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State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Pakistan

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 16 July 2009
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Pakistan, 16 July 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a66d9a93c.html [accessed 13 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Pakistan began 2008 with a new government in place. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), led by Asif Ali Zardari, widower of the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and the Pakistan Muslim League formed a coalition government in February 2008 after months of turmoil in the run-up to the elections.

One of the new government's first tasks was to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and sign both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT).

Twelve religious minority members – four Christians and eight Hindus were elected to the National Assembly. Shahbaz Bhatti, the head of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) and a Christian parliamentarian became Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs. He later announced that government funds for minorities had been doubled and that a quota guaranteeing government jobs for minorities was to be introduced. In May 2008 the PPP endorsed a draft constitutional package (PCP) which proposes the election of one religious minority member (Christian, Hindu or other religious minority) from each province to the Senate, giving minorities a presence there. The draft also proposed an increase in the number of reserved seats to the National Assembly. However non-Muslims would be banned from becoming prime minister.

The country was plagued by violence during 2008, with increasing militant bombings and attacks leaving scores dead and injured. Militancy in Pakistan has considerably strengthened in the last few years as a consequence of the 'war on terror', the influx of militants from across the border with Afghanistan and some policies of the previous military regime. The new civilian government has shown little sign of being able to improve the situation and minorities, particularly those living in the tribal areas, are under increasing threat.

The situation in Pakistan's ethnic Baluchi populated province of Balochistan remains of concern. It is Pakistan's biggest province yet one of the poorest, most deprived and heavily militarized. The new government publicly apologized to the people of Balochistan for the large-scale military and air force operation launched against militants that has killed several thousand and displaced 200,000 people since 2001. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) some 4,000 people have disappeared during this period. Despite the government statements halting military operations, incidents and attacks by the military continue to be recorded. The increased presence of Taliban militants has resulted in violence and tension over issues of security, human rights and division of resources. Ethnic Balochis have been caught between the militants and Pakistani forces.

Sectarian attacks and violence were reported from several parts of Pakistan throughout 2008. In February 2009 a suicide bomb hit the funeral of a Shi'ite Muslim leader in a north-western town, killing at least 28 people and wounding several others. Shias make up 20 per cent of Sunni-dominated Pakistan.

In July 2008 doctors in Pakistan's north-western tribal region of Kurram appealed for urgent medical aid to avert a humanitarian crisis. Shia Muslim areas in Kurram have been cut off from the rest of the country since November 2007 following violence between Shias and Sunnis. In just two weeks in August 2008, some 200 people were killed in sectarian violence in Kurram.

Concerns have been raised regarding a recent controversial peace agreement between the government of the NWFP and the Taliban militia group Tahrike-Nifaz Shariat that enables the militia group to implement Sharia laws and gives them power to act as morality police, putting several ethnic and religious minorities in a vulnerable situation. These provinces have seen alarming increase in violence since they came under Taliban control, increasing the risk to ethnic and religious minorities who inhabit the areas. Several Christians have reportedly fled.

The situation for Pakistan's religious minorities, especially Christians, remained poor through 2008. Religious minorities were increasingly targeted by militants in NWFP, including the Swat valley and the tribal areas. According to the Minority Council of Pakistan (MCP), in January 2008 five Christians were kidnapped in South Waziristan and on 21 June 16 Christians were kidnapped by Islamic militants. In April two Sikhs who were kidnapped by militants in Dowarba, Hangu district, were freed.

In another incident in July 2008, the MCP reported that a United Presbyterian Church in Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, was attacked by a Muslim mob. Through the year there were several other reports of attacks on churches, including in Gajrakh, Punjab province, in March, and Sabz-Kot, Pasrur, also in Punjab, in February.

Rape and gender-based violence against religious minorities continue to be reported in Pakistan. In April 2008 the MCP reported that police officers in town in Lahore had raped and tortured a Christian girl in a police station. Police subsequently attacked and arrested nine Christians who protested outside the police station over the incident.

Religious minorities have also been charged under Pakistan's discriminatory blasphemy laws. In October 2008, in Faisalabad, a Christian man, Gulsher Masih, and his daughter, Sandal, were charged with blasphemy under the Pakistan Penal Code for allegedly tearing some pages from the Holy Qur'an, Asia News reported. In Hyderabad in Sindh province in July 2008 a Hindu child was accused of blasphemy and stripped and beaten by a group of people. Minority groups in Pakistan report at least two incidents a month involving arrests, attacks or killings of religious minorities over accusations of blasphemy.

Pakistan's Daily Times, in an editorial on 10 April 2008 commenting on an incident where a Hindu factory worker was beaten to death by his Muslim co-workers, who accused him of blasphemy, said:

'The truth is that an innocent man has been killed because of the legal "facility" [i.e. the Blasphemy Law] available to the killers to hide their real motive. It breaks one's heart to admit that all non-Muslims at the lower rungs of society are vulnerable to this savagery.... And if someone comes to the defense of these wronged people, religious fanatics come out and scare the state away.'

Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan continue to be terrorized for their religious beliefs. Earlier in 2008, Basharat Mughal, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Halqa Manzoor Colony in Karachi, was murdered. The AHRC said that he was shot on his way to the mosque, becoming the 88th person from the sect to be killed in Pakistan since 1984. In September the AHRC noted that no action had been taken against the presenter Amir Liaquat Hussain, who suggested that it was the duty of devout Muslims to murder Ahmadi sect members on a religious affairs programme on the Dubai-based Pakistani channel, Geo TV. According to the AHRC, two Ahmadi community leaders were lynched and murdered after the first broadcast. A total of four Ahmadis were killed in the first nine months of 2008, the group said. Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims but do not think that Muhammad was the last of the prophets.

Taliban in the Swat valley imposed a ban on female education and have warned teachers of 'severe consequences' if any girl is seen heading to school (see Box, p. 163). Several thousand children have been forced out of education and girls have faced targeted violence. Girls' schools and colleges on the University of Peshawar campus received several threatening letters in early January 2009.

In November 2008 Pakistan Child Rights Committee member Bakht Zeba was murdered, allegedly by the Taliban, for advocating education for children in Swat. The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) said that on Universal Children's Day Ms Bakht, speaking at a meeting, had criticized the Taliban for burning down schools and stopping children, especially girls, from going to school.

Meanwhile the Daily Times newspaper reported in August that minority students in Lahore, capital of Punjab, may not get admission this year because of a lack of reserved places for them. Nine Sikhs, a Hindu and a large number of Christian students are at risk of not being admitted into higher educational institutions.

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