Standing for the rights of minorities is increasingly becoming a hard task for the progressive circles of Pakistan. Intolerant circles are now targeting the parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Khawaja Asif, who said on the floor of the house a few days ago that “no religion is superior in the constitution”. He has been facing trolling, hate speech and a possible reference to de-seat him from the National Assembly in the past few days. Even though the constitution names the country the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and Islam its state religion, it is equally stressed in the Article 3 of the Constitution that “The State shall ensure the elimination of all forms of exploitation and the gradual fulfillment of the fundamental principle, from each according to his ability, to each according to his work”. It is heartening to see that Khawaja Asif has stood by his words he said last week in the National Assembly about the rights of minorities, as he has echoed the philosophy of the Quaid-i-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the constitution. This newspaper has always condemned exploitation of religion for political gains and the members of some parties issuing statements against Khawaja Asif should be condemned for their irresponsible and wrong act. They should be reminded of Islam’s golden principles regarding minorities’ treatment. It is the high time all parties, regardless of their ideological stand, supported the PML-N lawmaker and encouraged the government as well the public to take measures to mainstream the minorities by ensuring rights of the minorities enshrined in the Constitution. Parliamentarians need to be more vocal on this front.
Over the years, minorities’ rights have been gathering controversy under planned campaigns. Our part of the world has become an intolerant society. The journey towards extremism started after the 1980s under the Zia rule and since then extremism has damaged the fabrics of our thinking and society. Now, the extremist circle cannot tolerate the visit of a governor to a Christian prisoner, who has now been acquitted of blasphemy charge. Social media activists run amok after the reports of the planned construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad. We conveniently forget that there is a church in Boston, the US, where Muslims regularly offer Friday prayers. Our society will evolve if we set such examples in Pakistan and this can happen only if we follow the constitution under which everyone has equal rights irrespective of their religion.
Indian loss, Chinese gain in Chabahar port
After Iran and China have finalised a $400 billion strategic partnership deal, India has lost the key project of the Chabahar to Zahedan rail project. In 2016, when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Iran, he signed the rail project deal with Tehran for fast-paced access to Afghanistan, Russia and Central Asian States. Apparently, India has succumbed to the US sanctions imposed on Iran as it has already called off its oil imports deals with Iran. The US had exempted the Chabahar port and the railway line to Zahedan from sanctions. Now, Iran says it will build with its own resources the 628km Chabahar-Zahedan line, which will be extended to Zaranj across the border in Afghanistan. India may face some other setbacks too in the coming days as China has finalised the 25-year $400bn strategic partnership deal with Iran. Given the gradually diminishing autonomy under the US pressure, and China’s increasing role in Iran, India’s landmark project of Chabahar Port may go to the Chinese hands. Iran, however, denied the reports giving the impression that Iran will lease the port to China. Though India has yet to officially announce the lost opportunity, the development was reported by The Hindu, a leading Indian paper, which cited “leaked versions” of the 18-page “Comprehensive Plan for Cooperation between Iran and China”.
After the downgraded influence of India in Iran and the growing role of China, there is an opportunity for Pakistan. According to the leaked documents, Iran has suggested an agreement between Pakistan’s port Gwadar and Chabahar. This may infuriate India, which attaches a great deal of geostrategic importance to the Chabahar port project as it connects India to Russia and Central Asia for rapid connectivity and trade. Pakistan, Iran and China may work out the plan, as India may see it a no-go area. Meanwhile, India should reflect its actions and the results. In recent years, it has lost neighbors’ confidence because of its plan to create hegemony in the region. It lost its troopers after a clash with the Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley. It has been snubbed by Gulf states for persecution of the Muslim minority. Regardless of the reasons for India’s inability to join the railway project, the decision can only be seen as an opportunity lost. In fact, China has gained from India’s loss in Iran and this serves a bitter lesson to Delhi.
Disclaimer: Published in Daily Times, July 16, 2020