Pakistan’s minority problem

Instead of vilifying India, Prime Minister Imran Khan should first set his house in order

Updated - September 04, 2019 12:54 am IST

Published - September 04, 2019 12:15 am IST

Pakistani Hindus pray at the Shri Krishna Temple in Mithi, some 320 km from Karachi on May 24, 2018.

Pakistani Hindus pray at the Shri Krishna Temple in Mithi, some 320 km from Karachi on May 24, 2018.

On August 31, after the release of the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan accused the Indian government of attempting to change the demography of the region through the “ethnic cleansing of Muslims”. This was the latest in a series of irresponsible tweets by Mr. Khan, who has even threatened war against India since the Indian government’s decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

A brief history of NRC

It is clear that Mr. Khan does not understand the facts of the NRC process in Assam. The cut-off date for inclusion in the NRC is March 24, 1971. On March 25, 1971, the Pakistani military had embarked on ‘Operation Searchlight’ to curb the elements of the separatist Bengali nationalist movement in erstwhile East Pakistan. It was this crackdown that had resulted in the massive influx of refugees into India. The flow of refugees into Assam has been a burning political issue in the State since then. It led to an agitation in 1979 against illegal immigrants and to the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985, which calls for the “detection, deletion and deportation of foreigners”. Every nation has a sovereign right to check claims of citizenship. What is happening in India is merely an updation of the NRC, which is taking place under the watchful eyes of the Supreme Court.

Moreover, the government has also made it clear that the final list will also be subject to revision. Those excluded from the list will get up to 10 months to prove their citizenship. Each such person will have a maximum of 120 days now to challenge his or her exclusion at a Foreigners’ Tribunal. The entire process is objective and does not target any particular ethnic group or community.

New Delhi has kept Dhaka informed about the NRC. In 2018, the then Information Minister of Bangladesh, Hasanul-Haq Inu, said that the NRC was India’s “internal matter”. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar also reiterated this recently. His assertion was repeated by Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen.

Whether in Assam or in J&K, the Constitution is the ultimate guardian for all citizens of India. The internal processes of India brook no external interference. India’s own credentials as a secular democracy need no certification. In India, unlike in most other countries, minorities have occupied the highest offices of the land.

An abysmal record

Instead of vilifying India, Mr. Khan should be more concerned about the treatment of the minorities in his own country, where the minority population has plunged since 1947. The discriminatory treatment meted out to Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Ahmadiyyas, the Baloch, Pashtuns and the Kalash people in Pakistan is well documented. In 2011, Human Rights Watch said that the brutality in Balochistan had reached an “unprecedented level”. When Mr. Khan speaks of “ethnic cleansing”, he is choosing to ignore Pakistan’s abysmal track record in this respect. In 1971, as many as three million Bengalis were killed by the Pakistani military, according to independent researchers. Pakistan is said to be among the worst places in the world for Shia Muslims. In 2012, gunmen pulled out at least 20 Shia Muslims from a bus and killed them in northern Pakistan.

Other minorities fare no better. Hindu women are routinely forced to convert to Islam, especially in rural Sindh. Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, was acquitted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan of blasphemy charges in 2018 after languishing for eight years on death row. In 2014, a Christian couple was burnt alive in Kasur, some 60 km from Lahore. Recently, a teenage Sikh girl was allegedly abducted and converted to Islam in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Given this depressing state of affairs, Mr. Khan should first ensure that the minorities in his country are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve before making reckless statements.

Sujan R. Chinoy is a former Indian Ambassador and the Director General of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Views are personal

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