Islamabad : While there were reservations and doubts being cast over the effectiveness of forming the ‘National Commission for Minorities’ (NCM) from different religious minority representatives, the voices of dissent have started become louder immediately after the Federal Government formally announced formation of the ‘Commission’ through a decision approved by the Federal Cabinet.
Chairman of the ‘Pakistan Interfaith League’ (PIL), Sajid Ishaq, expressed serious concerns over the basic formation of the NCM.
“The ‘National Council for Minorities’ is formed in absolute violation of fundamental UN approved and internationally recognised ‘Paris Principles’, according to which these commissions/councils should be autonomous, independent and statutory bodies,” Sajid Ishaq pointed out.
The PIL Chairman said that the NCM should have been formed as per the UN approved and internationally recognised ‘Paris Principles and it should be an independent, autonomous and statutory body, with financial independence and no political interference.
He said that while Mr Chela Ram Kewlani has been appointed chairman of the NCM along with three members from the Hindu community, three from Christian community, two from Sikh community and one each from Parsi and Kelasha, rest of the 19-member body are all Muslims, including
“This is surprising that one senior bureaucrat of no less then BS-20 grade from the Ministry of Law and Justice, the Ministry of Human Rights, the Federal Education and Professional Training Division, Chairman Council of Islamic Ideology, Secretary Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony have been nominated as ‘Official Members’. Interestingly the ‘Non-Official Members of the NCM also include two Muslims i.e. Maulana Syed Muhammad Abdul Khabir Azad and Mufti Gulzar Ahmed Naeemi,” Sajid Ishaq said.
This formation of NCM is in stark contravention of the ‘Draft’ Bill prepared for formation of National Commission for Minorities which clearly states: “The Commission shall consist of not less than 13 and not more than 17 members including a chairperson as the president may appoint on the advice of the Prime Minister.”
The ‘Draft Bill’ also clearly states that a person shall not be eligible to become a Member of the Council if: “He/She does not come from a religious minority of Pakistan.” Another clause of the ‘Draft Bill’ says: A person shall not be eligible to become a Member of the Council if ‘He/she is not a person of integrity, eminence ability, and good repute, in relation to his/her work on Rights of Minorities. Yet another clause of the ‘Draft Bill’ states: “A person shall not be eligible to become a Member of the Council if ‘He/she does not have a demonstrable knowledge of, and interest in issues relating to minority rights.’”
He said that a representative of the religious minority placed at the head as chairman NCM would not make any real impact.
“The Federal as well as Provincial Governments need to ensure that the NCM at Federal as well as Provincial levels should include the representatives of the religious minorities alone and should not be placed under the umbrella of majority Muslim ‘Official Members’ and those too the senior Government officers. The NCM should be run by the members of the religious minorities and not by the ‘Bureaucrats,” Sajid Ishaq said.
He pointed out that on June 19, 2014, when the then Chief Justice of Pakistan Honorable Justice directed to for a ‘National Commission for Minorities’ on the lines of the ‘Child Rights Commission’ and the ‘Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).
He said that it the ‘One Man Commission’ Headed by Dr Shoaib Suddle and the ‘Three Member Committee’, comprising of Dr Ramesh Kumar Yankwani, Sajid Ilyas Bhatti, the Additional Attorney General and Mohammad Saqib Jillani, to assist the Commission was formed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on January 8, 2019 which prepared the ‘Draft Bill’ which, somehow, was never submitted to the Government.
Meanwhile, the PIL has sent an appeal to the President of Pakistan, Arif Alvi to intervene in the matter and have also launched a ‘On-line Signature Campaign’ to press their demands to make necessary amendments in the NCM.
When contacted, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, Imran Siddiqui, said that some elements were purposely manipulating and mutilating the facts to create controversies on the issue.
“It should be clearly understood that it is not a new body and it existed till 2018 when it lapsed and was not re-enacted because of various issues. Now that the NCM has been formed by the Federal Cabinet, the formal approval is still awaited at the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony. Only when this Ministry will receive the formal approval, a notification in this regard will be issued,” Imran Siddiqui said.
To another question the Ministry spokesperson clarified that all the officers of grade BS-20 or above from the federal government ministries will be ‘Honorary Members’ and will act as the members of larger ‘Consultative Body’ and will have no influence on the affairs of the minority communities which are part of this Commission.
“They have been made ‘Members’ by designation and because of the fact that the NCM may be required to frequently reach out to these particularly ministries in accomplishing their tasks,” the Spokesperson said.
The two Muslim Ulema, nominated to be members of the Commission alongside the representatives of the minority communities of Pakistan will be there to create better understanding and forge interfaith harmony and not to exercise any influence being the majority community of Pakistan.
“Unfortunately, some people have tried to make a big issue out of it over the matter of Qadianis. The Federal Government, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony and the Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony are very clear over the issue and have repeatedly made their stance clear as to why Qadianis are left out of NCM,” Imran Siddiqui told ‘The News’.