Pakistan's independent rights commission has called for free and fair elections with the added provision that an even playing field be created for women and religious minorities, echoing similar calls by bishops
in the country. "There must be special efforts to ensure both women and religious minorities are able to participate in, and contest, the elections freely and without fear, pressure or intimidation," the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
(HRCP) said after its 32nd Annual General Meeting on April 7. The country is due to hit the polls in July as the incumbent government's five-year term ends on June 5. However, a formal election date has yet to be announced and rumors are swirling the polls may be delayed due to the uncertain political situation. This follows the recent disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
as the head of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) amid an ongoing corruption hearing against him in a case related to his family's London properties. The commission has asked the government to take notice of a spike in the number of enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and the exclusion of civil society from affairs of state. It has also urged consideration be given to righting other wrongs including the shrinking space for progressive thought and a mainstreaming of extremist parties. The HRCP said it was appalled by a recent ruling by the Islamabad High Court that proposed making a declaration of faith mandatory for those wishing to apply for government and semi-government jobs, including positions in the armed forces, the judiciary and the civil services. This ruling has "serious repercussions for all religious minorities, not least the Ahmadiyya community. Such requirements will only enable and deepen institutional discrimination against minority communities," it said. If the government continues its apologist policy toward religious extremism, the organization continued, "Pakistan cannot expect to protect its religious minorities." "The recent attack on a church in Quetta, the blasphemy charges leveled against Patras Masih in Lahore
, the killing of two Hindu brothers in Mithi, and the random killings of Hazara and Ahmadiyya community members reflect the latitude still given to religious extremists," it added. "The weaponization of religion, whether by state institutions, non-state actors or political parties, must cease," the HRCP concluded.