Javed Jabbar in Outlook:
The further we move on from March 23, 1940—and from December 16, 1971, when the original Pakistan disintegrated—the stronger and deeper, and at the same time, more stressful, becomes the search for a cohesive sense of Pakistani nationalism. Composed of several elements, Muslim identity is the prime driver of Pakistani nationalism, but not exclusively so. Non-Muslim identities are small, yet vital and intrinsic parts of Pakistani nationalism. Foremost among them are Pakistani Hindu and Buddhist citizens. In a foundational sense, Pakistani Hindus and Buddhists are the oldest Pakistanis. Their ancestors have lived upon the lands that constitute our territory for centuries before the first Muslims arrived, or before the first local was converted to Islam.
If roots in territory make people eligible to be regarded as ‘sons of the soil’, then these non-Muslims are the first sons and daughters of Pakistan. It is unfortunate that, in the name of a state entity created less than 70 years ago, peoples whose ancestors have lived on these very territories for over 7,000 years are now ‘minorities’. Worse, many of them are regarded (and regard themselves) as second-class citizens. Adherents of all non-Islamic faiths are ineligible, by virtue of their religion, to be elected president or prime minister. This is so despite the fact that Article 20 of the Constitution grants—subject to law, public order and morality—freedom to profess religion and to manage religious institutions. Article 25, which deals with citizens’ equality says, in part: “All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law.” This is further reinforced by Article 36, which obliges the state to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, including their due representation in the federal and provincial services. Working with Hindus, Christians and Zoroastrians for over 30 years in remote areas and in urban centres, this writer has first-hand experience of their attitudes and actions. These non-Muslim Pakistanis have a deep love for Pakistan. They are proud Pakistanis, and contribute abundantly to the country’s progress—and little to its problems! Yet Pakistani Hindus are often regarded by segments of the state and society as Indian ‘agents’ or as being inherently disloyal to Pakistan. Such suspicion is a profanity in itself.