GUEST WRITER

DR PAUL BHATTI

Why all the meetings frequently called to ponder over the issue of inter-faith harmony in Pakistan end up without any tangible outcome.

Their recommendations remain on paper only. Crimes against minorities continue unabated. Every new incident jolts the government, but only for the time being. There is no long term strategy to address the issue on permanent basis.

I believe it is time that a platform for religious harmony on national level be put in place to trace the root cause of inter-faith animosity and the hidden forces damaging the country and the religion. It is direly required that a vivid change in the educational curriculum be introduced and the common values characterized in different religions be highlighted so that our next generations extend their love and respect for all the communities.

During the PPP regime and afterwards, I have been repeatedly pointing out emphatically that Council of Islamic Ideological (CII) could serve as a forum to bring together scholars from all faiths to devise workable strategy to promote inter-faith harmony and to address issues relating to its implementation on regular basis. Its recommendations should be binding on all state institutions. This would be in addition to the task already assigned to the council.

In February 2013, All Pakistan Minorities Alliance had released a communiqué in the name of Islamabad declaration which was fully endorsed by the then government. In this declaration, suggestions to promote the religious understanding and harmony and stop bloodshed in the name of religion were made. The declaration was agreed upon unanimously by the scholars of all the religions and sects. But the practical steps needed to promote this objective have not been taken yet.

The minorities in Pakistan have many other issues which need to be rectified. For instance, their matrimonial issues need to be legalized and a special committee be formed to redress the atrocities inflicted on them over the years. A change in the electoral system is also essential to ensure effective representation of minorities in the assemblies. During the PPP regime, we had moved a bill in the national assembly to increase the seats of the minorities from 10 to 14 in the Federal assembly and following the same proportion in the provincial assemblies. The bill was firstly passed in the cabinet and subsequently in the parliamentary committee. However, it could not be transformed into law because of the incomplete quorum. It is our earnest demand from the present government that it should be made an act of the parliament.

My brother Shahbaz Bhatti launched a movement to annul the separate electoral system and reinstate the joint electoral system as well as for dual vote. It was due to his struggle that the minorities could get representation in the Senate as one seat for each province was reserved for minorities. In government jobs, 5 per cent quota was reserved for the minorities.

In conformity with 18th amendment the federal ministry for the minorities’ affairs ceased to exist. Therefore, the PPP government formed federal ministry for the inter-religion consonance. The present government has merged the same into the ministry of religious affairs. This has adversely affected the efforts being carried out to promote inter-religion concordance. The present government must revisit and review this decision.

We would like to convey this message that the minorities in Pakistan can only be protected if the true spirit of Islam is manifested. No religion, in its teachings allows killing the innocent people in the name of religion. It has been mentioned clearly in Islam that killing an innocent person means killing the whole humanity. Moreover, Islam has given clear instructions to probe into the matter completely and repeatedly to find out the facts before accusing a person for some undesirable act.

Despite clear instructions to show respect for followers of other faiths, it is strange to note that certain people take precious human lives in the name of religion without having true evidence. It is only through inter-faith harmony that such elements can be eliminated for good. I believe that we must go ahead on this very point that religion teaches us mutual love, affection and consideration.

Today, the Muslim-Christian unity and integrity is needed more than ever. Bilawal Bhutto’s courageous stance on this matter undeniably is a ray of hope that he would take radical measures to promote the inter religion consonance and enlightenment in Pakistan when he reaches the decision making position.

The writer is former advisor to prime minister on inter-faith harmony.