The entity was created by the government of Imran Khan. Pakistani Christians say it “quotes and voices the minority issues, but it has not real power” to protect them.
The recent rejection of the draft of the Anti-Forced Conversion Bill by the leaders of Pakistan's main Islamic schools of thought, has once again raised doubts about the protection of religious minorities before the country's governing bodies.
According to Shia, Barelvi Sunni, Deobandi Sunni and Ahle Hadith representatives, the rule is a conspiracy and they call on the government not to be intimidated by the West.
The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) in Pakistan is also scrutinising the Bill, which would address the worrying issue of forced marriages in Pakistan, in which, if one of the spouses (it mostly affects women) professes a different religion, they must renounce it and 'convert' to that of the other.
The NCM has announced that it will make proposals and is collecting suggestions from several parties, the Pakistani online newspaper Dawn informed.
The Comission for Minorities was created in May 2020, through a direct order from Imran Khan's government, six years after the Supreme Court ordered the creation of the body, following a bomb attack on All Saints Church in Peshawar that killed 85 people.
Chaired by a Hindu from the same party that controls the government, and with representatives of different faiths (three of them Christian), Khan's executive launched the entity to develop “a national policy to promote peace and inter-religious harmony”, as he then claimed.
At first, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomed the birth of the body as “an important step in the country's continuing journey to protect religious freedom”. But the initial good intentions do not seem to have led to a realistic political solution, and many see it a “cosmetic fix” to appease West countries.
Last December 30, the Hindu temple in Karak was vandalised and set on fire by a mob. The Supreme Court later ordered the government to rebuild it and also required the provincial executive to bear the costs through fines and penalties for those accused of the attack.
According to the Pakistani media The News on Sunday, the Supreme Court ruled out talking to the NCM to make this decision and it used a report of the Minority Rights Implementation Commission - a group that, unlike the NCM, has been constituted by the court itself.
That has worsened the concerns of several minority groups and human rights organisations in Pakistan, which are critical of the composition and work of the government-formed Commission.
The way in which the Khan government set up the NCM already drew criticism at the time of its announcement. The exclusion of the Ahmadiyya Community, a religious group linked to Islam but considered a cult by more traditional circles, drew criticism from organisations such as the NGO Human Rights Watch.
The Minority Rights Implementation Commission complained that th NCM did not comply with the guidelines by which it was ordered to be set up in 2014, and that it is not backed by strong parliamentary legislation..
However, the chairman of NCM, Chela Ram Kewalani stressed that “the commission also existed in the past, since 1990s, but nobody knew about it. And now that the government has taken this major step some elements are opposing it for political reasons”.
He alleged that “some NGOs highlight incidents of religious minorities rights’ violations unnecessarily in international media for “their vested interests and to secure foreign funding”.
Civil society and human rights groups hope that the Supreme Court will soon give instructions to pass a consensus Bill on the NCM, to make it an independent and credible entity, because that would help change the minds of many of the country's minority groups.
Spanish news website Protestante Digital talked to N. (this person has asked to remain anonymous for security reasons), a Pakistani Christian who lives and ministers near the border with Afghanistan. She believes that “the issue of minorities has became a provincial matter”.
According to her, “people say that the decision of the federal cabinet to appoint a commission does not hold any sway beyond the capital territory. So in other words, the NCM doesn’t have the legal power to enforce its resolutions across the country”.
“As a Pakistani Christian, I do not see an impact of the NCM, as the community has been going through the same challenges, same struggles while living with the majority group [Muslims]”, she pointed out.
She explained that “the NCM quotes and voices the minority issues, but they do not have real power to take steps practically”.
However, “legislation is in process to empower NCM which is a ray of hope for minorities”, concluded the Pakistani Christian.