Pakistan must roll back the tide of extremist darkness that increasingly threatens to drown out all rational, tolerant inclusive views. The government and public will have to join hands if the extremists are to be held at bay and finally their inglorious and repressive ideology defeated.
Mr Rehman Malik added to the confusion, presenting an all-blanketing conspiracy theory, which entailed an effort to malign Pakistan by the issuance of 250 Indian visas and the intentional cruelty and directed efforts to intimidate Pakistani minorities. Most importantly, Mr Malik stated that Pakistani minorities required some sort of special certification in order to be able to travel abroad anywhere. While Mr Malik’s gripe that the Indian High Commission seemed to have been uncharacteristically hasty and generous in stamping visas, in the aftermath of the land-grabbing mafias targeting of the Hindu community in Jacobabad is understandable - his extraordinary and incredibly alarming statement that any Pakistani required special permission from the Ministry of Interior for travelling abroad, if they belonged to a minority religion is absolutely incomprehensible and makes a mockery of the rights of Pakistanis under the Constitution, not to mention the unity of the Pakistani nation. Three separate issues need to be discussed. One, that the criminal targeting of the Pakistani Hindu community in Jacobabad, where financial interests drive the efforts to harrass and intimidate Pakistani Hindus must be immediately and permanently stopped. Second, that the Interior Minister must clarify at once his incomprehensible statement that any Pakistani requires a special NOC to travel abroad based only on which religion they may or may not belong to. And thirdly that, as the President has directed, any efforts to embarrass Pakistan as a country which is unable to protect and ensure the safety of its minorities rights, must be soundly defeated.
Chief Minister Sindh Qaim Ali Shah at least had the decency to respond to the reports by setting up a three-member committee led by Sindh Minister for Minority Affairs Mukesh Kumar Chawla to report back on the issue within a week.. However, the minister has already compromised the credibility of the committee even before it has started its work by stating that the reports of migration are exaggerated and Hindu girls are eloping with Muslim boys of their own free will. The SSP Jacobabad has delivered the priceless comment that security is being provided to the Hindu community. In other words all is well in the best of all possible worlds and the SSP can therefore go back to sleep. But the cake is taken by Interior Minister Rehman Malik. With his usual penchant for a strange and twisted take on most things, the interior minister sees conspiracies under every bed and behind every bush. This migration issue too, according to Rehman Malik’s wisdom, is a conspiracy involving the Indian High Commission for issuing visas for India to 250 Hindu citizens of Pakistan, ostensibly for religious pilgrimage.
Interviews in the press with some of the departing Hindu families in Lahore, en route to Wagah, reveal a mixed picture. Some interviewees were quite candid that their lives had been turned into a living hell because of insecurity, and although they were travelling to India for a religious pilgrimage, might decide to stay on there if they found it convivial. Others were at pains to deny any intent to migrate. Those in the latter category may not have been speaking from the heart, or at least been cautious so as not to make matters for those staying behind even worse. Reports indicate that the 60 families who have torn themselves away from their and their forefathers’ homeland may only be the tip of the iceberg, or a possible tidal wave to follow.
Ironically, while tearful relatives were bidding goodbye to the families leaving from the Lahore Railway Station, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US was reassuring an American audience that Pakistan protects the rights of religious minorities. On the very same day, President Asif Ali Zardari was speaking at a commemoration of National Minorities Day, declared on every August 11 in recognition of the message in the Quaid’s speech to the constituent assembly in 1947. The president stated that misuse of the blasphemy law would not be allowed. Both Ambassador Rehman and President Zardari’s statements are well intentioned and reflect the best of principles, but with due respect, they are divorced from our ground realities. Four decades of promotion of religious extremism in the name of jihad are now bearing their over-ripe malign fruit. Pakistani society today is riven with intolerance, religious prejudice and violence against religious minorities. In the case of the blasphemy law, it has not even spared Muslims.
Pakistan must roll back the tide of extremist darkness that increasingly threatens to drown out all rational, tolerant, inclusive views. The government and public will have to join hands if the extremists are to be held at bay and finally their inglorious and repressive ideology defeated.
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