Representatives of various religions demanded all political parties include freedom of religion and expression in their party manifesto in order to ensure equal rights for minorities.
A panel discussion with political parties on religion, freedom and human rights was organised in Peshawar by South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK) on Wednesday and attended by a large number of Sikhs and Hindus. Representatives of political parties also participated.
The participants rejected the commission formed by the government for the purpose, saying it included no minority representative. They added their issues pertaining to education, family laws, security, places of worship and land-grabbing will never be successfully resolved by this commission.
“Although the Constitution guarantees us equal rights, its implementation is purely cosmetic,” said a speaker on the occasion. “We demand a separate electoral process in the next election, whereby minorities can choose their own candidates. Currently, we merely have a token representation in the national and provincial assemblies.”
Other speakers emphasised how Muslims and non-Muslims were equally affected by terrorism and extremism, and highlighted issues being faced by their communities, in particular their quota in the Parliament.
The panelists strongly supported the demand of non-Muslims in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas to perform their religious obligations in a free manner. They urged the Centre and the provincial government to make amendments in laws relating to inheritance and marriage and demanded their right to property in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa so they can live as equal citizens of the state.
Leaders of political parties also agreed to the suggestions put forward and assured that they would raise their voice for minorities at the highest level. They also pledged their support to work for safety of non-Muslims in the country.
Earlier, SAP-PK Regional Programme Coordinator Shahida Shah gave a detailed presentation on minorities’ problems and the national and international guarantees provided to them.
Those who spoke on the occasion included Sardar Charanjeet Singh, All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement Chairman Haroon Sarbdiyal, Abdul Jalil Jan of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, Bushra Gohar of Awami National Party, Tariq Khan of Qaumi Watan Party, Rahmat Salam Khattak of Pakistan Muslim league-Nawaz, and women from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan Peoples Party.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2014.