The constitution of Pakistan is a sacrosanct document which draws its strength from the consensus it enjoys by all and sundry. Its Article 260(3) (b) clearly defines the term “non-Muslim.”
“non-Muslim” means a person who is not a Muslim and includes a person belonging to the Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Budhist or Parsi community, a person of the Quadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves ?Ahmadis’ or by any other name), or a Bahai, and a person belonging to any of the scheduled castes.”
This constitutional article clearly implies that whoever is mentioned here as a non-Muslim (citizen of Pakistan with a valid national CNIC) deserves to be part of any mechanism meant for the protection of the rights of religious minorities living in Pakistan.
One therefore wonders why certain Pakistani politicians, media persons and clerics raised hue and cry when they found out that members of the Ahmedia / Quadiani community may also be included in the proposed minorities’ commission. The noise, it seems, stemmed from ignorance of the constitution – its articles, 20, 21, 22 on religious minorities’ rights, as well as the Article 25 – which promises equal citizenry rights to all CITIZENS of Pakistan.
riginally, the minorities’ commission was supposed to be proposed jointly by the One-Man Commission under Dr. Shoaib Suddle and the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The Supreme Court had in fact entrusted Dr.Suddle in early 2019 with the task of helping in the implementation of its 2014 judgement. The job also included the creation of a statutory commission or council for minorities.
The 2014 judgement in the aftermath of the September 2013 a twin suicide bombing at the All Saints Church in Peshawar, had stated: “A National Council for minorities’ rights be constituted. The function of the said Council should inter alia be to monitor the practical realization of the rights and safeguards provided to the minorities under the Constitution and law. The Council should also be mandated to frame policy recommendations for safeguarding and protecting minorities rights by the Provincial and Federal Government.”
Several years after non-implementation of its ruling, the apex Court eventually created the One-Man Suddle Commission. In fact the Ministry of Religious Affairs gave an undertaking and its expression of support to the Supreme Court initiative in February 2020, whereafter Dr. Suddle prepared and circulated an excellent and balanced draft bill for a powerful , autonomous, independent and legally protected 13-member National Council for Minorities, answerable to the Parliament of Pakistan. The council he proposed was very much in synch with the UN-approved Paris Principles based on universal human rights, norms and standards; pluralism. The draft bill also lays out a clearly-defined non-partisan merit-based selection criteria for its members. But lo and behold, the ministry bureaucrats not only totally cold-shouldered the One-Man Commission, but also flagrantly hoodwinked the Court as well as caused unpardonable embarrassment to the government too by coming up with their skewed and extremely controversial commission, loaded with six all-Muslim bureaucrats as official members. The 12 non-official member also include two Muslims.
What are Muslim bureaucrats and two non-official Muslim members doing in a Commission meant for minorities?
Does this maverick move by the religious affairs ministry violate the undertaking it gave to the Supreme Court as well flagrantly against the Paris Principles and the six human rights conventions Pakistan is a party to?
The commission – a self-serving tool for civilian bureaucrats’ jobs after their retirement – is a brazen violation, not only of the constitution of Pakistan; it literally flouts all UN Covenants and the 1992 Paris Principles.
The Paris Principles set out the international minimum standards that all National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) must meet if they are to be legitimate, credible and effective in promoting and protecting human rights.
Endorsed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993 these principles were developed at a UN- sponsored meeting, held in Paris in October 1991, which brought together representatives of existing national human rights institutions (NHRIs).
The Asia Pacific Forum , the convener, has 25 members including Nepal and Afghanistan. The only country missing from the list is Pakistan. In fact the United Nations fully endorses the 1992 Paris Principles, requires all states to have independent, legally protected human rights institutions, including those on minorities’ rights.
The discourse above makes it abundantly clear that the entire controversy that arose after a cabinet meeting was premised on ignorance of the constitutional provisions for all CITIZENS of the country. And a mischievously created commission with ulterior motives in favour of a few bureaucrats will not only add to the disrepute of the country but also attract further censure and possible sanctions by UN bodies as well as the US and major European countries.