Religious harmony in Pakistan: Tahir Ashrafi

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Our dear homeland Pakistan is the most important country in the Islamic world and the first nuclear power in the Muslim world.

For the last four decades, Pakistan has been facing multiple challenges and its adversaries have been trying to portray it as a weak state that relies on others for its survival. Indeed for a long time, Pakistan has been the victim of terrorism and sectarian violence, but that is now history. Whatever conspiracy is peddled against Pakistan, the reality is that it has successfully defeated terrorism.

Though Pakistan is now 90 percent out of the terrorism mess, international terrorist groups in Afghanistan are still conspiring to target Pakistan. These terrorist organisations have been conspiring against Pakistan with Indian support. There are currently being reorganised by India but Pakistan’s security agencies are constantly thwarting their conspiracies.

The present government has a clear policy from day one to eradicate the menace of extremism and terrorism from Pakistan and make it a peaceful, stable and tolerant country.

It would not be wrong to say that the official status of Madaris education has been formally recognised after seventy years. In the past, the degrees of Madaris Educational Boards were recognised only as honorary degrees and were considered equivalent to MA Islamic Studies or MA in Arabic, that too by a few government departments. Many simply did not recognise them. However, as a result of continuous negotiations with state officials, not only has the registration issue of seminaries been sorted out, it was also decided that along with the religious education Madaris will also impart conventional education up to Intermediate. It was also decided that the government would not interfere in the affairs of the seminaries and their curriculum unnecessarily.

The Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Imran Khan, has appointed me as the Special Representative for Religious Harmony and the Middle East. I have been assigned a special duty to promote and strengthen religious harmony and begin an interfaith dialogue with key stakeholders, to dispel misconceptions related to Pakistan and Islam. Alhamdulillah, Pakistan is today one of the safest countries for minorities. Look at India where minorities are in perpetual danger. More than 2,000 churches, hundreds of gurdwaras and mosques have been targeted. Massacres of minorities and forced conversions have become a routine matter in India. Also what is happening to Muslims in Europe, the United States, and the United Kingdom under the guise of Islamophobia is no secret.

With the praise of Allah, protection of the rights of minorities in all walks of life according to the Constitution of Pakistan is being ensured in every possible way. During the last three months, issues of forced conversion, forced marriage and blasphemy have been closely watched, and in case of any complaint, the matter was resolved immediately. In this regard, I can responsibly say that Pakistan has no major issue related to the rights of minorities. Most of what we hear is propaganda. Nevertheless, we still are vigilant and ready to solve the problem. How the Ulema-e-Islam and the ‘Khatam-e-Nabowat Lawyers Forum’ reacted to the false accusation of blasphemy against six Christian workers in Lahore was a step in the right direction. The religious scholars and the lawyers have also agreed that in the event of misuse of the blasphemy law, not only will the attempt be stopped but action will also be taken against the perpetrator.

Despite the outbreak of the corona pandemic, Christians were provided full security during their festivity days, especially on Christmas. A function was also held in the Presidency to send a clear message that the protection of the rights of all Pakistanis, as enshrined in the Constitution, is the responsibility of the state. Those who attacked the Hindu temple in Karak had been arrested. Not a single voice from across the country was raised in their support while the religious scholars have demanded full action against the perpetrators. Prime Minister Imran Khan had taken a personal interest in the arrest of the accused involved in the Karak incident. Similarly, the Chief Justice of Pakistan also ordered the Temple without delay. All these actions show that the state is seriously protecting the rights of minorities. As the Special Representative of the Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, my office is working round the clock to address the grievances of Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Progress is being made to establish interreligious and interfaith harmony councils at the union level to resolve issues at the local level. We are also working to bring an end to the culture of hate speech and writings. Although the Muttahida Ulema Board Punjab has been working on it for a long time, with the coordinated effort of concerned departments, the trend shall now be spread across the country.

This article will not be complete without mentioning the continuous persecution of Hazara community members in Machh, Balochistan. They have been the victims of terrorism for a long time and the role of anti-Pakistan forces is clear in these instances. India is supporting ISIS and Pakistan’s banned organisations in Afghanistan. ISIS has claimed responsibility for terrorism in Machh, Balochistan. Although some internal and external elements tried to spread hatred and politicise the tragedy, the Hazara community leaders, scholars and elders, and the government of Pakistan not only thwarted it but for the first time, the government solved the problems of the Hazara community by signing a written agreement on the instructions of Prime Minister Imran Khan. We strive to welcome positive criticism and respond effectively to unwarranted propaganda, be it on issues of minorities or the problems of Pakistanis in the Middle East. It is our utmost priority and first responsibility to resolve all these issues. Insha Allah, I will soon write on the government’s goals and our efforts in the Middle East.