By Nasir Saeed
March 25, 2015
The tragedy of Youhanabad is another addition to the black chapters of Pakistan's history. Christians have been under constant attack for decades, and are the most vulnerable community among Pakistan's minorities. Religious intolerance against Christians continues to rise; they are being targeted by the Taliban, extremist groups and even by the general Muslim population. The community has a history of providing remarkable services to Pakistan, particularly in the fields of education and health, and even contributing to the railway and defence industries. Unfortunately, after the demise of Quaid-e-Azam, the minorities were considered inferior under Islamic ideology indoctrinated in the Constitution of Pakistan, which renders Christians and other religious minorities lower class citizens. Sadly, the latest tragedy comes on the 76th anniversary of Pakistan Day and during Lent, which is a holy month for Christians.
Jinnah's promise to the minorities, especially the Christian leadership, of equal treatment and recognition as equal citizens of Pakistan has not been respected and validated but instead every successive government has contributed to their miseries. The concept of a nation changed and we divided up into Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, and then further on as Punjabis, Sindhis, Baloch and Pashtuns. But we have still failed to deal with the demon of discrimination.
The recent attack on the two churches was not something new for Christians because Pakistan has a long history of attacks on churches, burning of Christian villages and even the burning alive of Christian people. But this time their strong reaction to the attack was a manifestation of their anger and helplessness. It was not just a protest against the bombings but against the humiliation they suffer every day. Nobody speaks for them, including their own political leaders. Therefore, it was inevitable that they would eventually be pushed to the edge. A similar incident occurred in March last year when Pakistani Sikhs broke the gates of parliament as nobody was willing to listen to them. This time Christians have stood up for themselves against institutionalised discrimination and continued prejudice against them for decades, though this is not acceptable to the mainstream leadership.
Although the Prime Minister (PM) has announced a 20-point action plan and there is an operation against the Taliban in full swing, the Taliban are still very much moving along with business as usual. This is a wakeup call for the Punjab government as many major terror incidents have taken place in Punjab and, unfortunately, the government has failed to take any pertinent action against the perpetrators.
Archbishop Joseph Coutts, Bishop Samuel Azariah, Bishop Irfan Jamil, Bishop Sebastian Shaw and several other religious and political leaders and members of civil society have condemned and blamed the government. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby addressed the Pakistani public over the phone and Pope Francis has also expressed his concern. This is not the first time that Pakistani Christians are on their prayer list. Apart from the religious leadership, Ban Ki-Moon, the secretary general of the UN has asked for the protection of minorities. Western politicians are equally concerned. We should not forget that the Pakistani Christians are a part of the largest religious group in the world and therefore the west has a soft spot for them.
Last year, Pakistan was granted GSP plus status after years of struggling and now Pakistan has seen a one billion dollar increase in its exports. We cannot take for granted that the status carries with it the condition of improving the deteriorating situation of human rights attached to it. However, the situation is continuously worsening and there is no hope for improvement, particularly with regards to Christians and other religious minorities. This status is not indefinite but can be withdrawn for non-implementation of the conventions. Let us not forget that one attempt has already been made to withdraw the GSP plus status from Pakistan, and I will not be surprised if a second move is made in the future.
The Netherlands has recently designated Pakistani Christians the status of a 'high risk group', which means Christians are not protected in Pakistan and therefore they are eligible for asylum in the Netherlands where conditions have been eased for them. Similar endeavours are being made in other countries too. The world's media has reported this attack extensively and it has further damaged the image of Pakistan.
For a moment, forget about the west's sympathies for Pakistani Christians and let us talk about the Pakistan Supreme Court's (SC's) order of ex-Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, which was recently repeated by the SC but, unfortunately, our government is not willing to pay any attention to the court and to the deteriorating situation of human rights, or any concerns of the west. Such ignorance could be very costly, especially if Pakistani Christians living in the west stand up against this unfair treatment. They are already organising protests in Europe and the US.
The military establishment is already rectifying its mistakes so now would be the right time for the civilian bureaucracy and politicians to do the same. Let us give our minorities their due rights, treat them as equal citizens and grant them the status Quaid-e-Azam promised them. The Christians' recent mob action was a reflection of their mistrust and hatred against the government for not addressing their long standing issues like forcible conversions of their girls, widespread misuse of the blasphemy law against them to settle personal scores, illegal possession of their properties and continual attacks.
The burning of a Christian couple, Shama and Shahzad, was the most horrific incident in recent years but the Punjab government continued its policy of paying compensation and forgetting about giving justice. Christians have not forgotten about Shanti Nagar, Gojra, where eight innocent Christians were burnt alive, the burning of Joseph Colony and then the attack on the All Saints Church in Peshawar. Sadly, the government has failed to comprehend the situation and has already registered several cases against Christians but what about those who burned Joseph Colony and Gojra to the ground? Why is nothing being done to punish the perpetrators of those atrocities? The government cannot have double standards and violate Article 25 of its own Constitution; the rule of law has to be established.
The government needs to understand the changing scenario: people do not want compensation, they want justice. Oppressed minorities are tired of the same old rhetoric. The quoting of Islamic references about the protection of minorities and references to the Constitution about equal rights has lost its attraction now; they want justice to be done. That is the only way to heal their wounds and calm their growing ferocity. The Punjab government needs to change its priorities from the transport system to the issues that are affecting people's daily lives. The trust of the Christians needs to be restored, policies need to be changed and, if necessary, new legislation needs to be introduced to fulfil Jinnah's promise to the minorities.