Minorities’ issue highlighted
in Lahore conference


By Saad Junejo

Religious and sectarian minorities suffer systematic discrimination and violence in Pakistan, an expert panel said during a seminar in Lahore.
This issue of discrimination against minorities was raised during the Asma Jahangir Conference 2021, where the speakers discussed the theme of ‘Freedom of Religion and Belief’ on Sunday. “Despite all discrimination, we own this land and accept the Constitution of Pakistan,” said speakers while attending a session on “Impact of extremism on religious and sectarian Minorities” on Sunday, The News International reported.
Prominent Pakistani academic Pervez Hoodbhoy said that the two-Nation Theory and the Objectives Resolution laid the basis for the systematic discrimination of minorities in Pakistan. He said that the Christians, Hindus and Parsis, over time, chose to leave Pakistan due to discrimination and violence.

Veteran lawyer and human rights leader Asma Jahangir

Lal Chand Malli, Member of the National Assembly, said the government, under the Ministry of Human Rights, had formed a parliamentary committee to protect minorities against forced conversions, but the law was blocked at the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII).
A representative of the Hazara community termed Hazaras “double minority” as they faced systematic discrimination. “The extremists are empowered due to encouragement by the state as Hazaras suffer gross violations of human rights,” Jalila Haider said.
There was confusion from the very outset as to what should Pakistan look like, said Haris Khaliq, secretary-general of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). “The Quaid-e-Azam advocated Pakistan to be an inclusive society for minorities, but at the same time declared it a laboratory of Islam,” he said. Khaliq added that it caused a lot of confusion about the ideological roadmap of Pakistan, as quoted by The News International.
The annual HRCP report released earlier this year said the human rights scenario remains alarming with issues like marginalisation of communities and groups and increasing instances of honour killing as well as the poor state of religious minorities.
Spiralling cases of child abuse, enforced disappearances, targeted killings and attack against journalists are among fundamental human rights issues plaguing the country, highlighted in the International Forum For Rights And Security’s annual report of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) titled ‘State of Human Rights in 2020’. (ANI)

Dawn’s editorial comments

Meanwhile, in a hard-hitting but in fact, Dawn newspaper in its editorial comments said that the Asma Jehangir Conference held over the weekend in Lahore generated plenty of noise and controversy in terms of what the speakers said and who the speakers were. However, while the discourse and debate on the role of the judiciary, and the strong opinions expressed both in favour of and against judicial performance, are par for the course, what was clearly not was the attempt to gag the speech of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry had protested Mr Sharif’s selection as the final speaker and had bowed out of the conference, as is his right, but whoever was responsible for disconnecting the internet in order to stop the former PM’s address being shown at the venue clearly crossed a line. Pemra has already slapped a ban on his speeches being televised by news channels but this does not mean that he is not allowed to speak at private events.

Lahore Conference

Somehow Pakistani governments refuse to learn that banning leaders and blacking out their speeches has never had the effect that the government has desired. Politics has a way of channelising itself through various means. Even in the days when there were no private channels and no social media, and PTV only showed ministers while pretending no opposition existed, politics continued to shape the national discourse. In this day and age, therefore, it is almost infantile for governments to try and block the speech of its opponent by means that are laughably crude, and amusingly ineffective. One expected better from the PTI government.

The conference, however, witnessed a fruitful debate over the role of the judiciary and it was instructive to hear the honourable judges themselves address the topic. This has become all the more relevant after recent allegations against the former chief justice of the Supreme Court Saqib Nisar. It is no secret that the Pakistani judiciary has had a controversial past but it was hoped that the institution had learnt from its mistakes and was now increasingly asserting its independence.

The last few years though have seen fresh controversies erupt over the conduct of the judiciary and these misgivings found voice at the Lahore conference. The chief justice delivered an impassioned speech debunking allegations that the judiciary was not making decisions independently. It was important for the judges present at the conference to hear arguments that usually do not reverberate inside their courtrooms.

There is a lot that the judiciary has to introspect. With disclosures about the Panama Papers case and other related decisions emerging gradually, it is all the more important for the judiciary to get to the bottom of these allegations to separate the truth from lies and ensure transparency in the affairs of the institution and the conduct of judges. After all, the credibility of an institution is dependent on the level of trust it enjoys among the citizens.