On May 5, 2020, Pakistan’s federal cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister, established the National Commission for Minorities (the Minorities Commission), six years after a 2014 judgment of the Supreme Court of Pakistan called for the creation of such a body. The 2014 ruling of the Pakistani Supreme Court recommended that the body, referred to as the National Council for Minorities’ Rights, should “inter alia be to monitor the practical realization of the rights and safeguards provided to the minorities under the Constitution and law. The Council should also be mandated to frame policy recommendations for safeguarding and protecting minorities’ rights by the Provincial and Federal Government.”
The decision to establish the Minorities Commission has faced significant criticism from human rights groups, suggesting that, in its current structure and design, is doomed to fail religious minorities in the country.
Indeed, the very narrative that accompanied the commission’s formation suggests that the body may turn a blind eye to the suffering of many religious minorities, and especially, the Ahmadis.
Ahmadis constitute a tiny 0.22% minority of the Pakistani population. In 1974, an amendment to the Pakistani constitution was introduced which declared that the Ahmadis were to be categorized as a non-Muslim minority. This single move had an adverse effect on the enjoyment of rights by the Ahmadis in Pakistan. Subsequently, in 1984, President Zia issued Ordinance XX, which effectively criminalized the Ahmadis (and those belonging to Lahori and Qadiani faith) for “posing” as Muslim or referring to themselves as Muslim. Social, political, and economic discrimination followed and has continue to this day. Indeed, in the 2020 report, USCIRF identified that Ahmadis have faced severe persecution including that “they are prohibited from voting as Muslims and were previously denied registration under joint electoral lists, relegating them to separate electoral lists with less political power. In 2018, the Islamabad High Court ruled that individuals must disclose their faith to receive identity documents, with civil society arguing this was meant to target Ahmadis.”
Shortly before the establishment of the Minorities Commission, Pakistan witnessed an increase of hate speech against the religious minority group. As the Coalition for Religious Equality and Inclusive Development (CREID), a UK-based consortium of faith or belief groups led by the Institute of Development Studies, suggested that such hate speech may incite violence. To add to the problem, as reported by CREID, social media spread anti-Ahmadiyya narratives which appeared to be supported by State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Mr Ali Muhammad Khan, who in a twitter statements, indicated that “the only punishment for blasphemers is beheading.” In another twitter communication he suggested that Ahmadis as blasphemers. Now, as the Minorities Commission is established, the Ahmadis have been clearly excluded from its remit.
Aside from the apparent picking and choosing who should benefit from the work of the Minorities Commission, there are other issues that are yet to be addressed. This, despite the fact that the government had six years to do so. Among others, Dr Shoaib Suddle emphasized that the commission should be an independent statutory body with full administrative and financial autonomy. However, this is not what the federal cabinet’s established Minorities Commission provides for.
It is clear that for the Minorities Commission to be an effective tool, it must be independent from a government which continues to turn a blind eye to the plight of religious minorities, and continues to allows severe persecution of religious minorities such as the Ahmadis. By failing to address the issue, the Minorities Commission will be used as a further means of persecution, by omission, and so is doomed to fail, and fail those whom it was meant to protect, namely, minorities.