The Targeting of 'Minority Others' in Pakistan

Authors: Fernandes, D., Lewis, N., Baluch, F.M., Singh, R., Takechandani, K., and Greenwood, R. 

Publisher: Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman: The British Pakistan Christian Association (BPCA), London, 2013

Pages: 512

The Targeting of ‘Minority Others’ in Pakistan is an encyclopaedic compilation of articles by six authors, each steeped in the subject matter they address. Each contributor writes passionately, in a no-holds-barred manner about, what they perceive to be, the unfair targeting of a group of people in Pakistan simply for being ‘other’. Individually it is a cry of each targeted group; collectively it is a lamentation of a people who have failed to reach the ideals of nationhood, even nearly seventy years after being declared an independent and sovereign state and, as a result, who have continued to marginalize and torture the very elements which could have helped her towards that ideal (and indeed have desperately tried to do so).

The book is well researched with one thousand three hundred and sixty three references.  The sources quoted in support of its thesis include, among others: US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Amnesty International (AI), Genocide Watch, The Human Rights Watch World Report, Nazir S Bhatti’s, ‘The trial of Pakistani Christian Nation’, other magazines, newspapers and extensive material from the Internet.

It is a courageous work as it not only showcases a myriad of human rights abuses against the minority ‘others':  Ahmadis, Shi’as (in general), Hazara Shi’as (in particular), Ismailis, Tribals, Pashtuns, Mohajirs, Dalits, Zikris, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Afghan Refugees, Balochs, Sindhis, other indigenous and sexual minority ‘others’ like eunuchs, transgenders and even females, but also pulls out and lays bare some of the skeletons hidden in Pakistan’s (proverbial) closets of history. The massacre of Bengalis in 1971 was a targeted ‘other’ shamefully claimed to be ‘a minority’ when in fact the population of the, East Pakistan, as the area was then known, was, an electoral majority.   Then on 28th May 1998 when Pakistan conducted six nuclear tests in Raak Koh areas of Chaghi district, Baluchistan, it was presented as a celebratory event for the whole nation. No one had, according to this account, taken the Baloch people or their leaders into confidence prior to the event. They, to this day, consider the choice of their land by the Pakistan establishment to be a reflection of the perceived ‘otherness’ of the Baloch people. In fact, the contributor of this section of the book claims that the Eastern Balochistan was ‘invaded’ by Pakistan on 27th March 1948 and that some Baloch leaders, i.e. the younger brother of Khan of Kalat started the struggle against the occupation of Balochistan which continues to this day.  Similar claims of Pakistan ‘invading’ Sindh province are also alluded to elsewhere in the text.  Due to the dire human rights situation, the Asian Human Rights Commission in its, Pakistan: The State of Human Rights in 2011 report explicitly referred to Pakistan as a dysfunctional state and explained the reasons.

The history and historicity of the so called ‘Blasphemy laws’, along with their ‘evolution’ over time from the simple laws ‘of offences relating to religion’ (provisions 295-298 Indian Penal code of British Raj) through to 295 A, B, C, 298 B and C where the interests of only one religion, and that also only as interpreted by the ruling majority, are protected, has left the international legal world aghast for words.  However, the stick-wielding, slogan-shouting self-righteous who hold sway over Pakistan’s masses are happy to keep harassing, imprisoning and killing their own people as ‘others’. These laws can conveniently make anyone the ‘other’ for the purpose of targeting them or their property. (This has been shown to be the case in many such cases.)  The leaps of legal substance covered and the change in the quantum of penalties and punishments stipulated by these laws defy logic.

The volume is also very critical of many governments and national and international organizations, and does not shy away from putting the blame fairly and squarely where it belongs. For example, on p 201, the contributor decries the ‘lack of transparency’ by the US, Saudi Arabian and Pakistani governments, NATO, the Pakistani armed forces, the ISI, and US intelligence agencies and special forces, IMF and the governing civilian elites as well as certain religious organizations and religious militias.

The book is not only a depressing catalogue of abuses and issues against the minority others of Pakistan, it also gives a list of recommendations to end many of these abuses, such as the list of recommendations found on p263-4, concerning the kidnapping and forced conversions of Hindu girls and young women, ‘Recommendations Regarding Kidnappings for Ransom Cases of Hindus’, and those regarding disparate treatment of scheduled caste populations.

It is noted, with regret that, despite its academic and scholarly merits, lack of an index severely limits its usefulness. In addition the font size 8 is not easily readable by most.  This reviewer hopes that the future editions of this work will overcome one, if not both, of these hurdles. Its deficiencies notwithstanding, for any passionate student, or ardent scholar, the book is a storehouse of facts, facts and more facts. The referencing is great, though what is presented as fact by the authors may not necessarily be accepted by readers as such: some ‘facts’, can be, and undoubtedly will be, seen by at least some readers as extreme distortions of mainline history. Of course every reader, like every writer, has a right to his (her) biases.

In my opinion, probably no book reviewer, and certainly not this one, can do justice to a work of this complexity by offering a single review. The book has many layers of messages, and depending on which ‘minority other’ the reader identifies with, it gives a different message. However, for any fair minded, devout and patriotic Pakistani, its message leaves an indelible impression of deep sorrow, unquenchable anger, and a hopeless sense of despondency.As a Christian from Pakistan, I found the chapter 7.14, (p 303 – 430) entitled, ‘A non-exhaustive account of incidents of persecution, oppression and discrimination against Christians in Pakistan from the mid 1990’s on’, to be very potent as the Christian community of Pakistan have left no stone unturned to serve Pakistan at every conceivable level of social, political and institutional levels.

In all honesty, I cannot say that anyone will ‘enjoy’ this book. However, I do, in the strongest possible manner, recommend it to everyone who considers himself (herself) to be endowed with the moral spark of fairness, and wants to see a more just world. I further believe that there needs to be a warning written on the book stating: Graphic contents of blood and gore, some may find the contents of this volume very distressing, and therefore it should not be read by those who believe (or want to believe) in only the idealistic and rosy view of Pakistan.