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Pakistani archbishop demands ministry of minority affairs

Prelate says forced marriages and forced conversions are alarming issues for religious minorities in the Islamic republic

Pakistani archbishop demands ministry of minority affairs

Archbishop Joseph Arshad addresses the faithful at Islamabad’s Fatima Church on May 29. (Photo: Kamran Chaudhry/UCA News)

Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad-Rawalpindi has called on Pakistan's government to revive the Ministry of Minority Affairs.

"There was a ministry for minorities in the past which was a good, successful experience. Currently, minority issues are handled by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, which is usually occupied dealing with other religious affairs and the promotion of interfaith harmony in Pakistan," said the president of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

“A lot has to be done for minorities so that they don't feel insecure in Pakistan,” the prelate said, adding that forced marriages and forced conversions are alarming issues for religious minorities in Pakistan.

In November 2008, the federal Ministry for Minorities was established for the first time in Pakistan. Shahbaz Bhatti, the Catholic federal minister for minorities who was assassinated in March 2011, was appointed federal minister for minorities affairs.

In 2011, the federal Ministry for Minorities was replaced by the Ministry for National Harmony and Minorities Affairs. On returning to power in 2013, the Pakistan Muslim League merged the Ministry for National Harmony and Minorities Affairs into a larger ministry, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony. The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party appointed provincial ministers for minority affairs.

In May 2020, the government constituted a National Commission for Minorities (NCM) with Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore as one of its members. Rights groups, including the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), criticized the formation of the commission through an executive order.

Peter Jacob, the Catholic director of the CSJ, described the federal Ministry for Minority Affairs an experiment of the past.

“I don’t see we have people to fill this post. There is no harm in having more institutes but a token and symbolic ministry doesn’t serve the purpose. More focus should be on empowering the NCM with political appointments with resources through an act of parliament,” he told UCA News.

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