Caught in the crossfire

Published: January 8, 2018
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People chant slogans during a protest demanding justice for Sabeen Mahmud, a human rights activist who was shot by gunmen, outside the Press Club in Karachi, Pakistan, April 30, 2015. The killing raised fears for the safety of dissenting voices. PHOTO: REUTERS

People chant slogans during a protest demanding justice for Sabeen Mahmud, a human rights activist who was shot by gunmen, outside the Press Club in Karachi, Pakistan, April 30, 2015. The killing raised fears for the safety of dissenting voices. PHOTO: REUTERS

People chant slogans during a protest demanding justice for Sabeen Mahmud, a human rights activist who was shot by gunmen, outside the Press Club in Karachi, Pakistan, April 30, 2015. The killing raised fears for the safety of dissenting voices. PHOTO: REUTERS The writer, a former editor of The Express Tribune, is director of the Centre for Excellence in Journalism at IBA, Karachi. He tweets @tribunian

Earlier this month, the US State Department added Pakistan to a special watch list, while re-designating a group of other countries as being of “particular concern” on the issue of religious freedom. Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the US re-designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. What a wonderful club we have joined.

The timing of this placement comes when Pakistan and US are fighting a war of words over the tweet by the American president. Officials in Pakistan feel that the US will try and censure Pakistan in more ways than one. The placement is cited by our bureaucrats as one such example.

This takes away attention from a very real issue — the consistent manner in which members of our religious minorities are being targeted by different groups, while the government looks the other way.

Pakistan has to seriously look at its record not only with regards to religious minorities but also certain communities like the Hazara community. The government has largely been unable to trace the attackers and bring them to justice. Hundreds of innocent people have lost their lives for no fault of their own.

I recall meeting members of the Hazara community in Karachi as hundreds have migrated here from their hometown of Quetta given how unsafe it is there for them. Bright young men and women tell me how hard it is for them to venture out of their homes to earn a living or pursue an education. It is a shame for us that we allow them to live in such fear and danger.

Random killing of members of their community continues to be a
common occurrence. Out of desperation they leave the country. I once
interviewed a Pakistani journalist of Hazara origin in Sydney, where he had fled after threatened by a religious outfit while doing his job in Pakistan.

This young man pines for home but says he fears he will be killed if he goes back. I wonder why citizens of Pakistan have to face this fate in their own country. This young man risked life and limb to board an illegal boat to Austalia. Today he barely ekes out a living. But he says he is happy as at least he is alive. Where did we lose the August 11 vision of the Quaid? What has become of us?

Several religious minorities suffer from random attacks on its members. Systematically members of these communities are being killed by unidentified persons on account of their beliefs. Despite the dangers they face, most of the members of the community continue to live as best they can in Pakistan as not all of them can leave and claim political asylum.

The Christian community received a number of jolts after their places of worship and homes were attacked and hundreds killed. Apart from the daily mistreatment many of them receive, they continue to live the best they can in their homeland. It is only now, after the ending of the separate electorate system that some politicians have started to pay lip service to these communities.

Christians are frequently targeted for their beliefs and in many disputes end up being accused of blasphemy. Most Christians are poor and illiterate and easy targets. In most instances, it is the parcels of land that they own which are sought after by greedy landlords.

Forced conversions continue to be a recurring theme for the Hindu community in Sindh. Despite legislation and protests, many young Hindu women have been kidnapped and converted forcibly to Islam under the eyes of the law. The Hindu community is targeted for other reasons and every time there is a lynching in India of a Muslim, the community has to bear the brunt on this side of the border.

These are only a small number of examples of a much larger problem. Those arrested for rioting in Youhanabad have been offered to be let off if they convert to Islam. The whole attitude of the majority is to convert all minorities to Islam, taking away the beauty in diversity of this country. It is time we looked at ourselves in the mirror and had a serious dialogue. We don’t need the US to tell us that.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2018.

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Reader Comments (4)

  • Feroz
    Jan 8, 2018 - 12:28PM

    You have raised many issues of religious discrimination, but why bring Quaid’s vision into this discussion ? The task of building the country and shaping it into one they want to live in is that of citizens of the land. It is not a job that can be left to messiahs or sub contracted to external contractors. Human resources and not just natural resources are a nations real wealth, only if you invest in providing these human resources the right education and training will they have the opportunities to build a better future. Using human resources as cannon fodder for achievement of strategic and ideological goals cannot produce the results desired.Recommend

  • rk singh
    Jan 10, 2018 - 2:58PM

    Dear Sir, a very good article. Jinnah created a country for Muslims, but he was not sure of its outcome. I think he had a change of mind after Pakistan was Independent. After the partition violence and the ethnic cleansing of Hindus and Sikhs, he had a eye opener. Also he realized, not all Muslims from India can afford to make the exodus. Millions will stay back. So his concept of Pakistan was a non-starter from day 1. He saw aggressive religious fanatics raising their heads. So his speech on 11th August, he speaks of tolerance and equality in Pakistan. But I am sure he knew this is not possible in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Insaaf Hussain
    Jan 10, 2018 - 6:21PM

    Jinnah is no longer relevant to Pakistan today. We are now an Islamic country. As such, minorities should emigrate piecefully to India which allows other religions.Recommend

  • tatvavetta
    Jan 10, 2018 - 7:00PM

    @Insaaf Hussain:
    your logic is absolutely wrong . Hindu minorities of Sindh and Punjab have right to live in their homlamd of thousands of year.You have no right to ask them to emograte to foreign lands.Hindu Sindhis have lived on banks of Sindhu river from beginning of civilization while muslim raiders,invaders,and plundererscame to Sindh in 1200 AD. Insaaf Hussain if your ancstors are arabs or Persians please go back to your roots donot ask minorities to emigrate.Recommend

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