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No soft image if persecution of minorities continues

Gujrat – PR: Desiring a soft image without addressing the factors that harm the country’s reputation in the first place is self-delusion, speakers at interfaith harmony workshop said. Wajahat Masood, political thinker and author of several books on Pakistani politics, said “the world respects us only as much as we respect our own citizens especially the religious minorities”. Professing religious faith is no crime, and the constitution has ensured the right to religion to all citizens, he added.

Wajahat Masood said what happens locally in the country reverberates far beyond the borders and shapes the country’s image around the world. He said the minorities are discriminated against and persecuted in Pakistan, adding that the minorities account for nearly 9 million people which is not insignificant in any sense. In Europe, there are countries whose entire populations amount to just as many people. He also underlined the role of youth in breaking the social status quo that suspects diversity and maintains the system of faith-based discrimination, saying that the young people must take the lead and right the wrongs inflicted on this country in the past seven decades, he added.

Similarly, security analyst Amir Rana said profiling and persecution of people on the bases of faith or race is a rising phenomenon around the world, but more so in the South Asian societies. Quoting the Rohingya problem, Rana said the Rohingyas face persecution, discrimination, and marginalization in many 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 political nonentities as they are denied citizenship. Without citizenship, they cannot access basic social services like education and health as well as job opportunities. He emphasized the need for addressing the plight of these marginalized communities in Pakistan.

Senior journalist Sabookh Syed also addressed the workshop and expressed his thoughts on the question of faith-based violence and its impact on society. He stressed on the necessity of discussion and debate among the youth on critical national issues including religious radicalism and persecution of minorities etc. At some point, Pakistan needs to learn to embrace the value of diversity for the sack of social cohesion and harmony, he said.

The workshop was also attended by religious scholars Mufti Muhammad Zahid and Ammar Khan Nasir who spoke about role of religion in transforming societies and Islam’s teachings about interfaith relations, etc. Mufti Zahid said Pakistan is religiously and culturally a diverse country where different faiths have historically coexisted for centuries. Likewise, Ammar Khan Nasir said the state should be above communal or religious considerations, and treat people as equal citizens as provided in the constitution.

The two-day national workshop was organized by an Islamabad-based think tank Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS). It was part of the countrywide workshops aimed at engaging the university students in discussions around the theme of interfaith harmony in Pakistan.