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Pakistan's leaders promise equal rights for minorities
Pakistan’s political leaders have affirmed their government’s commitment to equal rights for religious minorities.
President Asif Ali Zardari addressed the country on August 11, World Minorities Day. He said the government stands committed to ensuring equal rights for all the minorities as enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan and the UN Declaration of Human Rights. He said:
“Minorities Day, every year on August 11 is an occasion to recognize the important role played by the minorities of Pakistan in national building. The sacrifices rendered by them. The problems and issues faced by members of minorities as well as to renew our commitment to protect their rights and to draw them fully in the mainstream of national life.”
Zardari added that World Minorities Day is an opportunity that reminds us to reaffirm our solidarity and to work hard for the betterment of humanity and for a prosperous Pakistan, according to the Pakistan Observer newspaper.
During a function at the prime minister’s house in Islamabad, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani said the present democratic government stands committed to ensuring equal rights for all minority communities. Gilani said, “It is our moral, religious and social obligation to strengthen the bond of love and promote culture of tolerance in the country.”
Growing intolerance and extremism is a serious threat to the fabric of Pakistani society, he added.
Religious minorities including Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis and Sikhs often suffer discrimination and victimization because of their religion in Pakistan’s predominantly Islamic society.
World Minorities Day was granted official recognition in Pakistan in 2009 through the efforts of Minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Clement Bhatti. He was killed in Islamabad on March 2, 2011 by members of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Bhatti, a Christian, had received numerous death threats from religious extremists before the attack, according to Minorities Concern of Pakistan.
World Minorities Day holds special significance in the history of Pakistan; especially, it is very noteworthy for religious minorities. On Aug. 11, 1947 (just three days before the independence of Islamic Republic of Pakistan), founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, said in his historic speech to the members of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan:
“We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State … If you change your past and work together in a spirit that every one of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make.”
PHOTO: Siikhs at a temple in Hassanabdal, Pakistan, 2009. (By Jared Ferrie)