Can Bilawal win over the minorities?

Nasir Saeed

 

Now is the time for Bilawal to take the minorities into confidence and share their grievances, as their lives, honour and properties are not safe in Pakistan, despite living in a country where these things are guaranteed by Islam. They have no future in Pakistan because of ongoing persecution

 

On the 35th death anniversary of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari raised several questions against Nawaz Sharif’s government. He said that the Sindh government was not like the Punjab government, which had remained silent over the Joseph Colony incident. He also said that the PPP would resist if anyone tried to suppress the minorities of Pakistan. This is not the first time that he has spoken out about minorities. In December last year, he tweeted that he wanted to see a Christian prime minister in Pakistan, which was largely criticised and considered tantamount to being in breach of the constitution. No doubt he would be aware that under the present constitution, which was created by his grandfather, Christians and other religious minorities are barred from becoming the prime minister.


However, it is unclear whether his continued acknowledgement of minorities is a true reflection of the PPP’s future policies or if it is just futile rhetoric. It is difficult to say for sure without any evidence, but because he has been living and studying in the UK, he may have been influenced or inspired by the treatment of minorities he has seen in the UK, as Pakistanis have equal opportunities in every sphere of life. 

Minorities in Pakistan have been going through tribulations since the inception of the country, despite Christians having played a pivotal role in the building of Pakistan. The international community has raised its concerns over the calamitous situation of Christians at times but, unfortunately, it is all falling on deaf ears. All political parties are aware of the appalling situation of our minorities but are limited to lip service in terms of acknowledging what is going on. 


The patience of the minorities is running out and now is the time to do something about the situation practically. It is true that the minorities are weak and poor, and will never revolt; the only option they have is to continue what they are doing — fleeing Pakistan, as has been publicised in the international media. Now is the time for Bilawal to take the minorities into confidence and share their grievances, as their lives, honour and properties are not safe in Pakistan, despite living in a country where these things are guaranteed by Islam. They have no future in Pakistan because of ongoing persecution. Minorities expect a lot from the PPP and the party has a great responsibility towards them as they have always supported the party. Unfortunately, nothing has been done to repay or strengthen this trust. 


The PPP has been in government several times but has managed to do nothing favourable for the minorities. I remember when, in 1986, Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan from exile, it was Joseph Francis who organised the first public meeting in Bahr Colony right under the nose of Nawaz Sharif, a protégé of Zia, and after the elections it was Rufin Julis (elected as MNA through the separate electoral system) who openly supported Bhutto and, in return, he was made the minority affairs minister.


Even today, I am unaware of a minority member having a place in the provincial or central executive council. They are treated as untouchables. There is a misconception that the PPP is a very liberal party when in reality there is no acceptance of minorities. In 2005, at her London residence, Bhutto appointed Joseph Francis as a member of the Punjab executive council, but what happened to him is another story. According to my knowledge, he was the first and last member of the Punjab executive council of the PPP — minority members are never considered worthy of becoming members of the central executive council and I do not think this will ever change. 


In 2007, while Bhutto was preparing to return to Pakistan and take part in the general elections, Joseph Francis suggested that she give tickets and nominate minority members from the constituencies where Christians and other religious minorities were in the majority, but this was paid no attention. Joseph Francis and several other minority members have contributed to the democracy we have today by being in prison and through the struggle of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD). Mr Francis was the only minority member signatory of the charter of democracy signed in London in 2006, but he eventually ended up separating himself from the PPP. 


Shahbaz Bhatti was an elected MNA through the proportional representation system from the PPP’s quota, but he and many Christian leaders had been demanding dual voting rights, which had even been promised by Bhutto — the law was never passed. Even the separate electoral system was abolished by General Pervez Musharraf; not only this but schools and colleges, which had been nationalised by the PPP, were denationalised by him. This left Christians feeling more obliged towards Musharraf than towards the PPP. Christians and other religious minorities still support the PPP but are wary of the same old rhetoric of change — they want something practical.


If the PPP really believes in strengthening democracy and building equality, then first of all it has to finish its minority wing and instead take on minority members in its provincial and central committees. It should also have a policy in place to allocate general seats tickets to minority representatives who come from constituencies where they are the majority. There are dozens of such constituencies in Punjab and Sindh while according to the Election Commission of Pakistan there are 98 National Assembly seats where the non-Muslim voters are more than 10,000.

 

These constituencies can play a vital role in strengthening the party and helping it get back into power but first the PPP needs to take the minorities into confidence and restore their trust. Pakistan is considered a tough and hostile country for its minorities but I do not think politicians generally care about this. However, if Bilawal Bhutto Zardari genuinely cares about the country and is sincere with the minorities, then he will have to stand up to hate-mongers, afford equal status to minorities and ensure their representation in all spheres of life. 

 

Courtesy: Daily Times, Pakistan

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