Can Pakistan ever be a minority-friendly country?

Published: January 13, 2017

Pakistan ranks fourth on the list of the 50 countries where persecution is worst for Christians. PHOTO: AFP

Both January 11th news items were almost conjoined. Or like reading the mirror-written ecnalubma (mirror image of the word ‘ambulance’ written in front of ambulances) and getting it right as ambulance in the rear-view mirror.

The Guardian carried a report, titled ‘Christians in India increasingly under attack, study shows’, in which Pakistan ranks fourth on the list of the 50 countries where persecution is worst for Christians.

APP reported that Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reached out to minorities in a speech at the sacred 900-year-old Katas Raj Hindu temples in Pakistan where he said:

“The day is not far when Pakistan will be recognised as a ‘minorities-friendly country’ due to steps being undertaken to better the lives of minority groups.”

The prime minister’s “minorities-friendly” assurance is neither a promise nor mere verbiage, but a declaration of intent. He can initiate the process but cannot control its timetable or its success measured by expectations.

Pakistan is not minority-unfriendly due to a legislative void. The challenge comes from hearts and minds. The success or failure of passing laws often depends on the quality of the backroom deal-making. Alas, hearts and minds are even slipperier than veteran lawmakers and immune to wheeling and dealing. Yet, the prime minister’s attempt to seek virtue for himself and his constituents is laudable. Had Abraham Lincoln not issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the Fifth Circuit Court, in United States versus Jefferson County Board of Education, would not have been able to order school districts to end segregation in 1966.

It is not enough to say that the enlightened speech was intended to encourage Modi’s negotiators to a samosa party around a glistening negotiating table. These words will impact closer to home, with perhaps unforeseen consequences.

The prime minister’s optimistic locution might not affect Pakistan’s standing as the fourth most dangerous country for a Christian minority, but it will raise the expectations of all minorities. It will also provoke anger among those segments of the majority who feel that such recognition is a betrayal. Not only the prime minister but the minorities themselves will be exposed to that periodic, lethal rage.

But then politics carries its perils, while being a minority in Pakistan can be even trickier. And although the road to hell is paved with good intentions, one hopes for an exception.

Terrorist attacks have, no doubt, indiscriminatingly targeted all communities in Pakistan, regardless of their numerical status. However, non-political attacks in the form of vigilantism and riots have tarnished the very meaning of Pakistan. History measures the greatness of individuals and civilisations in their treatment of minorities, and if the prime minister’s words are not followed by deeds, the verdict will be harsh.

Pakistan has already lost 70 years of the century that passed between Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the start of its de facto application. Yet, if the government starts issuing a spate of hasty affirmative action directives for communities that are ill-equipped to respond to them, the situation will only worsen. Lowering standards to affect credibility by accommodating sub-standard minority candidates weakens all communities and fosters inter-communal friction. Despite a head start, India still has to confront riots and self-immolations from minority and majority communities.

The greatest obstacle to retrieving alienated minorities and bringing them into the mainstream is in the hearts and minds. The real battleground is in classrooms to change mind-sets and make minority candidates proficient enough to avail equal opportunity. Affirmative action should be negotiated with community leaders as a privilege of limited, though renewable duration. Otherwise, noble intentions risk spawning a breeding ground of abuse with minority community puppets fronting for ‘minority-contract’ hustlers, further deteriorating their struggling communities.

While the career-nursing pundits of education bicker over textbook content, there is a smouldering issue, extinguishing which can also serve as a litmus test for the prime minister’s intentions and soothe uneasy hearts.

Three Christian members of the Punjab Legislative Assembly cast the crucial vote for the judicial creation of Pakistan, asking that Christians be added to the Muslim population. On November 19, 1942, at a reception in Loring Hotel in Lahore in the presence of Miss Fatima Jinnah, Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan and the Nawab of Mamdot, Jinnah said,

“We will never forget your favour…”

Samson Simon Sharaf in one of his columns, ‘Christian IDPs of Pakistan’, and Sama Faruqi and Asif Aqeel in their in-depth article, Caste away: The on-going struggle of Punjabi Christians, have also brought the issue into focus.

The newly created state of Pakistan promised Christians a 5% quota in government and semi government jobs and admissions into higher and professional academic institutions. Seventy-one Punjab Battalion, a regiment of Christians, was to be resurrected and farms in 12-acre holdings abandoned by fleeing Sikh landowners were to be distributed to their Christian farm labourers. Christians have been patiently waiting for 70 years and perhaps the prime minister finally intends to fulfil these promises as redress of grievances with compensation for the delay. The legal maxim of ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ is a universally known lament.

It is hoped that if they do materialise, the land grants will not be a farce in areas where they encroach on existing communities and create a security situation, that they will be fertile and under irrigation, and that their qabza (possession) will be ensured by the local authorities.

It would also be good to remember that when, after Partition, these farm labourers were divested of their ancestral profession; they congregated in urban areas where they were channelled into sanitary work. After 70 years, their descendants have lost their farming skills. Offering them a 12-acre parcel of land would be a cruel joke. Either they should be offered farming courses or another form of compensation in property — not cash, because as is, unfortunately, the wont of ghettoised communities, that could go quickly, leaving them worse off.

If that happens, no mirror in the world will be able to flip ‘ecnalubma’ into ‘ambulance’.

Azam Gill

Azam Gill

The author is a novelist, analyst and retired Lecturer from Toulouse University. He served in the French Foreign Legion, French Navy and the Punjab Regiment. He has authored nine books. He blogs at

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Raul

    Except for a few voices in English speaking newspapers there is no real support for Minority rights in Pakistan. With discrimination built into its constitution and laws, giving a speech is just political eyewash. Asia Bibi is still on death row.Recommend

  • Rohan

    It’s a jehad friendly countryRecommend

  • M M Malik

    ….a far dream Recommend

  • Huzur

    The Semitic religions can never be minority friendly as they believe only they have the truth and the rest whom they call pagans,infidel .kaffirs etc must be saved…… from what …,and this is is apparent by the way they get treated.Recommend

  • wb

    “The Guardian carried a report,
    titled ‘Christians in India increasingly under attack, study shows’, in
    which Pakistan ranks fourth on the list of the 50 countries where
    persecution is worst for Christians.”

    That was absolutely unnecessary for this blog. But, if ET moderators allow all comments, you’ll hear directly from Indian Christians here. Also, many recent cases of attack and threat to Indian Christians, especially in states like West Bengal and Kerala came from Muslims. But, I’ll let Indian Christians speak for themselves.Recommend

  • LS

    The same report shows top 10 persecuting countries are Muslim… Your own country is in fourth place… Yet you start the article with India and paint Pakistan as something like heaven for minorities when the reality is that less than 2% of minorities are left of All varieties…

    Muslims in India are the worst offenders.. They chopped of the hands of a Christian for writing about the Prophet but the same Muslims complained when they received angry phone calls when writing disparagingly about Hindu gods.. Muslims attacked multiple churches, raped nuns in Bengal… But put a Hindu in front to take the blame because they are 80%? In fact there are towns and localities in India where Muslims hooligans harass others once they are 15 or 20% of population, towns like Kairana, Muzzafarnagar, Budhua in UP or the whole state of West Bengal, Assam, Areas of Muslim Majority in Kerala or TN… They deny civic services unless you convert or move out…Recommend

  • K. H. Zia

    It is true there have been some uncalled for attacks against the Christian minority in Pakistan in recent years. To extrapolate these into branding Pakistan as ‘minority unfriendly country’ is not only a gross exaggeration but also manifestly unfair. You only have to take one look at this piece of research by the Washington Post to know this:

  • Azam Gill

    Thank you I checked it out: the term “minority-unfriendly” in the article only appears as an antonym to “minorities friendly”, as translated in the Dawn headline of January 11. If the PM says Pakistan will become minorities friendly then he obviously that it is not yet so. Here’s the Dawn article:

  • Azam Gill

    The article starts with a reference to the Guardian headline and if you click on the underlined ‘a report’ it’ll take you straight there. You might then want to complain to The Guardian!Recommend

  • Nomad1412

    As an Indian Christian, no Indian ever asked me about my religion nor do I go around brandishing it.

    Do I feel India is safe? Unequivocally yes! Why else would I return to India after being in the US for so many years? Religion doesn’t bind people as much as ethnicity and nationhood.

    A few isolated incidents do occur once in a while, but I have never once heard from my relatives or acquaintances of anything that happened with them.Recommend

  • LS

    Can’t you read? I did mention the report and also mentioned that the top 10 worst offenders are muslim countries. Yet you chose to start with India. You had a choice to address the actual issue in your own country rather than start with India first and then state “How rosy things are getting in Pakistani”. Typical paki attitude who can’t begin even their article without bringing India in it..Recommend

  • Azam Gill

    You’ve made a mistake – please re-read the article and retrieve its ethos which might help you to revise your opinion. It’s not nice saying things like “can’t you read?”, is it? Winding each other up is a dead end!Recommend

  • Sane
  • Sane

    Yes, Hindu attitude make them to read Pakistani articles to propagate lies and hate.Recommend

  • Sane

    See your atrocities against humanity, specially against Muslims living in Indian territories.Recommend

  • Sane
  • Sane
  • Nomad1412

    What has your link got to do with Christians in India?

    Do not deflect and make wild allegations as Pakistanis usually do.Recommend

  • LS

    Yeah, I got the ethos of the article loud and clear… “India is worse than pakistan, when it comes to treatment of minorities” and you want Indians to say nice things about you? There was NO need to bring India in this article. Absolutely no need. Let me repeat this again for you. You had a choice to write this article without bringing India in it. Yet you did that.Recommend

  • LS

    First learn to make sense when you comment.Recommend

  • LS

    Yeah. .I already read that.. it is a FAKE news, heavily edited from DND India and has no reference to any data. Also, while the opposite was happening muslims like you were quite happy and even if this story has an iota of truth then it has started to pain you? What a bigot..

    Here see — This is just one state:

    In Madhya Pradesh – A muslim marries 5-10 times with Tribal girls converting all of them.. They have wives in every town. Same happens in Gujarat.. Where muslims convert hindu girls in the name of love.

    Look in your own backyard. While you forget that every year 5000 hindu girls are kidnapped, raped and converted and sometimes killed.

    So it is YOU who is lying here.Recommend

  • LS

    Like what? Did minorities in India Vanish? They did vanish is pakistan.
    Did you know why pakistan was kicked out of UN’s human rights committee?Recommend

  • Azam Gill

    It is a common practice to refer to an article by title and source.
    And I’m being accused of malicious intent for maintaining this practice!

    If you perceive a conflict of content and title prejudicial to India, please take it up with The Guardian.Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    There is a basic conflict between democracy and those whom democracy does not represent euphemistically called minorities. The basic premise of democracy, assuming representative bodies have not been corrupted by big money is, the larger the sample group the less the chance of error. Pakistanis as a population have a right to come to a group agreement on what they want for their future without interference by minority instigators often in the pay of foreign states. Attempts to interfere in a voters rights by any minority group is considered a federal crime here and should be the same in Pakistan.Recommend

  • wb

    That’s not good enough. In all honesty, unless India provides you an equal opportunity to thrive and succeed, India cannot be good enough for Christians. Just being safe and being able to survive isn’t good enough.Recommend

  • Nomad1412

    If you want to know about the prosperity of Christians in India, fortunately this can be verified from multiple sources, for instance

    Indian Christians, after Sikhs, are the second most prosperous religious community in India (Parsis due to their small size are not included in these reports).Recommend