WAH CANTT - Speakers at a seminar on minorities' issues, especially with reference to Peshawar church attack, have urged better coordination between state institutions and minority community with vibrant participation of local population to foil the evil designs to create distrust between different communities living in Pakistan.

The seminar was organised by a local NGO 'The Voice' on Wednesday wherein representatives from different walks of life participated and expressed their views as well as experiences with reference to issues faced by the minorities today when country is at the cross roads.

Rasheed Mughal, President Mashall Foundation, said that minorities comprise more than three per cent of Pakistan's population. He said that the break-up of religious minorities in Pakistan shows that the Hindu community is the largest with 1.4 million followers. Christians are second on this list with 1.27 million followers. He said that there are 125,681 Ahmadis or Qadiyanis, over 33,000 Baha'is, 6,146 Sikhs and over 4,000 Zoroastrians. Meanwhile, no fewer than 1,500 Pakistani citizens have classified themselves as Buddhists. He said that Constitution of Pakistan guarantees equal rights to minorities. Part II of the Constitution of Pakistan lays down "fundamental rights and principles of policy". He said that here are clauses to permit freedom of movement, assembly, association, trade, business or profession, and speech.

Munaza Peerzada, President of a local NGO, said that there are about 2.8 million of Christians enjoying all the rights of citizenry in Pakistan, having 93 Catholic churches spread all over the country. She said that owing to the conducive environment in the Pakistani society, the Christians have made outstanding contributions to the Pakistani national life. She said that Pakistan's first non-Muslim and most respected Chief Justice of Pakistan Supreme Court was Justice A R Cornelius. Pakistani Christians also distinguished themselves as great fighter pilots in the Pakistan Air Force.

Notable amongst them were Cecil Chaudhry, Peter Reilly and Mervyn L Middlecoat. She added that Christians have also contributed as educationists, doctors, lawyers and businessmen.  Since 9/11 incident on WTC in 2001, Pakistan is passing through a very critical stage in which economic meltdown, political infightings and the taxing war on terror, have made the country more susceptible to the onslaught of hostile anti-state elements. She said that as extremist militants have turned against Pakistan's security forces, therefore, the terrorists target their anger on different vulnerabilities including sacrilege of minorities and their holy places to create more problems for the State.

In his address, Dr Saeed Ahmed, President Human and Environment Development Association, said that since 9/11, a time period that has seen dozens of millions of Muslims slating the United States and its European allies for killing and suppressing Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan etc, attacks against Christians and other minorities have significantly increased in the Muslim world. And Pakistan is no exception.

He said that while terrorists have repeatedly been blaming these minorities of supporting the United States and its European allies, ordinary Muslims have been screaming worldwide against what they dub "an anti-Islam killing spree" led by the United States and the European nations.

Malik Aftab Hussain, deputy director of a local NGO, said that building a coalition of public and parliamentary actors that build stakes in the protection of minorities. This should include a review of the existing laws, removal of hate speech built into the blasphemy law; and a penal culture to allow for prosecution of false accusations. He said that an affirmative action-plan for the protection of minorities in Pakistan should also be iterated with the aim of building confidence in their stakes as equal citizens of the state.

Asim Meer, President of The Voice in his presidential address said that the freedom of practicing religion and equal right should be enough to dispel the misperception about treatment of minorities required in Islam and Pakistan, although there is a vast variation between theory and practice.

The unfortunate carnage on the All Saints Church in Peshawar City of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is in sharp contrast to the teachings of Islam. These so-called Islamist militants are tarnishing the good name of Islam and Pakistan for their own ignoble objectives. He said that Pakistan believed in building linkages with other faiths and hoped that Muslim Ummah would pursue the goal of interfaith harmony. He said that Islam teaches us to practice moderation as long as every thing is done within limits. He added that Islam is religion of peace and propagates moderation and tolerance and it does not allow violence under any circumstances.

He said that it allows promoting peace, unity and brotherhood in religious seminaries, mosques and other worship places and refraining from spreading provocative literatures, materials and making fiery speeches so that feelings of the other faiths are not hurt. He added that the nation was united against terrorism and was determined to make the country as dreamed by Quaid-iAzam and Allama Iqbal. He said that anti-state elements were behind the tragedy but vowed that unity of the nation would not let any conspiracy against the country succeed.