The Voice of Karachi (VOK) and South Asia Minorities Alliance Foundation (SAMAF) Chairman Nadeem Nusrat has said that relentless suppression of ethnic and religious minorities in certain parts of South Asia, Pakistan in particular, continued to raise serious questions about partition of India in 1947.
It were the fears and apprehensions of minorities that had brought about India’s division. If these minorities were still without their basic human rights then questions about the partition of India was bound to be raised and discussed, said Nusrat in a statement here on Monday on the eve of 71st Independence Day of Pakistan.
The statement said this August 14 marked the 71st year of the Indian subcontinent’s division and the creation of India and Pakistan. The division of India, which most historians referred to as the Partition, divided hundreds of millions of Indian Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and others into two sovereign nations: India and Pakistan.
A division that was meant to resolve the issue of minorities ended up with an even bigger human tragedy by dividing millions of families into two hostile nations, Nusrat pointed out. Armed with the belief that a separate Muslim homeland would be an ultimate solution to their apprehensions and fears, the Muslim minorities played a critical role in India’s partition.
The first president of the All India Muslim League, the founding political party of Pakistan, was Sir Agha Khan III, an Ismaili. It was his financial support that helped the All India Muslim League become an important voice for Muslims in the region. The founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was a Shiite. Raja Sahab of Mahmoodabad, an ultra-rich landlord whose fortunes greatly helped Jinnah to successfully pursue his political ambitions, was also a Shiite Muslim. Pakistan’s first Foreign Minister Sir Zafarullah Khan was an Ahmadi.
Those Muslim religious minorities that had made huge physical and financial sacrifices for Pakistan did not fare any better. The statement further elaborated that soon after the ethnic Bengali Muslims in East Pakistan parted ways and created their own homeland, Bangladesh, Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims by Pakistani Parliament in a bid by the so-called progressive Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to win the support of religious parties.
The Shiite Muslims have also been systematically targeted since 1947 after being branded as infidels in Pakistan by the very elements that were opposed to the creation of Pakistan. Places of worships belonging to Ahmadis and Shiites were routinely attacked and members belonging to both religious groups were attacked and killed on a regular basis by religious extremists who enjoy overt and covert support from the state itself.
In one of the worst attacks against religious minorities in Pakistan, in May 2015, at least 43 people belonging to the Ismaili community were killed in broad daylight when armed men opened fire inside a bus carrying members of the Ismaili community in Karachi.
In the last few years, members belonging to moderate Sufi and Barelvi Muslim sects have also come under brutal attacks from religious extremists. A number of Sufi shrines were blown up by the Taliban and other terrorist outfits.
Members of a tiny Sikh community, settled mostly in the north-west KPK province of the country, have been facing persistent terrorist attacks that have left a number of Sikhs dead. The peaceful and apolitical Christian minority is not safe from this campaign of terror either, as a number of Christian churches in recent years have faced deadly suicide attacks that have left scores of Christians dead and injured. In Quetta, the capital city of restive Balochistan province, five Christians were gunned down in May this year. Cases of forced conversion of Hindus in Sindh province are also reported on a regular basis.
Nadeem Nusrat further stated that in Quetta, members of the minority Hazara Shiites have been forced to live in just two enclaves and those who dare to venture out are attacked and killed by religious extremists.
Hundreds of members of minority Hazaras have been killed in recent years alone. The majority indigenous population in the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region is being systematically turned into a minority by Pakistani military establishment. As per reports received from the local activists, vast tracts of land where non-locals are being housed have been allocated to some Punjab-based and Chinese groups in a bid to change the demography of the region.
“The reason why we see a complete absence of justice being handed out in such cases is because of Pakistani deep state’s overt and covert involvement in such incidents. Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, which is dominated by people from mainly Punjab province, uses religious proxies and non-state actors to suppress both religious and ethnic minorities. In Balochistan, Sunni extremist outfits are being used against Baloch nationalists who are demanding autonomy for their region,” said Nusrat.
He further said that in Karachi, the financial hub of Pakistan whose taxes run Pakistan, banned religious outfits enjoyed visible impunity and were routinely unleashed against secular and inclusive Mohajirs, the majority ethnic group in the city that has been brutally dealt with by Pakistani military since Pakistan’s creation.
Nusrat stressed that the way the Pakistani military openly sided in recent election with PTI Chairman Imran Khan, an avowedly admirer of the Taliban, did not bode well for the future of religious minorities in Pakistan. “It is on record that Madrassah Haqqania, the religious seminary where the Taliban was conceived and brought up, was awarded hundreds of millions of official grants by Imran Khan’s PTI-led government in KPK province that shares hundreds of miles long border with Afghanistan. His party’s provincial government also offered the Taliban an office in the province,” he added.
South Asia Minorities Alliance Foundation Chairman further said that the current US Administration’s decision to make the issue of religious freedom worldwide a cornerstone of its policies has given hope to hundreds of millions of members of ethnic and religious minorities throughout the world who are suffering persecution, ethnic cleansing, and even genocide, in their own countries. Persecuted minorities in South Asia, particularly in Pakistan, would hope to see a positive change in their lives as result of the initiative.
In the wake of this situation, the appointment of former Kansas Senator and Governor Samuel Brownback as U.S. Ambassador at Large by the current administration seemed a very positive step in the right direction, he said. “The way his department and the U.S. Commission of Religious Freedom (USCIRF) are advancing the issue of religious freedom on a global scale provides all religious and ethnic minorities with a substantial room for optimism,” he added.
Nadeem Nusrat said that Pakistan’s current constitution and the administrative distribution of its geographical regions have both proved outdated and inadequate to resolve the issues faced by Pakistan’s ethnic and religious minorities. Pakistan at the moment needs a consociational system of democracy as well as creation of multiple autonomous administrative units where local population should be in control of their own affairs.
He asserted that an autonomous Karachi was vital for peace and stability in South Asia, and without this, Pakistan was certain to face continued unrest among its minorities and questions about its viability.