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World respects us only as much as we respect our own citizens

Gujranwala – PR: A country’s international image is an extension of its policies. ‘Our negative image and its fallout such as the sinking prestige of the green passport are just rebounds of our country’s own policies and behaviors’, thinker and author Wajahat Masood said while speaking at a national workshop on interfaith harmony in Gujranwala. He said before blaming anyone else for Pakistan’s ills, it is important to remember that the world respects a state only as much as it respects its own citizens. No country can project a good image while discriminating against its own citizens on the basis of their faith, Masood added. Having a religious faith is no crime, and it is everyone’s fundamental right to profess any religion.

Wajahat Masood said Pakistan’s religious minorities account for nearly 9 million people which is a huge number by any definition particularly given that in Europe there are countries with this size of population. So, despite their minority status, the religious minorities are not insignificant. He further added that Pakistan’s real assets were not the lands and fields or the natural resources, but the youth who make up over 60% of the population. The youth must take the lead and right the wrongs that have been inflicted on the country in the past seven decades, he said.

Likewise, security analyst Muhammad Amir Rana said persecution of people on grounds of faith, race, or ethnicity has become a problem in many regions including in South Asia. Citing the Rohingya problem, he said the community is facing varying degrees of persecution, discrimination, and marginalization in several states including in Pakistan. According to him, thousands of Rohingyas and Bengalis have been languishing as stateless people in Pakistan for decades. For generations, these communities have been living in Karachi and other areas as outcasts because they cannot access basic public services like health and education. Denial of formal identity like CNIC or passport effectively deprive these people of their fundamental rights as humans, he added.

Amir Rana said social peace, justice, and harmony cannot be achieved unless people learn to empathize with their fellow citizens especially the underprivileged and weak. He said the young generation must be sensitized about the values and role of empathy in bringing peace in the society. Senior journalist Sabookh Syed also addressed the workshop participants and expressed his thoughts on the question of faith-based violence and its impact on society. He said acts of terrorism or extremism in Pakistan reverberate globally and the echoes return to haunt the country as a whole.

He emphasized the necessity of open discussions among the youth on critical national issues including religious radicalism and persecution of minorities etc. At some point, Pakistan needs to do away with the explicit and implicit bars on what can be talked about, and allow the citizens particularly the youth to have discourse on issues that are brushed away, Syed said.

Similarly, religious scholar Ammar Khan Nasir said the state must be above sectarian and communal considerations, and treat the citizens equally as given in the constitution. Nasir deplored the reported forced conversion of Hindu girls, adding that the state was playing the bystander in this issue. The workshop was also addressed by other speakers including Yasir Pirzada, Gul Nokhaiz Akhtar, Habib AKram, Dr. Amjad Tufail, etc. Organized by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), the workshop aimed at engaging university students in discussions on issues around the theme of interfaith harmony.