Sandhu said. 

Shanila Ruth, President of Pakistan Tahreek-i-Insaaf Minority Wing, however, has a different take on this subject. She believes that minority wings within political parties are necessary for Pakistan because of the very fact that minorities are still a vulnerable group and lacks representative of high caliber. 

“If minorities are merged in the mother party, they will lose their identity altogether. The vulnerability of the minorities demand that Minority Wings are maintained in parties, and unless strength is gained both politically and socially the members of minorities should not demand dismemberment of these wings,’ Ruth said.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Pakistan leader, Farooq Sattar says that his party has committed to the Christian People’s Alliance to disband minority wing from MQM. However, Sattar said that without offering an alternative of the Minority Wing eliminating it would only add to the identity crisis of the minorities. 

“For the complete restoration of the status of minorities, the political parties have to give the membership of the Central Coordination Committees to the members of minorities and allowing them to contest elections on general seats from party tickets.” 

He further said that the name minorities should also be abolished from the constitution. 

Pakistan People’s Party’s MPA, Sharmila Farooqi, said that the Minority Wing helped the minorities in giving voice to their grievances and issues. 

“I believe that this wing should not be abolished because it makes the minorities more compelling in the sense that they work in unison among themselves that makes easier for them to get their concerns resolved or issues addressed”

Samson Simon Sharaf, the political analyst, and Columnist in The Nation, Lahore, gave the following viewpoint on Minority Wings in political parties.

“I am against Minority Wings in political parties. It does not help anyone from the minority to blend with the Muslims of Pakistan. It excludes them. It is also counter to the spirit of the joint electorate system of Pakistan. So if we have a joint electorate, we should also struggle to learn to value the votes of the minorities. The vote of non-Muslim Pakistani matters. Minorities have the capacity of swinging election results in at least 78 constituencies of Pakistan. The most recent example is the results of PPP in PS 114 elections in Karachi, which had over 35,000 Christian votes. And because PPP appears to take a secular stance and Bilawal spoke to the Christian voters the PPP was able to take away votes, which was previously gained by the PTI in 2013. This is the power of Pakistani minorities. But to persuade political parties to eliminate Minority Wings, the community will have to raise its level and decide not to be swayed by personal interests.”

Pakistani legal advocacy group calls for repeal of blasphemy law

Pakistani legal advocacy group calls for repeal of blasphemy law.

LEAD’s demand comes after yet another Christian man namely Nadeem James was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges. Nadeem James’s friend accused him of sending a blasphemous text message on Whatsapp. In this regard, LEAD has compiled a report regarding persecution of Christians in Pakistan by dint of blasphemy law.
Misusing blasphemy law has become a common practice in order to settle personal or communal disputes. In recent case, Nadeem James was purportedly embroiled in a blasphemy case, in a bid to take revenge because he had married a Muslim girl.
LEAD report covers a period of twelve years, detailing the scenario of Pakistani Christians who fall a prey to the blasphemy law. Advocate Sardar Mushtaq Gill updated CIP stating: “The Repeal Blasphemy Laws campaign holds that blasphemy laws are wrong in every way for Christians:
a)They are inconsistent with and in derogation of Fundamental Rights
b)They endanger the security of person and property
c)They destroy the safeguards as to arrest and detention
d)They destroy the right to fair trial
e)They violate the human right to freedom of faith, religion and expression
f)They promote agenda of one faith and religion-Islam
g)They destroy the rule of law and equality
h)They instigate and enrage Muslims to attack Christians, to burn them alive and to burn their homes
i)They are overwhelmingly being used to settle personal vendettas and to settle their personal scores
In many cases, the accused is likely to face an extra judicial judgment at the hands of furious mobsters. In an incident, an entire Christian neighborhood Joseph Colony was torched by the vandals because a Christian resident Sawaan Masih was accused of committing blasphemy. On another occasion, a Christian couple was lynched alive in a brick kiln on the pretext of committing blasphemy.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister - Khawaja Asif’s correct stand

Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif has once again spoken boldly about Pakistan’s need to reflect on flawed security policy choices of the past and urgently put its house in order today.
Predictably, Mr Asif’s remarks have drawn criticism from nationalist quarters more concerned with issues of image and how Pakistan is perceived in India or the US than the threat that militancy poses to the future of this country.
Indeed, the foreign minister’s critique of Pakistan’s embrace of non-state actors decades ago began with a familiar attack against the US for encouraging jihad in the region in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. That is undeniably true and too few US policymakers are willing to acknowledge that choices made under the umbrella of the Cold War changed the course of history in this region.
History has shown that the fear of the Soviets seeking access to a warm water port through Afghanistan and Pakistan was overblown, but the Pakistani state controlled by a military dictator found the combination of that fear and US-financed plans to wage war against the Soviets in Afghanistan irresistible.
Nearly four decades since the start of asymmetric warfare in Afghanistan, championing the cause of jihad in the region is a historic wrong that rivals the mistakes that led to the break-up of Pakistan. Certainly, Pakistan has done much to try and correct the errors of the past; the counter-insurgency campaigns and counterterrorism operations of the past decade have won a hard-earned semblance of stability in the country for which the country’s soldiers and civilian security personnel are owed an immeasurable debt of gratitude.
But true peace and meaningful stability cannot be achieved without the total dismantling of all militant and terrorist networks and sustained counter-extremism programmes across the country.
What the foreign minister has claimed ought to be unremarkable and uncontested. Groups such as the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba are no allies of this country and their leaders have agendas that are inimical to the rule of law, constitutionality and democracy in Pakistan.
There cannot and should not be space for such groups to operate, either clandestinely or openly, in Pakistan and the state has no business forfeiting the rights and future of the Pakistani people in the pursuit of some self-defeating strategic goals. What can be debated is the right approach to dismantling the remaining militant networks and deradicalising Pakistani society.
Fears of blowback are not unfounded and where peaceful means can be found, they should be thoroughly explored. Perhaps the government should consider widening the incipient debate to include parliament, the provinces and civil society.
A more inclusive, tolerant Pakistan at peace with its neighbours is first and foremost a victory for the Pakistani people themselves. Bad choices stem from narrowly confined deliberations. All of Pakistan should be invited to debate the country’s future.

Malala Mesmerizes

By Akbar Ahmed
I have often wondered whether it was possible for a Muslim, especially a woman wearing a veil, to be heard with public appreciation in the USA in this time of high Islamophobia.
I got the answer on 25th September at American University (AU) in Washington, DC. That evening, I was part of an audience of some 2000 students and faculty packed into a large sports arena to witness Malala Yousafzai receive the annual Wonk of the Year award presented by AUPresident Sylvia Burwell, an award given to President Bill Clinton and former First Lady Laura Bush. President Burwell described how Malala has lit a candle of knowledge for women around the globe and embodies courage and bravery in her humanitarian work.
The audience gave Malalaa rapturous welcome, frequently erupting into prolonged applause. Speaking without notes, Malala established an easy-going relationship with the audience at the outset in the way she described the “firsts” in the award—-“first foreigner... first Pakistani... first Muslim...first Pashtun.” With impeccable timing she added, “I’m also the youngest one to receive it. And I’m also the shortest one to receive it.”
Malala talked of her goals in promoting women’s education around the world, particularly in regions where women’s education has long seemed taboo. She described the work of the Malala Fund, which seeks to empower localleaders to push for equal education in their communities, support women facing long odds in pursuing their education, and lobbygovernments to put forth resources so that more women around the globe can go to school.

Malala today is no longer just a celebrity; she is a movement inspiring millions from London to Lagos. No other Pakistani has that star power.Yet many Pakistanis have launched a hate-filled rumor campaign against her suggesting that her father stage-managed the attack to defame Islam and Pakistan and get fame and wealth in the West.

She recounted the time from her childhood under the Taliban whenwomen’s education was banned in Swat: “I realized that when my education is banned, I would not be able to follow my dreams—to become a doctor, to become a teacher, to be myself.” To thunderous applause she said, “The terrorists had actually made a big mistake. They had made a big mistake because, first, I used to think about getting attacked or being harmed. But I had gone through this already, and now I knew that nothing can stop me.”
She urged men to “Think about your daughters. Think about your sisters. Think about your mothers. And allow them space, give them opportunity.”Malala took special care to honor her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, asking for him to rise from the audience so he could be applauded for his vital work and support for Malala and women’s education in Swat and beyond. She remarked, “I got the opportunity to be here because of my father—because he allowed me to speak. There’s nothing special in my story, but only that no one stopped me. So, girls can do anything.”
Malala spoke extensively about her views on Islam, which she considereda religion of peace, kindness, and forgiveness. She also discussed the importance of understanding how the Prophet of Islam,taking care to add “peace be upon him,” empowered the women around him and demonstratedhowIslam really does strive for gender equality:“We need to.... unite and say that those people who are misusing the name of Islam, they are not us. We do not stand with them.”
After every question,each posed by AU students, Malala would acknowledge the studentby name, gracefully thank them, and respond with her trademark wisdom beyond her years and incorporate the stories of young women she has met around the world fighting for their education.
At the end she shared the story of her younger brother who enjoyed “annoying” her. Now contemplating her move to Oxford University,he asks, “‘Who am I going to annoy, and who am I going to tease?’ And now he’s telling me that after two years, he’s going to apply to Oxford. And that is shocking. I just do not want that. I might send him to American University.” The audience roared with laughter.
Malala transcends the divide between Islam and the West because she reminds both of their common humanity. Patrick Burnett, who accompanied me to the program, remarked that, “People adore her. She is the best ambassador any country or faith could ever ask for. She is simply amazing.” My friend retired Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell, replied when I sent a picture of myself alongside Malala and Ziauddin, “I am jealous. She is a special lady.”
Malala today is no longer just a celebrity;she is a movement inspiring millions from London to Lagos. No other Pakistani has that star power. Yet many Pakistanis launched a hate-filled rumor campaign against her even suggestingthather father stage-managed the attack so as to defame Islam and Pakistan and get fame and wealth in the West.
Neverthelessthe hearts of the family are in Pakistan and they speak of Swat often and with pride. When I told Ziauddin of my intention of writing this piece, he responded,“That will be so kind of you. There is a big gap between Malala and her countrymen. They don’t understand her simple message or even don’t try to do so. They can’t see her compassionate heart and sublime soul. She has an immense love for her people. She literally doesn’t want anything for herself. All she wants is for them and especially for the women and girls of her country. I hope love, respect and peace will prevail in our land.”

In Pakistan's coal rush, some women drivers break cultural barriers

By Syed Raza Hassan
As Pakistan bets on cheap coal in the Thar desert to resolve its energy crisis, a select group of women is eyeing a road out of poverty by snapping up truck-driving jobs that once only went to men.
Such work is seen as life-changing in this dusty southern region bordering India, where sand dunes cover estimated coal reserves of 175 billion tonnes and yellow dumper trucks swarm like bees around Pakistan’s largest open-pit mine.
The imposing 60-tonne trucks initially daunted Gulaban, 25, a housewife and mother of three from Thar’s Hindu community inside the staunchly conservative and mainly-Muslim nation of 208 million people.
“At the beginning I was a bit nervous but now it’s normal to drive this dumper,” said Gulaban, clad in a pink saree, a traditional cloth worn by Hindu women across South Asia.
Gulaban - who hopes such jobs can help empower other women facing grim employment prospects - is among 30 women being trained to be truck drivers by Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC), a Pakistani firm digging up low-grade coal under the rolling Thar sand dunes.
Gulaban has stolen the march on her fellow trainees because she was the only woman who knew how to drive a car before training to be a truck driver. She is an inspiration to her fellow students.
“If Gulaban can drive a dump truck then why not we? All we need to do is learn and drive quickly like her,” said Ramu, 29, a mother of six, standing beside the 40-tonne truck.
Until recently, energy experts were uncertain that Pakistan’s abundant but poor-quality coal could be used to fire up power plants.
That view began to change with new technology and Chinese investment as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a key branch of Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative to connect Asia with Europe and Africa.
Now coal, along with hydro and liquefied natural gas, is at the heart of Pakistan’s energy plans.
SECMC, which has about 125 dump trucks ferrying earth out of the pit mine, estimates it will need 300-400 trucks once they burrow deep enough to reach the coal.
Drivers can earn up to 40,000 rupees ($380) a month.
Women aspiring to these jobs are overcoming cultural barriers in a society where women are restricted to mainly working the fields and cooking and cleaning for the family. Only this week in Saudi Arabia, a close ally of Pakistan, women were granted permission to drive for the first time ever, ending a ban that was supported by conservative clerics but seen by rights activists as an emblem of suppression.
Gulaban’s husband, Harjilal, recalled how people in Thar would taunt him when his “illiterate” wife drove their small car.
“When I sit in the passenger seat with my wife driving, people used to laugh at me,” said Harjilal, who like most of the people in the community only has one name. But Gulaban, seeking to throw stereotypes out of the window, is only focused on the opportunities ahead.
“As I can see our other female trainees getting paid and their life is changing,” Gulaban added. “I hope...for a better future.”

The Pakistan In Denial And ISIS Flags In Capital City, Islamabad

Last week, an Islamic State (IS) flag was seen hoisted above one of Islamabad’s main highways. The flag, which sprung the capital’s law enforcement agencies into action, bore the message “The caliphate is coming.” While the capital police have not been able been able to find the people behind the incident, the hoisting of the flag in Pakistan’s capital offers a chilling reminder that support for militant groups such as IS is growing in Pakistan.
The government in Pakistan has said that the hoisting of the militant group’s flag doesn’t mean that the IS threat is serious in Pakistan. While the group’s presence in the country may not have emerged in the form of an active resistance, the militant group’s “passive support” base has grown exponentially over the last few years.
Pakistan launched a major counterterrorism campaign more than two years ago to contain militancy in the country. One of the core aspects of Pakistan’s recent counterterrorism campaign was to revise the country’s public education curriculum, which has been filled with religiously inspired nationalistic rhetoric, and to regulate religious seminaries all across Pakistan, which continue to radicalize young minds. Unfortunately, beyond making tactical gains related to killing militants that are targeting the state, the country’s counterterrorism campaign has not achieved anything.

At least 20 injured in Peshawar's Ring Road explosion

At least 20 people were injured in an explosion outside a private hospital on Peshawar’s Ring Road near Shinwari Town, within the jurisdiction of Paharipura police station on Friday.
Talking to The Express Tribune, police said the hospital owner was the target of the attack as he was already receiving threatening calls from extortionists.
“The blast occurred just outside the hospital, injuring many people including one of the owners, Osman Maqsood, who was on his way back from Friday prayers,” an official said, adding that according to bomb disposal squad officials the device used in the attack was probably homemade. While Rescue 1122 spokesperson Bilal Faizi said 20 people sustained minor injuries, and were treated on the spot; SSP Operations Sajjad Khan said only three people were seriously injured. They were shifted to the Lady Reading Hospital where their condition is said to be stable.

Explosion near private hospital injures 5 in Peshawar

An explosion has taken place near a private hospital at ring road in Peshawar, says SSP Operations Sajjad Khan.
Atleast five people have been injured.
According to media reports minor level explosion took place.
Rescue teams have reached the scene and assisting the injured. Critically injured are being shifted to Lady Reading hospital.
Police has not confirmed the nature of blast.
Security agencies are taking all precautionary measures to avoid any unforeseen circumstances. Security has been beefed up across Pakistan in the wake of 9th and 10th Muharram.

Pakistan to pay back $100 bn to China by 2024

Pakistan has to payback $100 billion to China by 2024 of total investment of $18.5 billion, which China has invested on account of banks’ loan in 19 early harvest projects mostly relating to energy sector under China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The sources in Chinese Embassy told ‘The News’ that loans which China had given to Pakistan were considered as concessional loans, having special subsidy from the Chinese government. These loans are not the burden on Pakistan economy, as these constitute only 1.1 percent of total Pakistan foreign debt.
The sources said that Chinese financial assistance to Pakistan made a big contribution in strengthening Pakistan’s economy. Four years back GDP of Pakistan was 3.6 but now it reached 5.2, this reflected the fact that CPEC has played a major role in the economy of the country,” sources added.
Embassy’s sources further said that Chinese companies working in Pakistan has taken loans from Chinese banks for different development projects under CPEC and these companies are responsible for paying back loans not the Pakistani government.
The sources further said that China is also providing free assistance to some high-profile projects like construction of Gwadar Port, motorway linking Gwadar Port, schools and emergency health care centers etc. In future, China has planned to build more emergency healthcare centers in different parts of the country.
So far there are around 20,000 Pakistani students getting education in China. A large number of them are on Chinese government scholarships. CPEC also contributed in overcoming unemployment problem in Pakistan. As many as 60,000 Pakistanis got jobs in CPEC-related projects and 24,000 people got direct employment in different projects of CPEC. The sources said that in the next phase, china will focus to build industrial parks, which will bring not only Chinese but also other countries’ investment to Pakistan.