Mainstream political parties of Pakistan have failed to fulfil the commitments they have included in their election manifestos with regard to protecting the rights of minorities and empowering them.
This has been mentioned in a recent study titled ‘Assessment of the Delivery on Party Manifestos to Protect Minorities’ Rights’ conducted by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ). “Manifestos [of political parties] need to be based on concrete analysis of problems and implementation policy punctuated with transparency and public accountability. It would be impossible to improve the quality of life for religious minorities without adhering to the principles of equality of rights, equal opportunities and standards of equal treatment,” reads the study.
It states that the agendas of political parties should manifest the replacement of tokenism with concrete plans for addressing the paradigm of division, discrimination and uneven citizenship on the basis of religion.
Regarding the pledges for minorities in manifestos, the study mentions that the Pakistan Peoples Party is ahead of all the parties and has been consistent in presenting quality pledges related to the minorities. It is followed by the Awami National Party with a short margin.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam rank third and fourth respectively. According to the study, most parties improved their score over the course of the last three elections except the MQM and Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, which presented better pledges in 2008 but lost their focus on minorities in the following polls.
According to the CSJ assessment, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz lost its focus on religious minorities after a peak in 2013. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf scored the least in the assessment.
The study concludes that the pledges of the mainstream political parties to the minorities do not match the urgency and gravity of issues being faced by them. The CSJ even found some of the pledges inappropriate and potentially counterproductive such as the proposition about direct elections for reserved seats for minorities and replacement of the term minority with “Non-Muslim”.
The political parties had also incorporated non-issues probably as they found addressing the core issues of religious freedom and equality among citizens difficult in the wake of rising religious intolerance.
About one third of the total pledges made by the political parties to the minorities were shared by all parties, including minorities’ representation in a statutory minority commission, criminalising forced conversions, reviewing curriculum, implementing job quotas and reviewing discriminatory laws.
The study states that this commonality should have helped the parties to make progress on these issues, but lack of delivery on these promises posed questions about the seriousness attached to them.
The study reads that the distinct pledges such as introducing education quota, preventing misuse of blasphemy laws, representation of women of minorities in legislatures and introducing constitutional reforms showed that some political parties could dare to dream.
Conversely, the non-implementation of the promises when the political parties were in power was reflective of their weak resolve. According to the study, the political parties appear to be reluctant to take measures to address outstanding issues of the minorities as it transpired in the non-consideration of the bill to prevent forced conversions.
The report says that most parties rely on the allocation of charity and funds for the minorities as a primary approach for fulfilment of their rights. The government’s funding is also marred by institutional and financial corruption due to which it fails to address marginalisation of the minorities. A law is yet to be enacted to effectively implement job quota for minorities despite all the three mainstream parties pledging to enforce a minority job quota in government departments and institutions.
The report states that political agendas are partly dependent on peoples' support for their implementation. Due to this reason, the political parties, despite their good intentions, need to cultivate popular support on the issues impacting the minorities' well-being and equal status.
The CSJ has urged the leaders of political parties to make sure online availability of their election manifestos and develop an internal mechanism to assess the implementation of pledges in those manifestos, as well as review them in the midway of their tenures to address the impediments in the implementation.
The study recommends that the parties should make a parliamentary caucus on the issues related to religious freedom and minorities which should have a space for civil society to engage on policy issues.
The report also calls for taking legal, administrative, and educative measures to address the abuse of blasphemy laws according to the recommendations of a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. The study recommends that the nomination of minorities on reserved seats should be made through elections within respective political parties to make the process more credible.