Peshawar: Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) organized a seminar on “Protection and Rights of Citizens: Political Consensus” wherein speakers emphasized that political parties need to focus on making serious efforts to implement national action plan, and take stern actions to curb the terrorism and extremism, and introduce measures to address outstanding human rights issues. Peter Jacob, former MNA Bushra Gohar (NDM), former Minister for Education, Sardar Hussain Babak (ANP), Syed Ayub Shah Advocate (PPP), Dr. Khadim Husain, Arshad Aziz Malik, Hashim Raza Advocate, Shahid Mehmood and Suneel Malik were among the speakers, while Naina Samson moderated the seminar.
At this juncture, CSJ’s report titled “Promises to Keep & Miles to Go” based on the analysis of pledges, actions, and performance regarding minorities rights made by political parties was launched which the political parties in the government and opposition largely failed to implement their pledges fully in the last three parliamentary tenures. The study found that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf fulfilled none out of five promises made in election manifesto 2018, though it made partial progress on two promises. Pakistan Muslim League-N failed to materialize nine out of ten promises. Pakistan Peoples Party partially implemented one out of eight promises.
Peter Jacob, the executive director of Centre for Social Justice said that CSJ shares the grief of families and the entire nation affected by the attack on police lines Peshawar a week ago. The civil society of Pakistan welcomes the meeting of the Apex committee and the all-parties conference, being convened in Islamabad, and supports the national resolve against the extremism and militancy. We strongly believe that the success against extremism will hugely depend on changes in the policy paradigm aimed at equality of rights and removing discrimination on the basis of religion or belief particularly the impunity available to preachers of hate and intolerance. Therefore, upcoming census has to ensure the maximum inclusion of Pakistan’s diversity and the political process should enable substantial changes in the legal framework including the constitution of Pakistan to inculcate the standards of justice and equality envisioned in the speech of Muhammad Ali Jinnah on 11 August 1947.
Bushra Gohar said that the political parties have failed to address human rights abuses, and they comprise on their mandates and political will due to the pressure exerted by religious groups, which results in making them use religion in their narrative and policy actions for political point scoring. She added that textbooks of different subjects including English and Urdu carry the religious content which leads to dividing citizens on religious and sectarian lines, and developing a typical worldview amongst students, which should be contained to implement Article 22(1) of the constitution of Pakistan.
Sardar Hussain Babak said that there are curbs on freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion in Pakistan. The powerful state institutions tend to challenges the supremacy of constitution and parliament, which makes the democratic institutions weak and marginalized. He added that country is in the grip of religious intolerance and extremism sponsored by the state, it is time for the state authorities to reject the ideals that promote hatred and exclusion.
Arshad Aziz Malik, the president press club, said that the constitution of Pakistan guaranteed the protection of life and property of every citizen, however, state institutions have failed to realize their responsibility to promote, protect and fulfill human rights. The political and armed forces must resolve to take serious actions to curb the acts of terrorism and extremism.
Syed Ayub Shah Advocate, senior vice president PPP said that the constitution Pakistan guarantees protection of human rights, therefore, political parties must make efforts to address human rights violations, curb acts of intolerance and extremism, and introduce policy and strategy to promote social cohesion and peaceful coexistence.
Shahid Mehmood said that it is the responsibility of the state institutions and governments implement the provisions of the international laws and Constitution of Pakistan. He added that the government should make efforts to ensure equality of rights for all citizens without any discrimination and steps should be taken to ensure a fair distribution of resources and eliminate corruption and ensure the safety of citizens’ lives and property.
Suneel Malik said that the political parties shy away from introducing progressive policy reforms to address outstanding human rights issues. They must not surrender their power to those forces which use religion for their political gains, and prevent progressive policy actions. He added that political parties must not forget their commitments to the electorate, instead they must focus on actions to implement the pledges they make in election manifesto to improve human rights situation in general, and religious freedom in particular.
CSJ’s report CSJ’s report titled “Promises to Keep & Miles to Go” revealed that the Punjab government during 2008 and 2022 introduced 11 policy actions followed by the federal government with 9 actions, Balochistan with 8, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with 7, and Sindh with 6 actions. The majority of policy actions lacked a strong legal basis and implementation mechanism which indicates a need for a serious re-examination of our administrative system. The policy actions rely heavily on issuing notifications, which is a convenient use of administrative powers while the government evidently faced difficulties in legislating and instituting rules of procedures in various measures. The concrete information on the utilization of funds allocated for scholarship, places of worship, skill development etc. was not made public or there was a lack of implementation due to an absence of notifications or the purpose of the policy action was not fulfilled.
The study revealed that the political parties appear to be reluctant to take measures to address outstanding issues faced by minorities, to counter the anti-minorities propaganda, as transpired in the case of draft bills on criminalizing forced conversions which were ignored by national, and Sindh assemblies due to pressure exerted by religious forces. However, they made partial progress on the inclusion of religious studies as an alternative to Islamiat, textbooks are yet to be developed.
The study founds that the political parties are increasingly using the language that manifests their aspiration about the empowerment of minorities but while in power, the parties heavily rely on non-legislative means or weak measures, such as; issuing executive notifications instead of passing legislation to introduce affirmative measures, which ultimately weakened the measures themselves. For instance, a law is yet to be enacted to establish a statutory National Commission for Minorities despite it was promised by PTI and PPP. Likewise, a law is yet to be enacted to effectively implement job quotas for minorities in government departments and institutions despite it was pledged by PML-N, PPP and PTI in their election manifestos.