Islamabad - Lack of political parties’ support is the main cause behind discrimination meted out to non-Muslim population in Pakistan.

A survey conducted in Multan, Faisalabad, Lahore and Islamabad during November-December 2014 by a non-government organisation (NGO) Pattan - a leading CSO of the country established this. More than 70 per cent participants of the focus group discussions consisted of Muslims while 30 per cent belonged to various non-Muslim communities.

The survey clearly establishes the fact that the discrimination against non-Muslim population occurs due to lack of support of political parties for the minorities. Not surprisingly, as many as 87 per cent respondents agreed that political parties did not come forward in support of non-Muslims when they were in danger and needed support the most. To another question, more than 90 per cent said that political leadership did not give importance to the issues of non-Muslim citizens. On these two questions, the respondents showed a huge consensus.  

In order to improve status of non-Muslim citizens, the participants were also asked to debate and then vote for recommendations. More than 84 per cent participants were likely to suggest that political parties should issue at least 10 per cent tickets to non-Muslims in constituencies where they have significant presence. Interestingly the study shows a consistency in the views of the participants. They clearly identified the key actor i.e. political leadership for not doing enough to protect rights of the minorities. But, they believe that only politicians could fix this problem.  

More than one-third participants believed that the constitution and law does not treat all citizens equally in all respects. However, a large majority said there exists a gaping hole between constitution and in its implementation. For instance, when respondents were asked, ‘whether school textbooks contain hate contents against non-Muslims and non-Muslim students are forced to study Islamiyat?’ about 70 percent said yes.

This is a glaring violation of article 22 of the constitution that bars imparting religious education to a person other than his own.

As many as 81 per cent participants of focus group discussions said due to fear factor non-Muslims tend to hide their identity by adopting Muslim names and behaving like Muslims and 70 per cent agreed that leaders of non-Muslim communities tend to overplay their patriotism in order to please the majority population i.e. Muslims. More than 85 per cent also agreed that non-Muslim citizens did not dare to criticise government policies and did not challenge violators of their rights for fear of reprisal.

A huge majority of 83 per cent of the participants believed ‘absence of elected local councils aggravated problems of non-Muslims’ and a huge majority 87.5 per cent rejected the undemocratic method of filling the minority seats of legislative bodies.

A huge majority (87 per cent) of participants agreed with this statement - ‘non-Muslim women are kidnapped then forced to change their religion and forced to marry Muslims. The state does not take any action against the culprits.’   

More than 80 per cent of the participants agreed that blasphemy laws have tremendously aggravated insecurity of non-Muslim citizens in Pakistan.

In our view, this is perhaps the best time to improve status of our minorities and to remove lacunas in our legal framework regarding rights of minorities as all actors i.e. the Supreme Court, the Parliament, the political society, the media and civil society are on one page to eliminating the stranglehold of the extremist mind-set from the country, says the statement issued by Pattan. And our study shows that the public too is keen to see this change.  This golden opportunity to translate Jinnah’s vision into a reality must not be missed.