The very tragic attack on Civil hospital in Quetta has made government review progress on the National Action
Plan (NAP), and in turn reenergise its efforts on implementing it. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has for this purpose started deliberations with his top civilian aides and the military leadership. The first meeting held on Wednesday mulled over the inadequate action on several points of NAP such as madrassah reforms, crackdown on banned groups, reform of criminal laws, development of National Counter Terrorism Authority, and capacity building of civilian law enforcement agencies. It is indeed unfortunate that NAP has not been able to achieve the purpose that it was designed for, and terrorist and extremist networks continue to wreak havoc in the country. For its part government has to realise that without substantial progress on all of these fronts, Pakistan would continue to suffer from the scourge of terrorim.
After all, Pakistan is a democratic country in which civilian institutions oversee the affairs of the state. Military courts for this matter cannot be viewed as a permanent replacement of the judiciary and law enforcement system in Pakistan. Hence, without addressing the underlying structural deficiencies in the criminal justice system, ranging from witness protection to strengthening the police force, any military victory would only be a temporary one, and the progress made through the Operation Zarb-e-Azab would be reversed. The military instead of appropriating more space from the civilian establishment should rather work along side it and help it to prop it up so that the police force and the judiciary can manage internal security on its own. Pakistan needs to move towards a system where both individual rights are safeguarded against government abuse, and security is provided to its citizens. And this can only be achieved if the criminal justice system is overhauled and strengthened.
Law enforcement agencies, in the meantime, must put into practice all their resources to get to the bottom of each act of terrorism without shifting blame or responsibility. Each act of terror is to be treated primarily as a criminal act, and to crack a crime there is a systematic process that is to be practised without leaving any loophole. The process must include: identification of the perpetrator, tracking the mastermind/s, finding out the location of the plot, and training, equipping and funding of foot soldiers. After an airtight case is made, there must be quick trials and prompt dispensation of punishment. Tight security of jails is another very important step in the fight against terrorism. Pakistan has a very vast intelligence network, and it should be utilised to the full in order to collect evidence and apprehend the perpetrators. Moreover, the progress of all these operations should be shared with the public, without of course divulging sensitive information. Pakistan is facing a grave threat, and naturally the public is afraid. The security apparatus of the state must in these circumstances address people’s concerns and be responsive to their apprehensions.
Terrorism is a global threat and militant Islamic organisations around the world use the same justifications for their use of violence against civilians. For this very reason, selective targeting of terrorists must be done away with along with all distinctions of “good” and “bad” terrorists. Glorification of violence, which unfortunately is even present in textbooks, has to be shunned. The state should make its policy to condemn all militant outfits, regardless of whether they operate inside or outside Pakistan. The pressing issue for Pakistan is to break the regional network of terrorism, and for this it will need the cooperation of neighbouring countries, particularly Afghanistan.
Hence, the state would have to address security concerns of its neighbours so that they can work together in eliminating this menace that is plaguing the region.
They are not “minorities,” they are Pakistanis
Mere statements by state functionaries marked the National Minorities’ Day this year too as ground realities negate their claims of supporting the rights of the marginalised sections of society. The prime minister, president and chief minister of Punjab have renewed commitment to provide equal rights to people of all religions without any discrimination in the light of the message of the founding father, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, but such resolves have proved mere eyewash so far. The observance of the day in itself is a joke as the members of “minorities” are citizens of Pakistan and should not be put into boxes on the basis of their faith. It is the responsibility of the state to ensure equal rights of all citizens instead of singling out non-Muslims from the mainstream society.
In Pakistan, minorities feel insecure and this is the result of discriminatory policies of the state and society towards them. There are numerous examples of injustice that are committed against the members of minority communities almost on a daily basis across the country. The government does not seem to care about the challenges the minorities have been facing for many years in the country. They do not have equal rights, are often subjected to injustice, and come under attack on the pretext of mere allegations. Forced conversion of girls belonging to minorities has become a common practice in the interior Sindh and some areas of Punjab. The persecution of minorities at the hands of extremists has been going on for years, but not much has changed despite promises as there is a glaring absence of tangible steps to end this injustice. Although government talks about equality of rights yet it is the state that has barred non-Muslims from directly electing their representatives. They have no real representation in parliament, and that is a gross violation of the fundamental rights of the weak and marginalised. The government needs to give the right of direct elections to everybody, as the reserved seats for minorities are filled at the discretion of winner political parties. The process is highly centralised and susceptible to corruption. The exclusion of non-Muslims from the direct electoral process is against the basic principles of democracy.
Voices must be raised to force government to give equal rights to minorities in all spheres of life. Non-Muslim Pakistanis must have a say in the general elections and have the choice to vote in favour of MPAs and MNAs on reserved seats in the general elections. Socio-economic and political exclusion of non-Muslims must come to an end now, and they must be included in the mainstream dynamic of Pakistan, an ideology that was laid down by none other than Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
Much needs to be changed.
Non-Muslims in Pakistan will have equal rights when they are allowed to elect their own representatives, and their daughters and sisters are not forced to convert.
Non-Muslims in Pakistan will have equal rights when Pakistan does not need a special day to be reminded of the rights of those who pray to God differently.
And things will change in Pakistan when the very word that is anathema to Pakistan’s unity is eliminated from our lexicon: “minorities.” Pakistan will become home to all who live here only when they are all simply called… Pakistanis. *