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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Pakistan: From Jinnah’s Republic to Mullah’s Dominion

Religious minorities are living under constant threat in Pakistan that is increasingly becoming a serious human rights issue.
 Elie Wiesel said, “No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.” These words fit exactly into the context of Pakistan, where discrimination against religious minorities is a more widespread and complex issue than in most other countries.
Religious minorities in Pakistan face multiple types of discrimination at all levels: social, religious, institutional as well as legal. With regards to discrimination at social and religious level, Pakistani society is divided into sects, castes and religion, which constitute the elementary identities of every citizen. People evaluate and treat others on the basis of what they do and do not believe. Hindus and Christians are the largest religious minorities and victims of every kind of religious discrimination and growing extremism.[1]
Scheduled Castes face discrimination on the basis of their caste and low work status; a large number of them work as bonded labourers due to poverty, landlessness, untouchability and illiteracy.[2]
Likewise, within Islam, there are different sects and they are constantly in conflict; the Ahmadiya sect within Islam has been declared non-Muslim and many Shiites (Shi’ah Muslims) have been killed by Sunnis[3].
The institutional and legal discrimination of religious minorities is due to that country’s ideology. There is a significant contradiction built into the political structure of Pakistan that leads to a constant conflict between secularists and religious groups in Pakistan; the two groups hold separate and opposing points of view[4]. One point of view is that the purpose for establishing Pakistan was to make the country an Islamic state because it was founded in the name of religion. However, another point of view is that the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, clearly demonstrated that he did not want a theocratic or Islamic State.
Pakistani Hindus protest the demolition of a temple in Karachi.
Pakistani Hindus protest the demolition of a temple in Karachi.
We trace the progress of Pakistan from the above ideals espoused by Jinnah to an Islamic state where minorities are being persistently persecuted. We will subsequently cite a few examples of persecution of minorities in current Pakistan and elaborate on the same in a sequel.
Espousal of secular principles at the birth of Pakistan
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The British ruled south Asia comprising the current nations of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh for around 200 years from 1757 to 1947. The movement of freedom from Britain created a demand to separate the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan. The Muslim League was instrumental in ensuring that this demand was met. Pakistan was created on 14 August 1947. The partition of the Indian subcontinent led to huge displacement, violence and massacre of people from both sides. Around 10 million people were forced to migrate from one side of the new border to the other and one million civilians died in the accompanying riots and local-level fighting.[5]
Clarifying the position of Muslim League, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah addressed the nation on 11 August 1947; his speech gave a clear indication that religious minorities would be protected in the newly created state of Pakistan. Jinnah said in his speech that religion had nothing to do with state affairs. He emphasised:
“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one state.[6]
After partition, the flag of Pakistan was designed to recognize both the minority and majority communities. A green field with a star and crescent represented Islam, and a white stripe covering one quarter of the area represented the minorities. At that time, the Hindu minority constituted about 25%.
Evidently, Jinnah saw Pakistan as a state in which there would be a separation between state and religion and a country in which people of all faiths were equal citizens. There was to be no distinction between a Muslim and a non-Muslim in terms of rights, privileges and responsibilities. But unfortunately, within a year of creation of Pakistan, things began to change, with the demise of Jinnah.
The first Law and Labour Minister Jogendra Nath Mandal was a Scheduled Caste Hindu in Pakistan. Mandal was close to Jinnah, but after Jinnah’s death, he was discriminated against and forced to resign. Mandal submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and migrated to India. This was an indication from the majority community that a member of a minority group was not eligible to retain power and a high position in this country.
After Jinnah’s death, minorities became more vulnerable. In the light of the deteriorated situation and the exodus of religious minorities, Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru and his Pakistani counterpart Liaquat Ali Khan reached an agreement. The Liaquat-Nehru Pact signed in New Delhi in 1950 promised to protect religious minorities in both countries and avert another war. This treaty brought hope to religious minorities in Pakistan, but unfortunately the agreement was not enforced.
The first test with regard to the question as to whether Pakistan would be a secular state, and what the position of minorities in that country would be came forth when the resolution on the “Aims and Objects of the Constitution” — popularly known as the “Objective Resolution” — was moved and adopted by the Constituent Assembly in March 1949. The members of religious minorities opposed the objective resolution in the Assembly because of its Islamic character, but it was passed without even considering the amendment proposed. The resolution was later incorporated into the first Constitution of 1956 as its Preamble. It declared that the head of the state would be a Muslim and this would remain so in all future constitutions.[7]
The 1956 Constitution formally declared Pakistan as an Islamic Republic rather than the Republic of Pakistan. This change in name made religious fundamentalists stronger and gradually the whole ideology of the country changed from a secular state to a theocratic state.
 Zia’s institutionalised discrimination against minorities and women
Dictator Muhammad Zia ul Haq was the sixth President of Pakistan from 1978 until his death in 1988. Having declared martial law for the third time in the country’s history in 1977, he ruled for 11 years. His period is known as a black period in Pakistani history, particularly due to increased discrimination against religious minorities and women.
Proactive Islamization started in Zia’s period. He introduced many discriminatory laws. These laws and institutions include anti-blasphemy laws, separate votes for minorities, Hudood ordinance and law of evidence (Qanoon-e-Shahadat), ushar and zakat (Islamic taxes), establishment of Shari’ah court, laws according to Islamic injunctions and establishment of Council of Islamic Ideology. These laws were obviously made to Islamize Pakistani society.
Zia introduced the Shari’ah court by amending the Constitution, which promoted religiosity and ultimately strengthened Islamic fanatics and extremist organisations. The purpose of the Federal Shari’ah Court not only jeopardised the judicial system of the country, but also impaired the independence of Parliament. The Islamic values enshrined in the Qur’an and Sunnah became part of that country’s criminal law.
These provisions and the Islamic punishments—which included stoning to death, amputation of hands and feet and flogging in public—were also made applicable to non-Muslim citizens of the country. Minorities have consistently raised their voice against the application of the Shari’ah to which they do not belong. Women have been very critical of the enforcement of these laws too, particularly the laws relating to adultery and rape.
The Constitution of Pakistan contradicts itself in many ways. On the one hand, it ensures protection of minorities and on the other discriminates against minorities and treats them as second class citizens. Some of the articles in the Constitution of Pakistan guarantee equal rights and protection of minorities. Article 20-21-22 guarantees religious freedom and safeguards to all its citizens; Article 19, freedom of speech and expression. Article 25 says that all citizen are equal before the law.
Article 36 assures that the state shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities. Yet, Article 2 says Islam shall be the state religion. Similarly, Article 41 says that the President of the state must be a Muslim. In addition, the prime minister of Pakistan must also be a Muslim.
1. Blasphemy laws in Pakistan are in conflict with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular with Article 7 (equality before the law and protection against discrimination, Article 19 (freedom of opinion and expression) and Article 18 (freedom of thought, conscience, and religion).
2. Blasphemy laws in Pakistan are also in violation of Articles 2, 3 and 4 of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion and Belief, which categorically prohibits religious discrimination.
3. Blasphemy laws violate articles 2 and 4 of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, too, which seek to protect fundamental freedoms “without any form of discrimination” and the right to freely “profess and practice their own religion”.[8]
Impact of Zia’s policies on religious minorities
According to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) report, in the 11 months between January 2013 and November 2013, 7,110 persons were killed and 8,746 injured due to religious, sectarian and ethnic violence in Pakistan.[9]
The Anti Blasphemy Laws have been used by religious extremists against non-Muslims for their personal interests. The recent case of a 14-year old Christian girl Rimsha can be taken as an example to demonstrate how one can be accused of ‘blasphemy’ by an Islamic priest for his personal interest.[10]
The issues of abduction and forced conversion of young Hindu girls to Islam, kidnapping of Hindu businessman for ransom and targeted attacks on religious places have compelled hundreds of thousands of Hindus to leave the country  [11]  When Pakistan was created, the Hindu population was 25 per cent of the whole and today it is 1.6 per cent.[12]
The curriculum of government schools is biased and a growing number ofmadrasas are another threat for minorities in Pakistan. Such curricula are intended to promote religiosity and hatred against non-Muslims in the country.
Another hardship that the minorities face is that they have no family laws in Pakistan. Due to this, minorities—mostly Hindu, Sikh, Parsi and Baha-i—face issues in legally resolving disputes of marriage, divorce and property rights.
Despite their representation in political parties and government, the participation of religious minorities in political affairs is not effective or active; minorities find themselves marginalised in the decision making process and are unable to fully represent minority communities or legislate for the rights of minorities. Religious minorities are living under constant threat in Pakistan as a result of rising religious extremism, enforcement and promulgation of discriminatory laws and policies, a biased public school curriculum, growing role of madrasas and continuing religious caste-based discrimination.
The issue warrants urgent attention and it must be resolved through multiple actions, including reform in laws and policies, an impartial curriculum, ban on untouchability and increased social awareness within society for equality and justice.
[1] BBC news Asia September 23, 2013, Retrieved from:
[2] Book in Urdu “Let us also Live” by Pirbhu Satyani 2005.
[3] “Times for Shia to Leave Pakistan” article by Murtaza Haider, Retrieved from:
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[4] “The Ideology of Pakistan: A thorny issue, by Waqar Ahmed 06/11/2012 Retrieved from:
[5] The Hidden Story of Partition and its Legacies by Dr Crispin Bates 03-03-2011,
[6]Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s first Presidential Address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan (August 11, 1947), available at
[7] ASR study on religious minorities in the constitution conducted by Shehla Zia 2004
[8] Joint written statement submitted by Franciscans International, non-governmental organization in general consultative status; Pax Christi InternationalPax Romana, and Dominicans for Justice and Peace, non-governmental organizations in special consultative status. Title: Blasphemy laws and human rights of religious minorities in Pakistan.Retrieved from:
[9] December 3, 2013    A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission PAKISTAN
[10] BBC News November 20, 2012
[11] DECCAN HERALD, by Rajesh Deol, Retrieved from:
[12] 2012 HINDUS IN SOUTH ASIA AND THE DIASPORA, report by Hindu American Foundation, published in 5, June 2013.

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