Lahore: On January 17, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) organized a seminar on “political parties’ priorities and minorities’ rights” that emphasized the need to make meaningful pledges and develop concrete plans to implement equality of rights and freedoms. The seminar was joined by representatives of political parties and civil society. Peter Jacob, Tanveer Jahan, Saroop Ijaz, Irfan Mufti, and Ajmal Jami presented the way forward to address human rights issues, while the representatives of political parties including Barrister Aamir Hassan (PPP) and Mahindar Paul (PTI) shared their respective party’s policy and actions towards the protection of minorities’ rights.
CSJ’s report titled “Promises to Keep & Miles to Go” based on the analysis of pledges, actions, and performance regarding minorities rights made by political parties was launched which revealed that none of the political parties was able to implement their pledges fully in the last three parliamentary tenures. The study found that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf fulfilled none out of five promises made in the election manifesto 2018, though it made partial progress on two promises. Pakistan Muslim League-N failed to materialize nine out of ten promises. Pakistan Peoples Party partially implemented one out of eight promises. The study showed that one-third of the pledges in parties' manifestos throughout three election years i.e. 2008, 2013, 2018 were common including; minority representation in ETPB, establishing a statutory minority commission, criminalizing forced conversions, reviewing curriculum, implementing job quotas and reviewing discriminatory laws. However, the pledges remain unfulfilled.
The study revealed that the Punjab government during 2008 and 2022 introduced 11 policy actions followed by the federal government with 9 actions, Balochistan with 8, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with 7, and Sindh with 6 actions. The majority of policy actions lacked a strong legal basis and implementation mechanism which indicates a need for a serious re-examination of our administrative system. The policy actions rely heavily on issuing notifications, which is a convenient use of administrative powers while the government evidently faced difficulties in legislating and instituting rules of procedures in various measures. The concrete information on the utilization of funds allocated for scholarship, places of worship, skill development etc. was not made public or there was a lack of implementation due to an absence of notifications or the purpose of the policy action was not fulfilled.
Peter Jacob, the executive director of CSJ, said that minorities rights is not a sectoral but a central issue of the politics of Pakistan. The onus is on the political parties to address human rights abuses and violations, particularly discrimination, intolerance, and extremism on the basis of religion but they failed to introduce progressive reforms dedicated to religious freedom and minorities rights, as evident in the case of draft bills on criminalizing forced conversions and setting up a national commission for minorities which were ignored by national, Punjab and Sindh assemblies due to pressure exerted by religious forces. He urged political parties to build consensus for the conduct of a credible population census, and for reforms in election laws to ensure free, fair, and transparent general elections.
Barrister Amir Hassan said that the electorate should not support the politicians engaged in supporting or spreading religion based extremism. He demanded that the Objectives Resolution needs to be excluded and Jinnah's 11th August, 1947 speech should be added to the constitution of Pakistan.
Tanveer Jahan said that the political parties are all alike and they fall on the religious right of the spectrum. A regressive model is being projected to the people. Pakistan was made in the name of minorities then why have we forgotten the very reason of our existence.
Saroop Ijaz advocate said that the political parties need to focus on minorities issues in the national conversation and the political agenda for meaningful improvement in minority rights in Pakistan. CSJ’s report is timely, incisive and comprehensive analysis of the manifesto promises of political parties and to hold political leaders accountable for their responsibility of upholding tolerance and inclusion.
Irfan Mufti said that the state narrative borrowed from religio-political parties is manifested in policies of the political parties which reflects in the laws and the constitution. He added that, manifestos seem to be like a token or cosmetic. Political parties need to make concrete efforts to ensure the effective participation of women, minorities and other weaker sections of society in politics and democratic order. This will have positive effects on their politics and will broaden their political support in public.
Ajmal Jami said that the media groups need to engage minority legislators in regular discussions on political affairs rather than inviting them on minorities day or in case of incidents of violence against minorities. He demanded that, Political Parties need to do more to mainstream minorities, and job opportunities should be provided to journalists from minority communities.
Mahindar Paul said that PTI is committed to taking legal, policy and administrative measures to safeguard minorities’ rights. Legislators need to make more efforts to effectively address the barriers and challenges faced by minorities, and they must introduce and support meaningful actions dedicated to the protection of minorities rights.
The findings and conclusions of the report titled “Promises to Keep & Miles to Go” are as under:
a) The political parties in the government and opposition largely failed to keep their promises, and they made partial progress on the inclusion of religious studies as an alternative to Islamiat.
b) The distinct pledges such as; introducing education quota, preventing misuse of blasphemy laws, representation of minority women in legislative assemblies and introducing constitutional reforms, show that political parties in Pakistan can dare to dream. Conversely, the non-implementation of the promises when the political parties are in power is reflective of weak resolve.
c) Some of the pledges were considered inappropriate and potentially counterproductive, hence categorized as unreasonable in this analysis including; the proposition about the direct election on reserved seats for minorities and the replacement of the term minority with “Non-Muslim”.
d) The political parties appear to be reluctant to take measures to address outstanding issues faced by minorities, to counter the anti-minorities propaganda, as transpired in the non-consideration of the bill to prevent forced conversions. They relied heavily on non-legislative means, such as; issuing executive notifications instead of passing legislation to introduce affirmative measures, which ultimately weakened the measures themselves, for instance, the failure of the policy of job quota for minorities, and the establishment of a national commission for minorities, etc.
e) Three political parties accorded importance to promoting interfaith harmony and religious tolerance. However, hate speech, discrimination, and violence against minority religions and sects remained a consistent issue, as the political parties failed to address the abuse of blasphemy laws, etc. despite themselves becoming a target sometimes.
f) The charity approach dominated the pledges and policy measures focusing on socio-economic development, as most parties relied on the allocation of charity and funds for minorities, as a primary approach to the fulfilment of rights. The privileges afforded to a limited number of people, hardly substitutes much needed institutional protection and rights in development. Secondly, government funding is marred by institutional and financial corruption, hence it fails to address the marginalization of the people concerned.
g) The existing delivery mechanism at the federal and provincial levels lacks capacity and vibrancy including the Minorities departments/ divisions, Minority Advisory Council, Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony and ETPB, which need reassessment and realignment of roles. Their dysfunction in monitoring and response to perennial and new challenges creates liabilities for the government.
h) The political parties allow themselves to take part in exhibitionist religiosity in fashion. With a few exceptions, the political parties in power manifest a tendency to compete with one another in imposing religious orthodoxy, which the religious parties use to strengthen their hold on legislative assemblies, etc. through use of religious symbols. Therefore, every little gain of religious right is the loss of democracy.
i) The political parties are increasingly using the language that manifests their aspiration about the empowerment of minorities but while in power, the parties rely on weak measures, as witnessed in the case of job quota and the National Commission for Minorities. Although two mainstream parties in governments in the Centre, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh promised to establish a statutory National Commission for Minorities. Likewise, a law is yet to be enacted to effectively implement job quota for minorities despite all three mainstream parties pledged to enforce minority job quota in government departments and institutions.
j) Pledges lacking clarity of purpose to protect minorities against discrimination, etc. are bound to fail in implementation. For instance, two mainstream political parties that assumed power in the centre and provinces, made a pledge to ensure protection of minorities against “discrimination, hatred and inequality” through legislation, however, failed to take concrete steps because the commitment itself was inarticulate.