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Vein hope for Pakistan's minorities

  • 21 January 2013

Nations can be likened to human bodies. Injury or pain to one part can affect the rest. Key arteries and veins often lay hidden among more visible skin and bones and are only visible in our most vulnerable locations; when cut, the blood flow is almost always fatal.

The most vulnerable and largely hidden parts of Pakistan are its minorities. Pakistan's founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah, himself from the Shia Muslim minority and Pakistan's first governor-general, guaranteed the rights of minorities. In his speech of 11 August 1947, Jinnah declared: 'You are free ... to go to your temples ... to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship ... You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.'

If Pakistan is to remain a nation with something resembling a soul and true to the vision of its founding fathers, it must protect its ethnic and religious minorities. But as with its neighbour India, it continues self-harming by bleeding its minorities. It isn't just extremists engaging in the self-harm. It happens at all levels of society.

In theory, Pakistan is a democracy with free elections, functioning political parties and a free and diverse press. Minorities are represented in public life. The recently retired Chief Justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, was a Hindu. Hindus and Christians have allotted seats in the Federal Parliament.

But Pakistan was a nation carved out of British India at the beginning of the Cold War, a time when any enemy of communism was seen as a good friend. Muslim fanatics in Pakistan intolerant of non-Muslims were courted and funded because of their intolerance of the Kremlin.

The phenomenon became acute when Soviet forces entered Afghanistan. The US, its Arab allies and Pakistan's military dictator General Zia-ul-Huq encouraged fervour for anti-Communist jihad and introduced a process of 'Islamisation' that saw the partial introduction of sharia criminal law and major changes to the education system.

The position of minorities has worsened as the letter of Sunni Islam (but not its spirit) has transformed Pakistan. Key institutions and personalities allied with the sufi-inspired South Asian Sunni traditions deobandi and barelwi have used domestic and overseas provocation to attack Pakistan's Christian, Hindu, Ahmadi and other minorities.

An amateurish YouTube video produced by a Californian in 2012 somehow led a crazed crowd to attack a Hindu temple