Minorities and Nawaz Sharif

Published: June 10, 2013
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The writer is the Chairperson of the Department of History, Forman Christian College, Lahore and tweets at @BangashYK

The writer is the Chairperson of the Department of History, Forman Christian College, Lahore and tweets at @BangashYK

Last year, I was invited to a Christmas programme by the Lahore College of Theology. At that superb programme, the chief guest was our present prime minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif. While it was heart-warming that Mr Sharif stayed for the full three hours of the event (something I had hardly ever seen a VIP do), he also made some interesting comments. Among other things, Nawaz said that he unreservedly supported full rights and privileges for minorities in Pakistan, and in the end said: “Just as I made the first non-Muslim finance minister in Punjab, soon I will surprise you again”. I must admit, at that time, I simply termed it a politician playing to the crowd and came back home happy that, at least, he was there. That comment, however, came alive just a few days back when as prime minister, Nawaz Sharif appointed Mr Kamran Michael as the federal minister for ports and shipping — the first time in the recent history of democratic Pakistan that a minority member has been appointed to a substantial ministry.

The last time a minority member was appointed to anything, except the minorities’ portfolio, was during the three-year dictatorial regime of General (ret) Pervez Musharraf when he appointed, in succession, Mr Derek Cyprian and Col (retd) SK Tressler, as minister of culture, sports, tourism and youth affairs, in addition to minorities. Interestingly, before that, it was again Nawaz Sharif, who had appointed a minority member as narcotics minister in his first tenure of government between 1990-93. Before that, Raja Tridev Roy held the additional portfolio of tourism with minorities, between 1973-74, in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s first tenure and earlier Justice (retd) AR Cornelius had been the law minister under Yahya Khan’s martial law regime. Surprisingly, no minority member featured during the decade-long rule of General Ayub Khan, even though, he is usually lauded as the most forward-looking and “secular”-minded ruler in Pakistan (side note: We have yet to understand the Ayub era; the propaganda which portrayed him as the best thing for Pakistan at that time is slowly being discredited with more research on the period).

In the first decade of Pakistan’s existence, minorities, which at that time were more in number due to East Pakistan being about 25 per cent Hindu, fared a little better in the cabinet. While they were not part of the cabinet of Sir Khawaja Nazimuddin and a few others, Akshay Kumar Das managed to become minister of state in both the governments of Chaudhry Mohammad Ali and HS Suhrawardy, Basanta Kumar Das became cabinet minister for labour and education in Sir Feroz Khan Noon’s administration, while Kamini Kumar Datta was cabinet minister for law and health during the government of Chaudhry Mohammad Ali, and law, health and education minister during the tenure of Sir Feroz Khan Noon. And, we all know that the father of the nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, appointed Jogendra Nath Mandal as the first law minister of Pakistan, after he had been the first president of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, a position which Jinnah later held himself.

The point in narrating all this information is to show that minorities have always been part and parcel of the fabric of Pakistan and that at the inception of the country, their role, contribution and importance was rather more than what is given to them today. Just imagine, would anyone accept a Hindu as the speaker of the National Assembly or the education minister, or a Christian as the law minister? It is here that I want to commend Nawaz Sharif for breaking this important barrier. By appointing a non-Muslim to an important ministry, he has clearly shown his resolve to put his trust in the minister, regardless of religion and has given confidence to other non-Muslims that they, too, can equally participate in the development of the country despite being non-Muslim.

At that Christmas function, Mr Sharif also said that he hoped that the word “minority” is deleted from our vocabulary. He said that we should all just be “Pakistanis” and be referred to as such, without any distinction by the state. Now that he is in power, I hope and pray that he breaks these barriers and creates an atmosphere (legally and socially), where all Pakistanis can contribute to the welfare of their country on merit and without differentiation on the basis of religion.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2013.                                                                                        

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Reader Comments (31)

  • Syed
    Jun 10, 2013 - 11:23PM

    Do Ahmadis even qualify as minorities? They are treated worse than other minorities.Recommend

  • M Baloch
    Jun 10, 2013 - 11:29PM

    Here is the start…Not a single Shia (20-25%) in the cabinet, Not a single Pashtun (10-15%), not a single woman in federal cabinet (50%) and these are PM Nawaz’s achievements for the purification of the already land will go on and on with the passage of time…!

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  • ahmed
    Jun 10, 2013 - 11:34PM

    @syed, its not the fault of our politicians, its the whole nation, not political leader can take the enmity of the whole nation. just try to discuss this issue in your friends, neighbors you will find 1 time out of 100 times you will be the only one advocating for ahmedis.
    this thing can only be rectified if humanity is given priority over religion otherwise nothing will going to change.

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  • Khan
    Jun 10, 2013 - 11:51PM

    Ah! I have newfound respect for Mr. Sharif :)

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  • Mirza
    Jun 11, 2013 - 12:44AM

    It is really true the worst form of democracy is better than the best dictatorship. It is just the start of democratic process let us keep going and our inclusive and diverse country could be an example of tolerance.

    Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jun 11, 2013 - 12:50AM

    I would have thought that the author would no longer use the term ‘minority’ when the Prime Minister has given the regular portfolio. In a democracy there are no minorities nor any caste system, which unfortunately India practices. I hope that all citizens will be fully integrated regardless of their ethnic or religion divide.

    Rex Minor

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  • Umer
    Jun 11, 2013 - 1:08AM

    Nawaz Sharif appointed Mr Kamran Michael as the federal minister for ports and shipping

    Kamran Michael does not have a good reputation. His reputation is that of a PMLN tout rather than of a representative or sympathiser of Christian community. He has been accused by Christian community for covering up for the perpetrators of incidents such as Gojra instead of insisting on their prosecution.

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  • Umer
    Jun 11, 2013 - 2:27AM

    Kamran Michael is just a PMLN show boy for just such occasions. He does not represent anyone else, certainly not Christian interests.

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  • Reality Check
    Jun 11, 2013 - 2:56AM

    @M Baloch:

    You are factually wrong about the shia population of pakistan, its concentration is different in different areas. In punjab and KPK ,they are no more than 1-5 %. May be it some areas like Karachi or Quetta they are 10-15 %. Get your facts right before you make tall claims.

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  • Aryan
    Jun 11, 2013 - 4:29AM

    @Rex Minor:
    Thanks for reminding Indians to get rid of their PM, VP and president of ruling party.
    Stay minor, never try to be MAJOR.

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  • Durbullah
    Jun 11, 2013 - 5:15AM

    Why do you guys wear religion on your sleeves? Afraid that the mullah might denounce you?It looks more like stone age.

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  • gp65
    Jun 11, 2013 - 5:52AM

    @Rex Minor: Not sure if you are aware that India’s Prime Minister (Sikh), Defense Minister(Christian), Foreign Minister (Muslim), FInance Minister (atheist) and CJ of Supreme Court (Muslim) are all non-Hindus?

    It behooves you to do a little research instead of spreading uninformed lies.

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  • Mirza
    Jun 11, 2013 - 8:27AM

    @Rex Minor:
    @Aryan: There is a difference between major league and minor league!
    @gp65: As usual to the point and factual.
    Thanks and regards,
    M

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  • ezanius
    Jun 11, 2013 - 11:03AM

    @Reality Check: 20% of the total population of Pakistan is Shia, there is no doubt in it.

    http://www.prideofpakistan.com/v2/index.php/religions

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  • FactCheck
    Jun 11, 2013 - 4:29PM

    @Rex Minor:

    India practices what? Apparently you know nothing of Indian Constitution. What people do out of ignorance in some parts of the country is not what is practiced across the nation.

    Constitution of Pakistan has delegated some people like Ahmadis, Shias, Christians and the rest to minority status and denied them rights to vote or hold high offices. Citing one or two exceptions in the 60+ years of history only shows how backward Pakistan is.

    You don’t see any killing of minorities or blasphemy laws in India do you.

    First, you all need to stop comparing yourselves to India and start looking inwards and the rot inside and try to eradicate them. Lord knows you have plenty to work on. Besides, why do you care what India does or doesn’t do? Why do you care India rots to the core? It doesn’t affect you but the rot that is permeating your land should matter to you.

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  • Rex Minor
    Jun 11, 2013 - 5:06PM

    GP65,

    Your statement proves the point. I am sure you are able to identify every citizen of India with his caste and religion nomenclature. This is the caste system which every Nation in the world practiced before they reached a certain level of civilisation! India is the worst holding on to it!! The fact that the hindu child is no t brught up with restraints on lying, you consider eveything that you do not follow or comprehend as a lie and you are not alone; but will accept that the man has landed on Mars as soon as it appears in th press.

    My request to the author as well as muslim readers was not to regard non muslims as minorities, because this in itf is a discrmination!!

    Rex Minor

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  • gp65
    Jun 11, 2013 - 7:09PM

    @Rex Minor: “GP65,
    Your statement proves the point. I am sure you are able to identify every citizen of India with his caste and religion nomenclature. “

    Most people can determine if someone is Hindu, Muslim or Christian by their names. SIkh names are similar to Hindus but the dress code sets them apart. In any case in US also which is a melting pot, people can tell by the last name whether someone is of Jewish origin or Muslim or Hindu. Not just that whether someone is of Slavic origin or Irish origin or Hispanic origin by their names. In many cases you can also tell the race and gender too based on names and certainly by seeing the people. This in no way proves that there is discrimination.

    If there was discrimination all the people I listed would not have reached the top as they have. It is not just in politics but business, civil service, armed forces, Bollywood, classical music, cricket – in fact in all endeavors you can see people from different faiths reach the top. Recommend

  • MA
    Jun 11, 2013 - 8:21PM

    So now we can hope that the Ahmadies will be allowed to practice Islam?

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  • Jun 11, 2013 - 10:22PM

    Nawaz was instrumental in Ahmadi persecution during his tenure as CM Punjab under Zia.

    Recommend

  • M M Malik
    Jun 11, 2013 - 10:23PM

    In Sindh, when Mumtaz Bhutto was the caretaker Chief Minister, Kunwar idris an Ahmadi was appointed as a minister.

    Recommend

  • Muslim Leaguer
    Jun 11, 2013 - 10:31PM

    @M Baloch

    While in the 21st century we should not be talking about discrimination on the basis of creed, caste or religion may I remind you to re-read the list of federal cabinet announced on Friday 8th June 2013?

    Do you know that Sartaj Aziz belongs to one of the sects that you mentioned?

    Can you identify the gender of Anusha Rahman and Saira Afzal Tarrar? Don’t you know that they are women??

    It’s better to do some home work before you start criticising others.

    Recommend

  • Parwan Singh Rathore
    Jun 11, 2013 - 10:37PM

    Entire Pakistani Nation is proud of PMLN…. For the first-ever time in Pakistan, a Sikh (Sardar Amesh Singh) has been made MPA in Punjab Assembly on PMLN ticket.
    http://tribune.com.pk/story/557678/stand-out-parliamentarians-first-sikh-mpa-since-partition-takes-oath/
    Long Live Pakistan!

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  • M Baloch
    Jun 11, 2013 - 11:44PM

    @Muslim Leaguer:
    The said women are state ministers not federal ministers. Sartaj Aziz is not Shia for your kind information. In 21st century we can discriminate people based on their sects but are not allowed to speak on the practice, wah kiya logic hai SubhanAllah!

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  • Rex Minor
    Jun 12, 2013 - 12:04AM

    @FactCheck:

    Sory, I am the wrong address! I am not a Pakistani nor do I support the shortcomings in Pakistan constitution.. India has taken a great leap in modern times in implanting the French constitution, but its culture rules the streets and prevents its implementation and is very disturbing for a foreigner as well and if you reckon that indiscrminate women rapes every 20 minutes, going worst from every 23 minutes few months ago, and suppression of sikh nationals and the ocupation of Kashmiri muslims is not discrimination against minority then we have a real difference on the definition of discrimination. Because in my view the use of very term ‘ minority’ is a discrimination..

    Rex Minor

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  • Parvez
    Jun 12, 2013 - 12:09AM

    The fact that one……….one……….non-Muslim was appointed as a minister, is no reason to bring out the band and the banners.
    I have said this before and will say it again : The need of the hour is to ensure that the cat is capable of catching mice, it matters not if the cat is black or white.Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jun 12, 2013 - 12:15AM

    @gp65:

    Sorry, ET thrashed my comments to Aryan, which could have answered your post. You have moved over to ‘Names’ from caste discrimination which have its own history but partly connected with the history of castes but mostly for other factors. This is very sensitive subject and one walks on a thin line of racism. I tried to formulate the reply but had it lot in remittance. Let me . come back at a later time. Sorry!

    Rex Minor

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  • AlChemist
    Jun 12, 2013 - 2:56AM

    its not the fault of our politicians, its the whole nation, not political leader can take the enmity of the whole nation.
    @ahmed:
    It is the fault of the politicians. It is the politicians in our country who aspire to assume power and government control by claiming leadership of general masses. When you assume leadership you don’t jump up the bandwagon like everyone else and secure the general opinion as an opportunity to garner personal support.
    As a leader you listen, gather facts and then guide your followers based upon facts. This guidance is based upon the sole goal of the good of the group.
    Our politicians are opportunists not leaders.

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  • Komal S
    Jun 12, 2013 - 11:46AM

    @Rex Minor:
    But then in the land of pure Non-muslims cannot become a prime minister. Are you rooting to get rid of that law.

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  • Rex Minor
    Jun 12, 2013 - 3:08PM

    @Komal S:

    The land of pure is the America, the melting pot as described by GP65, and Obama is the multicuti product. I personal do not make any distinction betwee one or other citizen in a democracy as long as they are committed to the Constitution of the land which reflects the VALUES of the Ibrahimic religions. The administration or the Government of the land being secular meaning separate from the authority of the church or the Ulemas. ..

    And when I say secular, it matters not what religion the man or the woman has or practices.The head of th state must be a borh citizen of the land. Pakstan is a country of contridictions, it had a military ruler who was a muslim but born in the Indian capital, and then took the posture of a fascist, assaulting political, judicial as well as religious institutions including the people who headed them simply because they opposed him. There is no doubt that had he been disqualified for the post of head of all major istitutions on the ground of his being not born in Pakstan could have saved the decadent of the country.

    Rex Minor

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  • Komal S
    Jun 13, 2013 - 9:38AM

    @Rex Minor:

    Your logic of Pakistan being a land of contradiction is bizarre. Lots of Indian born muslims who migrated to pakistan post independence is a logical outcome of the two nation theory. To say any of them being less pakistani is an insult to your father of nation. Hopefully you are not another conspiracy theorist believing in Musharraf being Indian born was a stooge of Indian Government who worked to wreck Pakistan!

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  • Mian Mahmood
    Jul 31, 2013 - 9:13AM

    i agree

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