ASIA/PAKISTAN - The nation belongs to everyone: Adequate political representation for citizens of all religions

Friday, 24 November 2023 politics   elections  

Rawalpindi (Agenzia Fides) - Pakistani Christians are calling for a review of the mechanisms of political representation and a stronger presence of candidates in parliament in view of the upcoming parliamentary elections on February 8, 2024. In the decisive election, "the wishes of religious minorities should be taken into account," said Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, who recalled that "holding parliamentary elections in Pakistan is an important process for promoting democracy in the country." "All political leaders must work together to promote the prosperity and development of Pakistan. That is the beauty of democracy," said the archbishop, who is also chairman of the Pakistan Bishops' Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP). Bishop Arshads notes that "non-Muslim citizens are often marginalized in society, but cannot be ignored in this electoral process." Therefore, “to ensure fairness and social justice,” “their wishes should also be heard, respected and taken into account,” Arshad said. “All political parties should include minority candidates in their electoral lists for the sake of true democracy. In this way way democracy can be strengthened in Pakistan and help these smaller and weaker communities,” which are mainly Christians and Hindus, “become more and more integrated into society,” he emphasizes. "All political parties are called upon," continued Bishop Arshad, "to include the issue of protecting the rights of minorities and their well-being in their political program. Non-Muslim citizens have played a key role in the development of the nation since the nation was built in 1947, the prosperity and economic, social and cultural prosperity of Pakistan". Meanwhile, in an important public address in Rawalpindi, Pakistan Army Commander-in-Chief General Syed Asim Munir also emphasized "the unity and inclusiveness of Pakistan" and stated that "the nation belongs to all citizens, irrespective of religion, province, tribe, etc language, ethnicity, sects or other differences". During an important meeting with eminent Islamic scholars from various schools of thought, the general categorically rejected the use of force or armed actions by entities and social groups (as was the case in the past with the initiatives of some religious parties and movements) and emphasized the role of religious leaders in promoting peace and harmony. He called on them to guide young people in particular to a better understanding of the Quran and Sunnah (Islamic law) in order to promote the building of a peaceful and harmonious nation in the relations between all its various social, cultural and religious components. The meeting unanimously condemned extremism, terrorism and sectarianism and Muslim scholars pledged to support the state's efforts towards tolerance, peace and stability in the country. Those present emphasized Islam's message of peace and criticized any misinterpretation of religious teachings for special interests. General Munir particularly praised the fatwa "Paigham-e-Pakistan" issued by some Islamic religious leaders, which delegitimizes extremist propaganda and intolerance spread by radical Muslim groups. The general called for widespread adoption and implementation of this measure, stressing that "there is no place for intolerance or extreme behavior in Pakistan, especially against minorities and weak sections of society." Participants also welcomed the government's measures to strengthen state security, including the repatriation of illegal aliens, and acknowledged Pakistan's concerns about terrorist infiltration from Afghanistan. Regret was expressed at the ongoing conflict in Gaza, describing the Israeli government's actions as a "crime against humanity". On the eve of the campaign for the February elections, which will involve 127 million voters, General Munir reiterated the fundamental stance of the government and institutions in promoting a united and peaceful Pakistan and integration into the socio-political fabric of the nation. Since the dissolution of Parliament on August 9th, Pakistan has been ruled by a provisional government. According to the Constitution, elections should have been held within 90 days of the dissolution of Parliament, but the electoral commission, which had to redraw electoral districts after the last census, set the date for February 9, 2024. Among the burning issues of this period is the position of the country's main opposition party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and that of its leader, former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who were removed from government in April of 2022 through a parliamentary vote of no confidence. After campaigning for early elections across the country, Khan was jailed on August 5 on corruption charges. Pakistan is also characterized by economic instability. The country was overwhelmed by the balance of payments crisis, had to pay off large external debts and faced runaway inflation, which had serious social consequences and impoverished families. Last June, the International Monetary Fund granted Pakistan a $3 billion aid package. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 24/11/2023)