Dear Senate, instead of new legislations, how about implementing the old ones?
What are thou going to do today, my lord?
I am going to protect minorities in Pakistan.
And how would thou protect minorities, my lord?
By making new laws!
But what about the old laws, my lord?
Hmm, they are old and obsolete.
How would thou save the new laws, my lord, from becoming obsolete?
For that I need to form a committee!
Recently, a Senate committee got together to discuss a fresh piece of legislation to help protect the religious minorities in Pakistan. After the killings of 1,456 Hazaras in Balochistan over a period of seven years and other minorities in Sindh, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), the Senate committee on human rights did the honour of conducting meetings with the officials of the respective law enforcement agencies, representatives of political parties, the lawyers’ community, prisoners, and police officials.
This is not the first time, or last for that matter, that a committee has prepared its recommendations for the protection of our minorities. It’s not that provisions of law to safeguard minorities do not exist already, but yes, this will be a fresh exercise. We need to understand that minorities can’t be protected by engaging in futile exercises repeatedly, for it leads to nowhere and we end up in the same blind alley.
From the Objectives Resolution 1949 to the Constitution of Pakistan (1956, 1962 and 1973), religious minorities have been assured of protection and equal fundamental rights. Article 20, 21, 25, 26, 27 and 36 speak of the existence of these principles on paper. Moreover, Pakistan has made commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, 1948) and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, 1966) for safeguarding religious minorities.
If, at all, playing the legislation is necessary, the Senate Committee should look into improving the existing legislation before going on an expedition for the new. For example, there is a sombre need to increase the number of reserved seats for religious minorities in the National Assembly. Similarly, amendments should be made to give representation to all the religious minorities including Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Parsis etc. in the Parliament with seats allotted according to their population ratio. The government must consider the system of separate electorates in order to secure fair representation for the minorities.
The National Action Plan (NAP) provides a much needed opportunity to revise the curriculum to make it hate speech free and it should be utilised effectively. Similarly, amendments should be made in Section 298B and 298C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) to make it unbiased for dispensation of justice.
If the honourable committee still feel that they want something more to do, it should consider proposing amendments to make Article 36, which is the ‘Protection of Minorities’, an integral part of our fundamental rights in order to free it from being subjected to the ‘availability of resources’, because the Constitution of Pakistan neither outlines what constitutes availability of resources nor does it provide a timeline for the implementation of the ‘Principles of Policy’ by the state.
Furthermore, our civil and military leadership, shaken by the APS attack in Peshawar had vowed to take decisive action against militancy which resulted in the formation of the NAP. NAP also includes, besides other provisions, countering hate speech, ensuring against the re-emergence of proscribed organisations, effective steps against religious persecution, and dealing firmly with the sectarian terrorists.
However, even after more than six months, there has been little progress on the effective implementation of NAP, except for the matters pertaining to military action or Zarb-e-Azb. So much so that even the Supreme Court of Pakistan has termed NAP a big joke, referring to government’s inaction.
It is no secret that the patronage of extremist groups by different political and religious groups in Pakistan has contributed to the intolerance and acts of violence against the religious and sectarian minorities of Pakistan. The state has consistently failed to intervene and protect its people against violence by maliciously motivated elements and the certainty of impunity has encouraged them to commit lawlessness.
The foremost thing to do, above making new legislations, is to implement the existing provisions of law in order to safeguard religious minorities. If a retired army general can be tried for allegedly violating the articles of the Constitution, then why can’t those who violate the articles of the Constitution pertaining to the protection of the minorities go unconstrained and enjoy the protection of different political players?
The need is to set examples. If the existing laws are not implemented judiciously and miscreants are not punished sufficiently, making new legislations would add little value, like its predecessor legislations, to the protection of minorities.
Instead it would sound like:
From London to Dubai,
To the National Assembly,
We hold meetings; talk, discuss and analyse.
Excellent rhetoric, lavish phrases, rich costumes,
We paint perhaps the most exquisite pictures in the world.
Portray scenes and situations;
Dismal, hopeless and alarming.
We twist our faces,
Get agitated and excited,
Rail and bewail,
Blame everybody except ourselves,
And then pounce upon the
Long-awaited lavish tea, snacks, and sweets
The meeting’s over—
We shrug our shoulders,
Shake off the unbearable burden;
Twist the corners of our lips
And bear the insinuating smile.
Nothing can be altered.
Well, for that, we shall form a Committee.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.