Happy New Year but nothing for Pakistani Christians to celebrate
The prospect of bringing change to the way Pakistani religious minorities are treated in Pakistan seems impossible when the country's own ministers are not willing to accept what is going on beneath their noses.
2012 has passed and 2013 has begun. A New Year with new plans, new aims and objectives, new goals and a new start to life for many around the world. But for Christians in Pakistan it is just a number which has changed like any other year - nothing else will change for them, but perhaps 2013 may be tougher than the last year. They will continue to suffer because of the blasphemy and other discriminatory laws against them, forced conversion and kidnapping of Christian girls will continue.
Although no murderous incidents took place in Christian settlements last year, Christians have already mourned enough and their wounds from previous years are still fresh. According to reports, a total of 23 cases have been registered officially while a dozen blasphemy cases have been registered against Christians including the case of Rimsha Masih, who became a victim of these laws and reminded the world about how Christians are suffering in Pakistan for their faith. The year before, Shahbaz Bhatti and Salmaan Taseer sacrificed their lives and the year before by Asia Bibi who is still on death row and waiting for her fate to be decided by the Pakistani courts. Enough blood has been shed and Christians' cries have even reached the world's ears, but unfortunately not those of the Pakistani government.
Elections are around the corner and the government and opposition have organised Christmas parties to attract the Christian voters but no changes for them. The prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has reiterated that there is no minority and majority in Pakistan but we all are Pakistani and equal citizens of the country. But this is just a political statement that has no meaning. The elections are the biggest reason for such statements and we will soon hear more from different Pakistani political parties, only because of the elections otherwise Christians will remain second class citizens of the country with no rights and no dignity.
The government has made several amendments to the constitution but has not even talked about the blasphemy law which is considered a root cause of the persecution of Christians. The failure of the government in addressing the blasphemy issue has increased hostility, violence and intimidation against religious minorities. Because of the lack of rule of law and a weak justice system, incidents of vigilante killings have increased, also because mosque and religious leaders have been enforcing their own laws and the government has failed to question them.
Four seats have been reserved for minorities and for the first time in history, one Christian senator has been elected to look after the personal interests of the Muslim League's leaders against the church properties. Recently seats for religious minorities in parliament have also been increased from 10 to 14, and at present on the 10 seats there are two Christians and eight Hindu MPs while Christians are the largest minority of Pakistan. I don't think the increase in seats can change the fate of Christians in Pakistan, as these MPs have reached parliament on reserved seats, through a proportionate representative system. They don't have any constituency and support from voters but their future totally relies on their loyalty and support for their parties. Christians have rejected this system and are asking the parties to give party ticket to Christian candidates on the general election, where Muslims can also vote for them
However, I do not think this would ever happen because it would be a turning point for Christians and for the country which would stop growing extremism. The growing extremism in Pakistan is considered a great danger by the western world and a lot of funding is being given to Pakistan in a bid to try and control the growth and keep Pakistani citizens safe, but Pakistani Christians are living in this danger and there are no plans to improve or secure their future.
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In September 2012, the World Council of Churches in Geneva organised a hearing on the blasphemy laws, which was a good effort but I am not very optimistic. On November 28, the European Union human rights sub-committee on south Asia held a hearing on the human rights situation in Pakistan, where experts on Pakistan shed light and expressed their concerns about the mistreatment of religious minorities, forced conversion of minorities' women to Islam, women's persecution and the situation of children. I was most surprised to hear the comments of Pakistani Ambassador, Munawar Bhatti who was invited by the EU to respond to the Pakistani expert and on the worsening situation of human rights and the mistreatment of religious minorities.
He not only rejected all the allegations about mistreatment of religious minorities and human rights violations, but presented Pakistan as a paradise, despite the whole world being able to see what it going on in the country.
The prospect of bringing change to the way Pakistani religious minorities are treated in Pakistan seems impossible when the country's own ministers are not willing to accept what is going on beneath their noses. Hindus are migrating to India but Christians have nowhere to go.
It is the duty of Pakistani Christians living abroad and other Pakistani religious minorities to raise awareness of the persecution at the international level and bring it to the knowledge of the European Parliament if they want their brothers and sisters to have a better future in Pakistan.
However, the Pakistani Christian leadership seems less concerned about the future of Christians in Pakistan and is hoping for more from the world. Unfortunately Christians don't have any prominent political leadership amongst the present parliamentarians who have reached parliament by accident because of Pervez Musharraf's policy. As I have said above, they are not elected by the voters but sit in parliament on the reserved seats by the proportionate representative system and thus instead of working for the Christians they are concerned with making their leaders happy. People still rely on the church leadership but the church leadership has its own personal interest and organisational issues. Thus Pakistani Christians have no leadership to think and make plans for their future in Pakistan. That being the case, the prospects of a better 2013 and a genuinely happy new year for the Christians of Pakistan are slim.