Minorities unhappy with ruling parties over unfulfilled promises
KARACHI: Expressing their discontent over the performance of political parties, participants in a panel discussion said on Tuesday that repairing the country’s pluralistic fabric would be a long-drawn effort.
The gathering was organised to discuss how much certain mainstream political parties that returned to power in Islamabad and provinces managed to implement their ambitious manifestos they had made public before the last year’s election with particular reference to the rights of religious minorities.
The panel discussion with political parties on their performance in the elected forums was organised by the Sindh chapter of the South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK) at a local hotel. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) appeared to be keen to discuss the issue and sent five of its members including members of the Sindh and National assemblies.
Other parties that sent their representatives included the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and the National Party.
The organisers said the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), in power in Sindh for a second consecutive term, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Awami National Party (ANP) had also been invited to express their views, but none of them sent their leaders for unexplained reasons.
Shahnaz Sheedi, provincial coordinator of the SAP-PK, presented the key promises various parties had made in their 2013 election manifestos. The parties included the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, PPP, MQM, JI, PTI and ANP.
Since the PPP made more promises, it came under greater criticism by the participants. The participants were informed that the National Assembly discussed the issues of minorities for a mere 15 hours during more than 1,000 of hours of proceedings.Veteran rights activist Amar Nath said the minorities personal law was being delayed for decades and called all the manifestos a ‘farce’ prepared only to take the minorities for a ride.
The PPP promised positive legislation for the religious minorities, equal opportunities, action against forced conversions, protection for individuals and their worship places, removal of discriminatory articles from the Constitution and controversial subjects from school curricula. The party also promised that it would aim for five per cent seats for the minorities in the legislatures.
The PML-N, in power in Islamabad, had promised equal status to the minorities, no misuse of religion and punishment for those found misusing it. The party also claimed that it would get a minorities protection bill passed and allocate five per cent quota for marginalised communities.
Similarly, the JI, PTI and ANP had what some participants termed ‘copied and pasted’ similar paragraphs in their manifestos.
The Sindh Assembly somewhat improved on it, which had 21 out of 57 sittings talking on various issues involving religious minorities.
Jaipal Chhabria said Pakistan should be given the status of a secular state.
He criticised all the political parties and said that despite the MQM’s stature as a secular political party, it had failed to include a single member from Hindus, Christians or Sikhs in its coordination committee.
Members from various religious communities were disappointed that their wait for the 5pc job quota as promised by many political parties was not yet over.
MQM lawmakers Manohar Lal and Poonjomal defended their party’s secular stance and called on all the communities to shun their religious bias and be part of the country’s mainstream politics.
JI’s Mohammad Hussain Mehnati said his party would always side with the minorities for the cause of their ‘just rights’.
Hameer Baloch of the National Party, Advocate M. Parkash, Advocate Rochiram, Zulfiqar Shah, Kalpana Devi and others also spoke.
Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2014