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Pakistan approves minorities commission amid criticism

Bishop Sebastian Shaw is among three Christian members of the new body
Pakistan approves minorities commission amid criticism

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs a cabinet meeting on May 5 at which the minorities commission was approved. No Ahmadis were included on the commission after opposition from Islamist groups. (Photo supplied)

Published: May 06, 2020 03:36 AM GMT
Updated: May 06, 2020 03:38 AM GMT

Pakistan has approved the establishment of a much-awaited National Commission for Minorities amid criticism from rights groups.

The go-ahead came on May 5 in a federal cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, according to Religious Affairs Minister Pir Noor ul Haq Qadri.

Chela Ram Kewlani, a Hindu member of the ruling Pakistan Justice party from Sindh province, has been named the commission’s first chairman.

Bishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore, Albert David, chairman of the Pakistan Christian United Movement, and Sarah Safdar, diocesan secretary of the Church of Pakistan’s Peshawar Diocese, will be representing the Christian community.

The three Hindu members are Chela Ram Kewlani, Jaipal Chhabria and Vishno Raja Qavi. Two Muslim clerics, Maulana Syed Muhammad Abdul Khabir Azad and Mufti Gulzar Ahmed Naeemi, have also been named in the commission, which will also have two Sikh members and one member each from the Parsi and Kelash communities.

“No Ahmadi has been included in the minorities commission,” Qadri told media after the cabinet meeting.

Minority groups including Catholics denounced the proposed commission as “toothless and sham” in a joint statement on May 2.

Albert David, one of the Christian nominees, said he was aware of the criticism coming from minority groups about the composition of the commission.

“Everyone is entitled to his/her opinion. I will be able to comment once I receive the terms of reference about the powers and functioning of the commission,” David told UCA News.

“We will sit with other members and discuss the way forward. But we fully understand there are huge expectations from the Christian community and we will try to live up to them.”

The commission has been constituted more than six years after the Supreme Court of Pakistan, in a landmark judgment in 2014, called on the government to set up a body to protect the rights of minorities under the constitution.

A hardline Sunni Islamist group has threatened to stage protests if the Pakistan government fails to impose fresh restrictions on religious minorities.  

Jamaat Ahle Sunnat Pakistan issued an 18-point list of demands at the weekend amid reports that the government was considering the inclusion of Ahmadis in the minorities commission.

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