Published: Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Pak minorities have no faith in democracy

Pak minorities have no faith in democracy

In majority Muslim Pakistan, religious minorities say democracy is killing them.
Intolerance has been on the rise for the past five years under Pakistan’s democratically elected government because of the growing violence of Islamic radicals, who are then courted by political parties, say many in the country’s communities of Shia Muslims, Christians, Hindus and other minorities.
On Saturday, the country will elect a new parliament, marking the first time one elected government is replaced by another in the history of Pakistan, which over its 66-year existence has repeatedly seen military rule. But minorities are not celebrating. Some of the fiercest Islamic extremists are candidates in the vote, and minorities say even the mainstream political parties pander to radicals to get votes, often campaigning side-by-side with well-known militants.
More than a dozen representatives of Pakistan’s minorities interviewed by The Associated Press expressed fears the vote will only hand more influence to extremists. Since the 2008 elections, under the outgoing government led by the left-leaning Pakistan People’s Party, sectarian attacks have been relentless and minorities have found themselves increasingly targeted by radical Islamic militants. Minorities have little faith the new election will change that.
“We are always opposed to martial law (but) during all the military regimes, the law and order was better and there was good security for minorities,” said Amar Lal, a lawyer and human rights activist for Pakistan’s Hindu community.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom in a report last month berated the Pakistani government for its poor record of protecting both its minorities and its majority Sunni Muslims and recommended that Pakistan be put on a list of worst offenders, which could jeopardize billions of dollars in US assistance.
Pakistan’s Hindu minority complains that scores of Hindu girls have been kidnapped, forced to marry their abductor and convert to Islam. They say some 11,000 Hindus living in Baluchistan province have migrated to India because they were worried about security.
Pakistan’s Christian communities have complaints as well. They are often charged with blasphemy with trifles with majority muslims.
They also accuse political parties of aligning with radical Islamic groups to get votes. Minority religious groups fear extremists will piggyback on the backs of mainstream political parties to a position of political power. They most often point to Nawaz Sharif, the head of the Pakistan Muslim League.
Sharif’s spokesman Siddiq-ul-Farooqi flatly rejected any links to extremist groups.
The non-believer epitaph is also widely used in reference to Ahmedis, who consider themselves Muslims but have been explicitly declared non-Muslims in Pakistan’s constitution.
So virulent is the abhorrence of Ahmedis by Pakistan’s religious right-wing parties that many candidates in Saturday’s elections have found it necessary to openly declare their view that Ahmedis are non-Muslims.