The governor of Sindh, Justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, has refused to sign the Anti-Forced Conversion Bill passed by the Sindh Assembly on advice of the PPP Chief Minister and the MQM, citing rushed passage and the need to amend the law. However, we all know the background. A few weeks ago President Zardari apparently made phone calls to some political leaders from Dubai, one of which was Siraj-ul-Haq of Jamat-e-Islami (JI), ahead of his arrival in Pakistan after his year and a half long self imposed exile. Jamat-e-Islami pulled a PM Office on Zardari and announced that the erstwhile President and PPPP leader had promised to revoke the Bill. Everyone also knows the part of the Bill the Islamist parties want repealed at the very least: the ban on converting minors with or without their consent.

News of forced conversions in Sindh from Jacobabad, Tharparkar, Umerkot, Kashmore, Kandhkot, Ghotki, Larkana, Sukkur etc., are common. South Asia Partnership-Pakistan (SAP-PK) had released a report in collaboration with the Aurat Foundation in July 2015 stating that at least 1,000 girls are forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan every year. Several cases are those of minors. Reverse conversions, of course, are unheard of.

The likes of the case of twelve year old Anjali Kumari Meghwar of Dharki in 2014 is a prime example of the reasons this Bill was moved and passed unanimously by the Sindh Assembly. Anjali was kidnapped from her home in front of her mother, and converted within a day and married off under patronage of the Bharchundi Shareef shrine in Daharki. Most previous forced conversions in Dharki were said to be connected to the same shrine. Anjali’s family, instead of being able to obtain justice, had to flee to Karachi after receiving threats from a local group said to be powerful. Even the child’s statement could not be recorded after being produced in the civil court “because the statement of a girl or a boy under the age of 18 is considered illegal according to the law” according to her family’s lawyer. It is doubtful that this is the case, because in custody cases judges regularly ask minors their opinions, but it seems this excuse was used to not record the child’s own statement.

Anjali’s case, the SapPk report, as well as the complete absence of Muslim children being converted, suffice to demonstrate the injustices and atrocities being perpetrated against religious minorities, especially young pretty girls from religious minorities. Yet, Islamist political forces like the Jamat-e-Islami insist the Bill is un-Islamic. Given the ground realities and the data to hand, their argument is clearly and demonstrably wrong. Thanas and courts are replete with evidence of forced conversions, yet the likes of JI are opposing a ban on minors being converted.

When minors cannot legally take the decision to be married, or allegedly record statements in court, or technically speaking take a decision to not go to school, how can they be expected to take a responsible decision to be converted and married to men several times their age, whom they don’t often know and who belong to completely different communities. Given this and the ground realities, the JI and others’ arguments are the height of absurdity.

Hence the PPP-P co-Chairman’s capitulation to the JI for the sake of political expediency and comeback, in the face of a unanimously passed Bill, is no less than a tragedy and a reprehensible strike on Pakistani people’s efforts to become more just, progressive, inclusive and peaceful. It is not as if the PPP or Zardari do not see the fallacy of the JI and religious lobby’s arguments. It is that they are making a deal at the cost of the Pakistani people’s well being. Forced conversions are not just to the detriment of the minorities, they damage the majority in the longer term too, making for an unjust, obscurantist, extremist, intolerant environment for all that comes back to haunt.

It is worth remembering that the kidnapping and forced conversion case of Rinkle Kumari in February 2012 revealed the role of PPP MNA Pir Abdul Haq, also known as Mian Mitho, who is the one of the Pirs of Dargah Bharchundi Shareef. Only after public furor at the revelations, did the PPP refuse to give Mian Mitho a party ticket to run for the national assembly again.

It is a sad sate of affairs that a party considered to be right of center, i.e., the PMLN is seen to be now demonstrably more progressive and liberal than the PPP which has traditionally claimed the throne of progressiveness. There are several examples of this, but the best one is that of the Punjab Assembly having passed the Protection of Women Against Violence Act just last year, which had the entire spectrum of Islamist parties up in arms. Yet, the Punjab government mocked, stared and dialogued the lobby down and did not given an inch away in order to protect the province’s women.

However, in Sindh, Zardari saheb looks set to single-handedly undo what the entire provincial assembly had unanimously achieved after a long struggle.

On governance and corruption, the PPP already had a dismal record. Now it appears completely ideologically adrift as well in its quest to wheel and deal.