By Yasser Latif Hamdani
July 16, 2018
One of the common refrains one gets from
apologists of the religious apartheid when one speaks of the denial of basic
and fundamental human rights to Ahmadis in Pakistan is that if they, the
Ahmadis, accept their status as non-Muslims, they would be given all their
rights as Pakistanis, as if we are giving Non-Muslim minorities any of their
citizenship rights. Admittedly, the position of Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and
others is slightly better than Ahmadis who are not even considered human beings
by our religious fascists, but even so, the position of Non-Muslim minorities
is not even that of second-class citizens.
As the elections fast approach and the
country is under virtual martial law designed to favour one particular party,
nobody is even discussing the continuing marginalisation of religious
minorities in our political system. Since the separation of Bangladesh,
Pakistan’s religious minorities have numbered less than five percent of the
population. Under the 1973 Constitution, this obviously raised questions about
their representation. Initially this was resolved through an in-house election
of MNAs and MPAs for Non-Muslims. Then General Zia-ul-Haq introduced separate
electorates. This meant that Non-Muslims divided up into Christians, Hindus,
Ahmadis and other minorities could elect up to 10 members through direct
election but could no longer vote for general constituencies or Muslim
If we justify constitutional discrimination
and unconscionable bars against minorities as an Islamic Republic, then we
should at least give them this right of voting both jointly and separately so
they can have some voice
This was overturned by General Musharraf’s
regime, which reintroduced the joint electorate. Reserved seats for Muslims would
now be distributed amongst political parties in proportion to their numbers on
general constituencies. The truth is that both these systems have failed to
provide effective representation and political influence to the tiny Non-Muslim
population in Pakistan. While the separate electorate system provided them with
elected representatives, it alienated them from Muslim legislators in the
country. Separate electorate in any event can only work if the minorities
amount to around 25 percent of the population. Anything below 10 percent means
nothing but alienation and irrelevance. Similarly, the joint electorate has
given them some influence on Muslim legislators but the representatives they
get in the assembly are all essentially yes men of political parties that
appoint them. For example, even the JUI-F has had a Christian on one of these
reserved seats; despite the fact their agenda is entirely anti-minority in
There are two ways this could be rectified.
One would be a primary election for representative Non-Muslims who could then
be fielded as list candidates by various political parties. This would require
each party to actively engage with the minority communities and ascertain their
views. However this would be a complicated process and will not always be fair.
The other easier way would be to grant Non-Muslim citizens the dual right to
vote, allowing them to both participate in joint electorate and also elect
their own representatives by separate electorate. Some would deem this a
violation of the ‘one person, one vote’ principle. However let us not forget
that the Pakistan of today is not the Pakistan envisaged by the founding father
on August 11, 1947.
Instead of erasing religious differences,
successive regimes have only exacerbated them over time. Under the 1973
Constitution, the offices of the President and Prime Minister are reserved for
Muslims alone. Given that this discrimination at the highest level seems to be
non-negotiable for the increasingly intolerant and paranoid Muslim majority in
this country, does justice not demand that the Non-Muslims should at least be
given the dual vote as restitution for it?
After all if you are going to so blatantly discriminate against citizens
of Pakistan, what is so wrong with ensuring that they at least have a voice in
matters directly pertaining to them and their locales?
This would not even be affirmative action
but simply quid pro quo for the fact that a Pakistani citizen who is not a
Muslim can never aspire to the highest office in the land. It would be a
totally different story if Pakistan was a secular state and blind to the
religious affiliation of its citizens, but we have failed to achieve such a
state. If we justify constitutional discrimination and unconscionable bars
against minorities as an Islamic Republic, then we should at least give them
this right of voting both jointly and separately so they can have some voice.
In any event, 10 seats are far too few in terms of proportion. Non-Muslims
should have at least 17 reserved seats.
The Christian Democratic Party, which
represents a sizeable number amongst Pakistani Christians, has been demanding
the right to vote on these reserved seats. Its president, Ben Hur Gill even
petitioned the Supreme Court during the 18th and 21st Amendment case, but only
Justice Jawad S Khawaja was willing to listen. Now the CDP has decided to
boycott the elections altogether. Next they are determined to call for mass
migration out of Pakistan. The oppression that Non-Muslims face in Pakistan is
not very different from the persecution minority groups have always faced
Even in the Islamic tradition, this makes
Hijrat mandatory. In face of persecution and violence of this magnitude,
especially when all parties have made theological debates an election issue,
would it not make sense for as many Non-Muslims to try and leave? It will be a
great tragedy for Pakistan of course, but this country has long lost its way.
It has become a majoritarian state with no recourse or way out for those
minorities who are unfortunate enough to be born here. A couple of years ago
when Ben Hur Gill first suggested that he would be forced to call for mass
migration one day, I told him to give us another chance. Now I find myself in
agreement with him. This does indeed seem like the only possible course of
action left for religious minorities in Pakistan. Perhaps they should leave
while they still can, because the Muslim majority in this country will
ultimately turn to genocide against them before ultimately killing each other.
Ghulam Abbas, the great Urdu short story writer, predicted this much in his
classic Hotel Mohenjo-Daro in the 1960s. Soon there will only be ruins left in
what was once a young country with great potential.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a practising lawyer and a Visiting Fellow at
Harvard Law School in Cambridge MA, USA
Such is a voice in the religious
wilderness of any bigoted majoritarian country, pleading for the
Rights of all non-combatant, loyal and law abiding minority
citizen-communities in the country.
Such voices, if there are any more of
in a country, it must auger well for its future.
poignant in an “Islamic Republic”; claiming to be Islamic and
then a Republic, not to ignore the “pure” added to its nomenclature. It should know better and pay heed to such voices of