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Church Leaders Praise Musharraf, Recall His Support Of Minorities


August 20 2008

Catholic leaders have praised Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan´s recently resigned president, for supporting religious minorities, but they say they still favor "more people-oriented governance."

Before resigning on Aug. 18, Musharraf was Pakistan´s uncontested ruler since he dismissed the democratically elected government and grabbed power in a bloodless military coup in 1999. He stepped down after the ruling coalition government threatened to impeach him for subverting Pakistan´s Constitution.

Though democratic rule was suspended after the coup, Musharraf did restore the joint electorate system in 2002, enabling Muslims and religious minorities to run and vote for any general seat. Previously, minority communities could vote only for members of their own groups to fill a few reserved seats.

"We greatly appreciate Musharraf for this good deed," Father Pascal Robert, spokesperson for Karachi archdiocese, told UCA News. "More than 10 Catholic schools of the archdiocese were de-nationalized during his rule."

Karachi is 1,150 kilometers southwest of Islamabad.

Father Robert said the Church is praying for a peaceful transition to full democracy, adding: "We express solidarity with political leaders and hope they will continue their struggle for democracy and protection of human rights."

Only "secular and humanistic attitudes" can help develop Pakistan, he said.

More than 95 percent of Pakistan´s 160 million people are Muslims, while Christians account for less than 1 percent.

Bishop Max John Rodrigues of Hyderabad, based 1,040 kilometers south of Islamabad, expressed hope that Musharraf´s resignation would lead to "more people-oriented governance." The bishop also observed that "whether it is a democratic government or military dictatorship, our country does not have a tradition of good politics." He said the Church expects "greater sincerity and resoluteness" from the coalition government.

The coalition came to power on Feb. 18 in polls Musharraf called after months of nationwide protest against him. The coalition comprises Pakistan´s two largest political parties, one of which Musharraf dismissed in the coup.

Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan and four priests also discussed Musharraf´s resignation while meeting in Hasilpur parish, 560 kilometers southwest of Islamabad. The bishop had been making a pastoral visit at that time, "but Musharraf´s peroration on television attracted all our attention," Father Yousaf Sohan, vicar general for Multan diocese, admitted to UCA News.

Musharraf´s departure will deepen Pakistan´s instability, sinking economy, and food and power shortages, the priest said. The bishop, he said, commended Musharraf for returning many nationalized schools to the Church and remarked that the forced resignation "is not good." The priest added, "It is politics of revenge -- no more a war to save the country, but a political vendetta."

Musharraf said in his resignation speech that Pakistan under his rule empowered women in politics, and gave religious and ethnic minorities their due rights. But Asma Jahangir, chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said in a release on Aug. 18 that a unity of democratic forces, effective supremacy of parliament and consolidation of government institutions are "essential to pull the state out of the mire created by a dictatorship."