By Yasser Latif Hamdani
During the course of the recent hearings on the 18th amendment, one of the Supreme Court justices questioned whether members of the National Assembly on reserved seats, for women and minorities, could be described as elected representatives of the people since these members are nominated by the head of a political party.
This is a very valid point that requires discussion. The present system, where the parties get to decide who to nominate based on a system of proportional representation, is counter-productive to the aim of having reserved representation for marginalised sections in Pakistani society. The members so ‘elected’ through this process are neither professional politicians nor representatives of the minorities and women. In 2002-2007 legislatures, even the MMA, entirely hostile to all minorities of Pakistan, had a minority representative.
The constitution makes it mandatory for its lawmakers to strive towards a just, fair and equitable society for all citizens of Pakistan regardless of religion, gender or origin. Unfortunately this obligation is watered down by often contradictory obligations for Islamisation that run at cross purposes to the obligation of creating an egalitarian society.
One way around our constitutional democratic Islamic state’s contradictory obligations vis-à-vis Muslim majority and non-Muslim minorities as well as Islam and women’s rights is affirmative action for all marginalised groups and the surest way of doing this is by giving actual representatives of these groups a voice in the national legislature. This can be easily achieved by making all reserved seats subject to direct elections, for example, all minorities jointly or severally, whichever works, may — for the purposes of reserved seats — constitute one unified constituency nationally and four provincial constituencies. So demarcated, the top 10 vote getters in the unified national constituency would then be allowed to take their seats in the National Assembly and the equivalent number for each provincial assembly. The same process can be repeated for women.
To ensure real and not illusionary power to these representatives, any matters pertaining to minorities or women should be subject to a veto from these reserved seats for minorities or women, respectively. In other words if a majority of the representatives of minorities veto a legislation which would reasonably affect their rights as citizens of Pakistan, it would not be passed. This would be an actual and material safeguard for non-Muslim Pakistanis and historically consistent with the principle behind the famous 14 points that the Muslims had put forth in counter to the Nehru Report in 1928. The main idea behind the Pakistan Movement was that a permanent cultural majority by sheer numbers should not be allowed to dictate to and dominate a permanent cultural minority. Everything we have done in Pakistan since the passing of the Objectives Resolution has been a negation of that principle.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 14th, 2010.
Minorities and affirmative action
By Yasser Latif Hamdani
In response to my article “representation for women and minorities” in Express Tribune, one reader suggested that perhaps a two state solution is the only way for minorities in Pakistan to seek justice and that Jinnah’s arguments may be employed by the minorities to this end. While I do not quite agree with a two state solution especially since the minorities do not form a majority in any significant region large enough to constitute a state, I do believe that a variant of the Jinnah model may be validly employed by Pakistani minorities for better bargaining with the Pakistani political elite.
One may recall to this end that Jinnah’s main concern was to bring Muslims of both Muslim majority and Hindu majority areas on one platform and the idea of a separate state provided a slogan vague enough to achieve this unity. In other words the demand for a separate state was at once a bargaining counter vis a vis the Hindu majority and a whip to bring Muslim majority provinces in line. Jinnah’s real objective was to present a unified front for the Muslim minority.
Most commentators intimately aware of minorities’ issues in Pakistan know that the real number of minorities is under reported by the state authorities. The total number of Non-Muslim Pakistanis is closer to 18-20 million and not the paltry 7 million admitted by the state. This is not counting the 3 to 4 million or so Ahmadis, who are the world’s only forced minority.
Therefore what is needed is an independent political party around the idea of civil rights and equality for minorities. Minorities generally vote for the Pakistan People’s Party which is seen as the lesser of many evils. Since the PPP knows it is the obvious choice for Pakistani minorities, it is not pressed in the least to woo them. In contrast the aforesaid independent political grouping or party would be able to score between 5 to 10 general seats. If the reserved seats are also opened to a direct election through a Non-Muslim only election, such a political party would become a major force.
It would then be free to act as a collective bargaining agent ala Jinnah to enter into a progressive coalition that would not only help improve the lot of minorities but will ensure that all political parties become more sensitive to the political needs of Pakistanis who are followers of faiths different than the faith of the majority. This is the only constitutional way under the circumstances to ensure equality for Pakistan’s hapless minorities.
The question remains however as to whether non-Muslim Pakistanis have a Jinnah in their midst and more importantly can a diverse group such as the minorities of Pakistan find the kind of common ground needed to unite them?