Political, religious discrimination in Pakistan

Weekly Bang-e-sahar Saturday,April 5-11,2008
By Nasir Aziz Khan

Literally, Pakistan means the land of the pure, so it was expected that people here will live in harmony and share their grievances and sorrows with each other. But contrary to the common notion, there is a gruesome reality where discrimination has become order of the day. Though there is a presence of women in legislatures, yet in reality women continue to be discriminated against at social, political and economic levels. The condition of rural women cannot be explained in words. On the one hand the riches are spending handsomely to educate their daughters while on the other rural women are discouraged to attain higher education. Pakistan has not only been involved in gender discrimination but also religious as well. Recently, the Ahmadiya community decided to boycott the elections on account of the separate electorate system. The division of electorate on the basis of religion is in contravention of the underlying principles of various conventions of the United Nations on human rights. One example of this discrimination is found in Pakistani legislation that promotes a culture of intolerance, division and extremism. That is the Blasphemy Laws’ section 295-B and C and 298-A, B and C of the Penal Code which deal with offences pertaining to religion. The offences carry the death penalty for their violation. Since the mandatory death sentence was introduced as a result of the Amendment Act No.3 of 1986 to Section 295-C, many accused were killed, in some cases, even before they were brought to trial. The situation in Pakistani administered Kashmir is also worst. The people of the so-called Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan are living in a state where life itself is a burden and azadi (freedom) is a long standing desire. People are used or rather misused to carry out military operations both in and outside the state. People of Azad Kashmir still live in a pathetic condition and don’t have any freedom to exercise their fundamental rights. The civil and political liberties are restricted and dominated by the military and intelligence agencies. Ms Asma Jahangir, who is the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, in a report says, “Azad Kashmir is a land of strict curbs on political pluralism, freedom of expression, and freedom of association; a muzzled press; banned books; arbitrary arrests and detention and torture at the hands of the Pakistani military and police; and discrimination against refugees from Jammu And Kashmir State.” It says Kashmiri nationalists are singled out for discrimination because they do not subscribe to the idea of Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. The HRW says militant groups have had “free rein” to propagate and disseminate their views. “The Pakistani intelligence apparatus retains close associations with these groups. The bureaucracy of the so-called Azad Kashmir, which constitutes the basis of state affairs, is directly under the control of Pakistani establishment and all key portfolios e.g. chief secretary, inspector general of police, director general health and finance secretary, etc., are controlled by Pakistani nationals which otherwise are right of the local inhabitants. The discrimination in educational curriculum is also part of the Pakistani policies. Kashmiris are forced to make Urdu their official language instead of Phari and Kashmiri which is their mother tongue. These local languages have not yet been included in the school syllabus because of the colonial attitutde of Pakistani establishment. Same is the situation in Gilgit and Baltistan where unemployment is increasing day in and day out and the people don’t have right to elect their representatives and choose their mother language to run the affairs of the area. The sufferings and miseries are rapidly increasing due to the discrimination in their rights guaranteed by the UN. The people of North West Frontier are subjected to abject poverty coupled with economic and social discrimination on the part of the government. The education policy is framed in such a way so as to give way to sectarian differences. There is denial of religious freedom to soldiers who belong to Gilgit-Baltistan. In Gujranwala cantonment, during Eid festival on 20th October, 2006, more than 15 soldiers (from Gilgit-Baltistan) were dismissed and sent behind bars by the commanding officer of 14 NLI because their way of practising religion was different from others. The people of NWFP are discriminated at the time of employment. Though on papers employment has to be given on the basis of merits but in reality it is subject to religious, sectarian and ethnic considerations. The State of Jammu & Kashmir is a case in point, where an entire generation has been lost due to terrorist groups operating from Pakistan seeking to impose on the state and its people an extremist version of religion and an ethos alien to the Kashmiri traditions. Pakistan has not shown Gilgit-Baltistan as its territory. On the other hand it does not show it as a part of Jammu and Kashmir either. At the same time Pakistan is not prepared to give it an independent status or to enable its people to adopt a modern, transparent democratic system. The unrest in Gilgit-Baltistan has been there for decades, leading to movements for self-governance and independence from the federal rule. In Azad Kashmir, the socio-political and cultural landscape has been adversely affected as it is the epicentre of the Kashmir jihad. Government of Pakistan should take up these issues first. Militant groups in Kashmir have tried to resolve the issue by force and failed to do so. The ‘core’ issue now is whether these elements should be allowed to set up a base stretching from Waziristan to Kashmir. Is this what the international community desires? Or should Kashmir remain ‘secular’. Only when the international community is able to compel Pakistan to stop providing sanctuary and refuge to such terrorist groups, the problems of terrorism could be successfully addressed. We hope the new democratically-elected rulers will work to bring an end to discrimination against the marginalized sections of society on a priority basis. (Speech delivered by the writer, spokesman for United Kashmir People’s National Party (UKPNP), at the 7th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.)


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