Pakistan has approved the establishment of a much-awaited National Commission for Minorities.
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.
In a June 2014 ruling, the Pakistani Supreme Court directed the government to form a commission “to monitor the practical realization of the rights and safeguards provided to the minorities under the Constitution and law.”
“We are encouraged by the formation of the National Commission for Minorities as a governmental body promoting the rights of religious minorities within Pakistan; it’s an important step in Pakistan’s continuing journey towards the protection of religious freedom,” stated the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Commissioner Anurima Bhargava. “USCIRF encourages the Pakistani government to empower the Commission with the proper authority to meet its intended purpose as defined by the Supreme Court.”
Criticisms over exclusion of Ahmadiyya
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and many rights organizations have termed the Pakistani government’s exclusion of members of the Ahmadiyya religious movement from a commission on safeguarding the rights of minorities “absurd”, while sect leaders have warned it could lead to greater persecution of members resident in the South Asian country.
“The Ahmadis are among the most persecuted communities in Pakistan and to exclude them from a minority rights commission is absurd,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, a US-based rights group, in a statement on Friday.